The Most Famous Indian Chiefs in the West

When the North Americans began to invade Native American territory and tried to force them onto minuscule reservations that were not very fertile, the leaders of these tribes opposed. This triggering fierce wars, many of which were recreated by Hollywood in the movie theater. Today we bring you a list of the most famous Indian chiefs in the West who put the United States government in check.

Sitting Bull (Tatanka Iyotanke)

Sitting Bull is one of the most well-known American Indian chiefs for having led the most famous battle between Native and North Americans, the Battle of Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876. Sioux and Cheyenne warriors defeated the Seventh Calvary under the command of General George Armstrong Custer.


In 1868, several Sioux chiefs, including the famous Red Cloud, signed a peace treaty with the US government. The Treaty of Fort Laramie established the Black Hills Reservation in Dakota territory. However, Sitting Bull did not accept the agreement and continued attacking forts in the area of Missouri. Despite his victory at Little Bighorn, in 1877 he had to flee to Canada with a few thousand followers from his tribe, but the lack of food and harsh conditions forced them to return after a time. Sitting Bull surrendered and the government sent them to the Standing Rock Reservation. 

Later, the Sioux leader left that place for a time to join celebrity Buffalo Bill‘s curious show. The spirit dances that they did on the reservations to throw out the white men roused the suspicions of the United States government, which sent men to stop them. After he refused to be illegally arrested, he was shot in the chest. In the ensuing chaos, his son and three hundred members of his tribe were also killed.

Crazy Horse (Tasunke-Witko)

Crazy Horse was another Indian leader who fought alongside Sitting Bull in the Battle of Little Bighorn. He allied with the remaining Native American chiefs to expel the whites from their territory. It was he who killed General Custer, a scene that has been portrayed in numerous movies such as They Died with Their Boots On, Fort Apache, The Great Sioux Massacre, or Winchester 73. 

Tasunke-Witko was the chief of the Oglala, one of the Sioux tribes. At 16 years of age, he adopted his father’s name and fought in his first battle. In the Treaty of Fort Laramie, signed by chief Red Cloud, the Indians renounced a part of their territories but received others, among them the Black Hills, a sacred site for Native Americans.  

However, the problems began when rumors started to fly about the existence of gold at that place. Many settlers started to move to the area and despite attempts to buy the territory, the Indians refused. Crazy Horse, just like Chief Sitting Bull, refused the Treaty of Fort Laramie and declared war on the Americans. He did not die on the battlefield, but rather was treacherously assassinated by a North American soldier who stabbed him with a bayonet in the back. 

Red Cloud (Makhpyia Luta)


Red Cloud was a respected Sioux Indian chief and the only one who won a war with the United States of America, the so-called “Red Cloud’s War,” which took place between 1866 and 1868. The Sioux, along with the Cheyenne, defeated the North American Army and the government was obligated to sign the Treaty of Fort Laramie, in which it gave up forts that it had built on the Bozeman Trail, which crossed Lakota territory in this Amerindian nation. In turn, it granted them their own autonomous lands. 

Although the US did not keep its word, Red Cloud did not participate in the later Great Sioux War, led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Despite the famous battle of Little Bighorn, since then, the Native Americans lost what little they had and hunger made the tribes give up little by little. 

First it was the Cheyenne and later, the leaders Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. The Sioux were reduced to living in uncomfortable spaces which were spread out and not very fertile. This made them dependent on government aid. In contrast to the other leaders, Red Cloud died of old age. He always tried to negotiate a better situation for his people, although he was unsuccessful.

Geronimo (Goyathlay)

Unlike the three other great Sioux chiefs, Geronimo belonged to the Chiricahua tribe of Apaches. He was born in Arizpe, in the state of Sonora (Mexico), and was a nightmare for both the Mexican and the American governments. In fact, at the beginning, he fought to get revenge for the murder of his wife and daughter at the hands of the Mexicans.  

He is one of the most controversial Indians, as many point to the fact that rather than a defender of Native Americans from the oppression of white people, he was violent and a looter. In any case, he carried out several attacks to liberate the Apaches from the reservations.  

Between attacks, Geronimo and his men would take refuge in the Sierra Madre mountains, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Following a period of resistance, Geronimo gave up and was transferred to a reservation in Oklahoma, where he lived peacefully to 79 years of age.

Cochise (Shi-ka-She)

Like Geronimo, Cochise was the chief of the Chiricahua Apaches. In fact, he was his predecessor. This Amerindian tribe lived between the territories in the south of the United States (New Mexico and Arizona) and the north of Mexico (Sonora and Chihuahua). Apaches and settlers had lived together for years without any incidents until Cochise was wrongly accused of kidnapping a settler’s daughter.

Cochise formed an alliance with his father-in-law, Mangas Coloradas, and with him, he started the famous Apache Wars, which kept the United States in check (1861 -1886) in Arizona Territory. In the end, the United States government reached an agreement with them so that they kept a reservation in part of the lands of their forefathers, between the Chihuahua mountains and the Sulphur Springs Valley.

Chief Joseph (Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, or Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain)

One of the most noble Indian chiefs in the West was Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé tribe. This official name comes from the French “nez percé,” which means pierced nose, a reference to these peoples’ custom of wearing a piercing in the nose.  

The Nez Percé lived around the Wallowa Valley, between the states of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, a very fertile place that the North Americans soon started to covet. Although Chief Joseph was peaceful and tried to avoid war, the government violently forced them to move to reservations.  

Chief Joseph and his tribe had no other option than to rebel in 1877, which led to a bloody conflict in which few more than 400 Nez Percé survived. Although they won some battles, they did not win the war. After, they were taken to a reservation where many died of hunger and thirst. 

Chief Joseph never stopped writing letters the US government, demanding the right, like all other United States citizens, to live where they wanted to live. Finally, in 1880, the fewer than 300 surviving members of the tribe were allowed to return to the Northwest, but only to the Colville Reservation in Washington, not to the Wallowa Valley.