When it comes to Native American history, not a lot is known about women and their roles as warriors and tribe leaders. When we talk about famous Native American women, your first thoughts are probably of Pocahontas or Sacajawea. The reality is that these women are only famous from the perspective and the stories of the people that were not native. Female Native American characters from the 19th century are usually depicted through their relationships with the settlers and not through their individual experiences and achievements.
This is partly so because most of the reports about the battles that took place on the “New Continent” were made by European historians. The Europeans of that period considered war to be something that only involved men. That is probably why the female native warriors that participated in battles side by side with their men were rarely mentioned. Here are some of those courageous Native American warrior women from the 19th century.
Buffalo Calf Road Woman
Buffalo Calf Road Woman was a Northern Cheyenne woman warrior who became famous after saving her wounded brother. Her brother, Chief Comes in Sight, was shot during the Battle of the Rosebud (1876). When she saw him fall, she rode on the battlefield and rescued him. This brave act motivated the rest of the Cheyenne warriors to regroup and win the battle. Later that year, she fought along with her husband (Black Coyote) during the famous “Battle of the Little Bighorn.” In Cheyenne lore, she is credited of striking the blow that knocked Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer off his horse before he died. After the battle, Buffalo Calf Road Woman, her husband Black Coyote, and their two children were captured and relocated together with the other Northern Cheyennes to the Southern Cheyenne Reservation in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).
Dahteste was a Choconen Apache woman warrior, and being married and having children didn’t stop her to participate in many raiding parties together with her first husband Ahnandia. Later in her life, she joined the legendary Geronimo, together with another famous woman warrior called Lozen. Besides being a brave and skilled as a warrior, she was also fluent in English and served as a messenger and translator for the Apache. Dahteste became a mediator between the U.S. Cavalry (sometimes serving as their scout) and Geronimo. She played an important role in his final surrender in 1886.
Lozen was a famous warrior and prophet of the Chihenne Chiricahua Apache. She was also the sister of an important chief called Victorio. She was born into the Chihenne band during the 1840s. On one occasion, her brother Victorio described her importance during the battles:
“Lozen is my right hand … strong as a man, braver than most, and cunning in strategy. Lozen is a shield to her people.”
According to the legends and stories that surround her name, she was able to use her spiritual powers in battle. She called on the favor of the gods to learn the location and movement of the enemy. She participated in many fights on the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona together with her brother. During those fights, she helped many women and children to escape from the hands of the enemy and avoided capture herself. According to a warrior named Kaywaykla, she was one of the more skillful of the Apache: “She could ride, shoot, and fight like a man; and I think she had more ability in planning military strategy than Victorio did.” Lozen was part of many battles. She also fought alongside Geronimo in the last campaign of the Apache Wars.
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Woman Chief (Pine Leaf)
Although her real name is unknown, she was a warrior and the chief of the Crow people, who named her Woman Chief (Bíawacheeitchish). In some accounts, it is said that she is probably the same person as Pine Leaf. When she was 10 years old, a Crow raiding party took her from her tribe (the Gros Ventres) and a Crow warrior adopted her. From an early age, she showed interest in some activities that were usually male. Soon she became proficient in horse riding, marksmanship, and fighting.
Woman Chief became recognized as a warrior during a raid by the Blackfoot on a fort sheltering Crow and white families. According to the stories, she managed to defend the fort from many of the attackers and played a key role in beating the raid back. Later she managed to gather a group of her own warriors and attack Blackfoot settlements. As a reward for her achievements, she was given a position in the Council of Chiefs under the name Bíawacheeitchish (Woman Chief). She even managed to become third among the Council’s 160 lodges.
Running Eagle was a warrior woman from the Piegan Tribe of the Blackfoot Nation. She was born as “Pitamakan” in Southern Alberta, Canada, and her nickname was “Brown Weasel Woman”. She was known for many brave deeds; when she was a young girl, hunting with her father, they were attacked by the Assiniboine and her father’s horse was shot down. She rode back, took her father on her horse and saved his life. Later in her life, her husband was killed by some Crow Warriors. She decided to avenge him and became a Blackfeet warrior. Allegedly, the Sun Spirit told her that she would have great power in wars until she restrains herself from sexual relations with another man. She had many successful raids after this revelation, up until she was intimate with a man from her party. Soon after that, she lost her power and ultimately, her life. Running Eagle was killed sometime after 1878, by the Flathead tribe while stealing horses for a battle.
Later in her life, her husband was killed by some Crow Warriors. She decided to avenge him and became a Blackfoot warrior. Allegedly, the Sun Spirit told her that she would have great power in war if she restrained herself from sexual relations with another man. She had many successful raids after this revelation, up until she was intimate with a man from her party. Soon after that, she lost her power and ultimately, her life. Running Eagle was killed sometime after 1878 by the Flathead tribe while stealing horses for a battle.