There are four Native American Chiefs that are often considered the most influential to the Native American culture. These four Chiefs were Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, Geronimo and Red Cloud. Each of these forefathers played an important role in shaping their tribe's customs and history. Because of their influence over the shaping of Native American history, they are often referred to as the real founding fathers.
Chief Joseph, a Nez Perce Indian from the northeastern corner of Oregon, succeeded his father as chief in 1871. When white settlers began arriving on Nez Perce land in the Wallowa Valley of Oregon, Chief Joseph attempted to keep his people from having to move to a small reservation in Idaho. Joseph resisted, but soon it became apparent that he had no other choice, and he led his people toward the reservation in Idaho. Unfortunately, they never arrived. Nez Perce warriors raided settlements and killed several whites, beginning a long battle with General Sherman. Chief Joseph is remembered most for his famous surrender speech in 1877, where he stated "I will fight no more, forever."
Sitting Bull was a Lakota Sioux holy man. A legend because of his courage, Sitting Bull defeated General Custer in the Black Hills of South Dakota. When Custer discovered gold in the Black Hills, he attempted to force the Lakota into reservations away from their homeland. The commissioner of Indian Affairs at the time decreed that any Lakota not moving to the reservation by January 31, 1876 would be considered hostile. Sitting Bull would not budge. Custer's army encountered the Lakota chief at the Battle of Little Bighorn, where they were badly outnumbered and later destroyed.
Geronimo was the leader of the Chiricahua Apache, located near the Gila River in modern day New Mexico. Geronimo was famous for fighting against Mexico and the United States for their expansion into Apache land during the Apache Wars from 1851 to 1890. When a company of Mexican soldiers killed Geronimo's entire family in 1858, Geronimo joined forces to attack the Mexicans in revenge of his family's deaths. As a war chief, Geronimo consistently staged raids against Mexico and the U.S. in Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Texas. Geronimo surrendered in 1886 and later died in 1909 after being thrown from his horse.
Red Cloud was a war leader for the Oglala Lakota Sioux in the American West. Born near the Platte River in Nebraska in 1822, Red Cloud was raised by his uncle, Old Chief Smoke. As a member of Old Chief Smoke's family, he participated in several battles against the Crow and Pawnee. These early battles gave Red Cloud valuable war experience at a very young age. After the Treaty of Fort Laramie, in 1868, he successfully and peacefully transitioned his people to reservation life in Idaho. He was known as one of the most difficult and capable opponents the U.S. Army ever encountered, and he led a successful battle for land in the Powder River Country of Wyoming and Montana, known as Red Cloud's War.
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