Native American Heritage Month: Six Notable Names

November is Native American Heritage Month. I love learning about Native American cultures. One way to learn is through the people. Today I will share about six notable Native Americans that are featured on Tribal Nations Map, a website I discovered a few years ago.


Little Turtle (Mihšihkinaahkwa)

Mihšihkinaahkwa, or Little Turtle, was born in 1752 about 20 miles northwest of modern-day Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was a war leader for the Miami Tribe, which is why he is a notable Native American.

Poster image of Native American Little Turtle

Early successful raids

Mihšihkinaahkwa supported the British during the Revolutionary War. After the English left the Ohio territory, settlers began the westward expansion. The settlements upset the tribes of this area, so Mihšihkinaahkwa led the Miami people in raids. In 1790, President George Washington sent 1,400 soldiers, under the leadership of General Josiah Harmar, to stop the raids. But Mihšihkinaahkwa and the Miami prevailed. Then, in 1791, General Arthur St. Clair led 2,000 soldiers to fight the Miami and Shawnee. Again, Mihšihkinaahkwa led the victory.

Changing fortunes

A few years later, in 1794, Mihšihkinaahkwa led attacks on trains bringing supplies to the U.S. Army. The U.S. Army outnumbered the Native Americans, so they assumed Mihšihkinaahkwa realized that the battle would be futile. Those who continued to fight were defeated, and Mihšihkinaahkwa’s attempt to seize Fort Recovery was unsuccessful. The defeat marked the beginning of the crumbling of the American Indian Confederation. In 1795, the Native Americans gave up all but the northwestern corner of modern-day Ohio in 1795 in the Treaty of Greenville. Mihšihkinaahkwa was present at the signing and never fought America again.

In fact, Mihšihkinaahkwa traveled to many eastern cities and eventually met George Washington. Later, he urged the Native Americans to keep peace with the Americans, and he played a major role in keeping the Miami out of Shawnee chief Tecumseh’s confederation.  Mihšihkinaahkwa died on July 14, 1812 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. (Ohio History Central)

Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (Bamewawagezhikaquay)

Bamewawagezhikaquay, or Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, was born on January 31, 1800 in the upper peninsula of modern-day Michigan. Bamewawagezhikaquay means Woman of the Sound that Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky. Being part Ojibwe and part Irish, Jane published many stories and articles about the Ojibwe in a magazine that she helped start. This makes her a notable Native American but, like many writers, her life story is neither simple nor easy.

Poster image of Native American Jane Johnston Schoolcraft

Jane’s early days

Jane was one of eight children. Her mother was a storyteller and her father was a fur trader. Her parents married, settled in Sault Ste. Marie, and ran a successful fur trading business. From her mother and her side of the family, Jane learned the Ojibwe language, culture, and ways of life. From her father, she learned English, reading, writing, and the Bible. Her father’s large library instilled in her a love for literature and poetry. She even traveled to both Ireland and England with her father and studied in both countries.

Jane becomes an author

In 1823, Jane met and married Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. He wanted to translate and record Native American stories, so they published The Literary Voyager or Muzzenyegun. The magazine focused on the Ojibwe during the winter of 1826-1827. It ran fourteen issues that circulated in Sault Ste. Marie, Detroit, and New York. Jane wrote original stories and retold Ojibwe traditional tales under the pennames of Rosa and Leelinau. This allowed her to preserve these stories for future generations and to bridge her two cultures — Ojibwe and Irish.

Most of the credit for the magazine was given to Henry. However, scholars now think that Jane contributed regularly to Henry’s writings and other publications. Unfortunately, Jane fought illness after the births of her children, and her marriage grew unhappy. Henry and Jane separated in late 1830, and Jane’s health continued to decline. She moved in with her sister in Ontario but died suddenly at the age of 42. Luckily, both her writings and their influence live on. (Women History Blog)

 Chief Leschi

Leschi was born in 1808 near Olympia, Washington. The Nisqually Tribe believed that, on the day of his birth, a star rose above the Nisqually plains and predestined him to be a leader. His father was portage chief of the Nisqually people, and his mother was the daughter of We-ow-wicht, Chief of the Yakama Nation. (The Yakama chief who met with Lewis and Clark was We-ow-wicht’s cousin.) Chief Leschi led a hard life, and his devotion to his people led to an unwarranted death sentence, which is why he is a notable Native American.

