Indian women's bravery is being uncovered in archives and oral traditions.
Pocahontas and Sacagawea played crucial roles in our nation's early days. Few Americans remember the names of the numerous native female warriors who fought and died alongside men.
Women have long defended their children, families, tribes, and nations as warriors. History writers—almost invariably men—have failed to give women credit for their role in the conflict. Native American warrior women agree. Today, research, literature, archeology, and diaries demonstrate that women fought heroically and ferociously for their loved ones and causes. This section of history reveals that history—and its recording—is alive. What we read in textbooks and saw in movies as kids is not gospel.
Something history texts and Hollywood never taught us: Cheyenne and Arapaho women fought valiantly at Custer's Last Stand. Tribal mythology attributes Buffalo Calf Road Woman with murdering George Armstrong Custer. As reported by a recognized Cheyenne elder, Peace Chief, tribal government member, and National Historic Preservation Representative of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma:
Buffalo Calf Road Woman led several Cheyenne fights. She attacked Custer, snatched his saber, and stabbed him at Little Big Horn, killing him. Cheyenne and Arapaho women punctured Custer's ears, shouting, 'you will listen to our people in the next world.' They avenged."
At Little Big Horn, she was not the only woman fighter. Pretty Nose fought there, too. Her grandson was a U.S. Marine in the Korean War and an Arapaho chief like her.
Lozen, a Chihenne Chiricahua Apache warrior and prophet, fought with Geronimo. She was a chief's sister. According to folklore, Lozen, a Chihenne woman born in the 1840s, could learn the enemy's moves in battle. James Kaywaykla was a kid throughout Geronimo, Lozen, and Victorio's battles. Young Kaywaykla wrote:
"Lozen, Victorio's sister, rode a gorgeous horse. Lozen the fighter! Her firearm was raised high. She could ride, shoot, and battle like a man, and she was better at military strategy than Victorio.
Chief Victorio praised his sister as a warrior; he said, "Lozen is my right hand—strong, bold, and strategic. Lozen protects her country."
Lozen fought alongside Geronimo after he escaped the San Carlos reserve in 1885. U.S. and Mexican cavalries followed the band. Adams writes in Geronimo that Lozen would stand with her arms spread, chant to Ussen, the Apaches' greatest deity, and slowly spin around." Her strategic skills helped the band.
Geronimo and 140 followers, including Lozen, abandoned the reservation in 1885 after hearing they would be sent to Alcatraz. Lozen and Dahteste negotiated a peace deal. After Geronimo's surrender, Lozen became a prisoner of war in Alabama. Lozen died of disease in 1889, along with many other fighters.
Dahteste rode with Lozen. Dahteste was skilled in English and functioned as a translator for the Apache. He led treaty discussions with the American and Mexican soldiers. When Geronimo surrendered, she was jailed along with him and Lozen but sent to St. Augustine, Florida. She suffered TB and pneumonia but survived both. Lozen and Dahteste were two-spirits, according to certain academics.
Another woman, Gouyen, battled with Geronimo beside Lozen and Dahteste. When her first husband was slain in a Comanche attack in the 1870s, she avenged him so heroically that it became an Apache legend. Gouyen found the Comanche chief who killed her husband. Her husband's scalp was on his belt as he watched their victory dance. Gouyen wore a buckskin puberty dress and joined the dancers. She seduced the inebriated chief, and they went to his teepee. She stabbed the Comanche with his knife, killed him, scalped him, and stole his horse. She returned to her tribe and showed her husband's parents the scalp and clothes to prove she had avenged him. Gouyen struggled with Geronimo and lost a baby daughter. She surrendered with him in 1886.
Woman Chief was a Crow chief (1806-1858) who intrigued white frontier travellers and was portrayed in memoirs and journals. She was 10 when the Crow tribe took her prisoner. A Crow warrior who would lose his sons adopted her. The youngster, perhaps named "Pine Leaf," showed early ability for masculine pursuits like horseback, shooting, and slaughtering buffalo. Her foster father encouraged her. She continued to wear female attire, despite her proficiency in manly tasks. After her father died, she became lodge leader.
During a Blackfeet invasion of her Crow clan, she achieved fame as a fighter. She fought off several attacks and drove back the Blackfeet. She quickly formed her band of warriors and retaliated, seizing horses and scalps. In appreciation of her courage, she was named Woman chief (Bianwacheeitchish) and welcomed into the Council of Chiefs. Her lodge thrived, and she became a tribal leader in Upper Missouri peace discussions. Gros Ventres, her birth tribe, attacked and slaughtered her.
Running Eagle was a Piegan Blackfeet warrior in Alberta. As a youngster, she loved playing with guys. Her father, a leading warrior in their tribe, taught her hunting, riding, and fighting when she was 12. At 12, she could travel on hunting excursions and shoot a buffalo alone.
Assiniboine assaulted her clan during a buffalo hunt. Her father was shot while escaping. She rode her horse into enemy fire to save her father. Her tribe praised her bravery, so she participated in raids and battles. She kidnapped 11 horses and killed two Crow during a camp attack. The tribe's leader named her "Running Eagle" and admitted her into the Braves Society of Young Warriors. After 1878, Flathead braves murdered her when she headed a war group.
Osh-Tisch was a Crow "boté" spiritual leader and warrior lady. Crow means "two-spirit" (Boté). Finds Them and Kills Them fought in the Battle of the Rosebud in 1876. Finds Them and Kills Them leaped from her horse to defend a wounded Crow warrior and murdered a Lakota. Finds Them and Kills Them was also a shaman, medicine woman, artist, and beadwork. She died at 75.
Too many female fighters to list. Tribal legend, investigation, and scholarly effort reveal more. Many others are lost. Lozen and Buffalo Calf Road Woman show that military bravery is not restricted to males.