Poster image of Native American James Leschi

Leschi’s upbringing

In 1818, when Leschi was just a boy, the Americans and the British signed an agreement about the Oregon land. Leschi grew up observing how the two groups treated the Native Americans living there. Though the British claimed the Nisqually Plains, important root-digging lands for the Native Americans, they married Nisqually women and respected the Nisqually people and their traditions. In contrast, the Americans (or the Bostons, as they were known) claimed the tribal lands for their own while he and his brother worked as horse tenders in Yelm Prairie. The Americans brought their families with them and did not respect the Native Americans who were already there.

Trouble begins

In 1854, the American government presented the Medicine Creek Treaty to the Nisqually (including Leschi), the Puyallup, and other neighboring tribes. Leschi refused to sign because the treaty did not consider what his people needed. This made the Americans uneasy.

Governor Stevens continued making treaties with other Native groups, but the Nisqually stood with Leschi. Acting Governor Mason then sent a militia to the Nisqually village to arrest Leschi and his brother. When they heard about the plan, they gathered their families and fled. Soon, others joined them in the mountains and made Leschi war chief.

Fighting soon broke out between the Native Americans and the settlers. Eventually, the long winter took its toll on Leschi’s group. When they ran low on food and ammunition, Leschi went to Indian Agent John Swan to negotiate peace. Leschi had instructed his warriors to fight only the American soldiers, but many settlers had been killed by Native Americans across the region, so the Governor refused. He wanted justice served to anyone who killed white settlers. He declared Native Americans not employed by the government as enemies and ordered their deaths.

Who takes responsibility?

Ultimately, the United States Government stepped in and forced Governor Stevens to renegotiate the land for the Nisqually. Leschi got the land for his people so their way of life could continue. However, the government ordered the arrests of both Leschi and his brother. In November, 1956, Leschi’s nephew, whom he had raised as a son, betrayed him for a reward of 50 blankets. Leschi’s brother turned himself in soon after and was killed that night while sleeping on the floor of the governor’s office.

Leschi was later tried for murder. Some witnesses testified that he was innocent on the grounds that he was not even present for the White River killings. But another witness identified him as the killer of A.B. Moses. Leschi was found guilty and sentenced to be hung. He appealed unsuccessfully and died on February 19, 1858. (Chief Leschi Schools). In 2004, he was finally exonerated by the Washington State Legislature (Tribal Nation Maps).

Eliza Burton “Lyda” Conley

Eliza “Lyda” Burton Conley was born between 1868 and 1869. Her mother, Eliza Burton Zane Conley, was a descendant of the Wyandot chief. (The Wyandot people were sometimes referred to as the Huron, but this was not a positive name.) Her father, Andrew Conley, was a farmer in Kansas. Lyda Conley was a lawyer who is a notable Native American because she fought for the land rights of her people. She is widely known for protecting the Huron Indian Cemetery in Kansas City, Kansas where her mother, sister, and hundreds of Wyandot tribespeople were buried.

Poster image of Native American Lyda Conley

An important education

Lyda was one of four sisters. She and one of her sisters would row across the river every day to attend Park College. Lyda also trained as a telegraph operator, taught Sunday School at her church, and taught at Spaulding Business College in Kansas City. During that time, Kansas City was developing quickly, and the cemetery of her people was located in what would be downtown. Lyda realized the threat and enrolled in the Kansas City School of Law. She graduated as one of the only women in her class. She was admitted to the Missouri Bar in 1902 and the Kansas Bar in 1910.

The fight begins

In 1906, Congress passed a law that allowed the sale of the cemetery land and the removal of the bodies. Lyda filed an injunction in U.S. District Court to prevent the sale. She and her sister then built a shack at the cemetery gate and padlocked it. They also hung “No Trespassing” signs.

On January 14, 1910, Lyda appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court. She was the third woman and first Native American to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court. She lost her case but caught the attention of Charles Curtis, a Kansas state senator. Curtis then passed a law protecting the cemetery from any further development. However, the city kept trying to develop the land, and Lyda and her sister, Helena, kept fighting to protect it.

In their later years they spent much of their time at the cemetery near the graves of their mother and sister. In 1946, Lyda was killed during a robbery. She is buried in the Huron Indian Cemetery next to her sister, Helena. In 1971, the Huron Indian Cemetery was added to the National Register of Historical Places. In 2017, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark. This will prevent the cemetery from ever being developed. (NWHM)

 John Tortes Meyers

John “Jack” Tortes Meyers was born on July 29, 1880 on the Santa Rosa Reservation. He was a member of the Cahuilla Tribe. He is a notable Native American because of his athletic ability.

Poster image of Native American John Tortes Meyers

Around the age of 12, John’s family moved to Riverside, California. While playing for his high school team in the late 1890’s, baseball scouts noticed his talent. In 1909, he became the first member of the Cahuilla tribe accepted to Dartmouth College.

He quit Dartmouth before graduating to play baseball professionally. He was the starting catcher for the New York Giants from 1910-1915 and became known as the best all around catcher in the major leagues. “Chief” Meyers still holds the major league record for number of assists during the six-game World Series in 1911. He also won three Iron Man titles and was put on the Albert Spaulding’s Grand National All-American Baseball Team. In 1916, Meyers was traded to Brooklyn. He also played for the Boston Braves, or was claimed by them, at the same time he played for Brooklyn. His career ended when the United States entered the first World War and he joined the Marine Corps. Meyers died in 1971. (AAANativeArts)

Viola Jimulla

Sicatuva, or Viola, only knew the year in which she was born, so she chose June 15, 1878 as her birthdate. Her parents were among the Yavapai that were forced to march the 200-mile trek from Camp Verde Indian Reservation to San Carlos. So, Viola was born on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Like her parents, she persevered in hardship. She is a notable Native American because of her work to preserve her heritage and culture.

Poster image of Native American Viola Jimulla

Around the age of 15, Viola attended the Indian School in nearby Rice, Arizona. By this time her father had died. Her mother had married a man named Pelhame, so she attended school as Viola Pelhame. She also attended the Phoenix Indian School for several years before moving back in with her family in Prescott. Viola worked as a cook at the Blue Bell Mine and then married Sam Jimulla, who was born on the San Carlos Reservation as well. Sam and Viola had five daughters. Sadly, two died in infancy and one died at age 28.

Yavapai-Prescott Indian Reservation

In 1922, the Presbyterian Church bought a small building to serve the Yavapai people in Prescott. Viola became the first of the Yavapai to be baptized by the pastor at the Yavapai Indian Presbyterian Church. She then worked tirelessly to revive the Yavapai Indian Mission and to combine the two churches into the Trinity Presbyterian Church for Yavapai.

In the early 1930s, she and Sam joined others in the fight to have 75 acres declared the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Reservation. The Bureau of Indian Affairs appointed Sam as chief, but he would not take the position until his people voted him in, which they did. He headed a Civil Works Administration to build more sustainable houses for his people, but the money ran out before he could build his own house. So, his people donated the money to build the Jimulla home.

Viola, the Chieftess

In March 1940, their daughter, Amy, died leaving four young children for Viola to raise. Two months later, Sam died when he was thrown from his horse. Viola then took over for Sam as the head of their reservation, accepting the title of chieftess. Her goal was to improve the lives of her people. She said “We do not want anything fancy. No fine homes or much land. All we want is equal opportunity and the right to take our place as full-fledged Americans.” During her time as chieftess, she helped establish the Prescott Tribal Council which oversees and approves issues affecting the Yavapai people. She also advocated for her people for 26 years, including ceding land rights to get a community college built on the reservation.

Craftswoman and mentor

Viola’s mother taught her to weave baskets when she was a child. Viola became one of the best Yavapai basket weavers, teaching others as her mother taught her. In fact, the Yavapai-Prescott flag displays one of her designs.

Viola also acted as an interpreter for people. She even led a field trip for 30 children to Yosemite Park and San Francisco at the age of 73! After her death on December 7, 1966, Viola’s daughter became chieftess. Then, the other daughter took over. Eventually, Viola’s granddaughter became president of the Yavapai-Prescott tribe (Arizona Daily Star).

Native American Teaching Resource

Aaron Carapella creates amazing maps from areas that include the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. These maps feature the Native names of tribes and their original tribal boundaries prior to colonization. They make great educational resources for anyone teaching about Native Americans. He also sells them as posters, puzzles, shower curtains and all sorts of other neat products at Tribal Nations Maps.

This fall Tribal Nations Maps added a section on Notable Native Americans. They have fifteen posters to choose from, with more to come. Each poster includes a photo or drawing of the person, their Native (and sometimes English) name, how long they lived, and their tribal affiliation. Today, I shared six of them with you. These posters are perfect for the classroom, hallways or homeschools. If I still had a classroom I would love a full set!

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Carrie is a former high school math teacher with diversity training and helped advise many diversity clubs at the schools she taught. Now she is a stay-at-home mother of an elementary school age daughter and very active with her church. She writes about her life with her daughter and the fun things they do as well as reviews of books, products and more at Crafty Moms Share (

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