My Favorite Famous Native American Women
All Native American women are "famous" each and everyone. So all of them past or present deserve their moment in the sun.
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Emily Pauline Johnson
Pauline was a precocious youngster, and by the age of 12 had read most of Scott, Longfellow, Shakespeare, Byron, and other classical English writers. She had also begun to write verse of her own, although for several years she was too shy to present it for publication. When, in her mid-teens, she submitted a poem to the local newspaper, the editor advised her to send her work to more widely circulated publications. This she did, and during those early years her poetry appeared in Harper’s Weekly, Smart Set, The Anatheum, and similar literary publications of the period.
Another turning point in her life occurred in 1892 when the Young Liberals Club of Toronto sponsored an evening program devoted to the presentation of Canadian literature. In Mohawk costume, Pauline Johnson read one of her most recent poems entitled, “A Cry From an Indian Wife,” which relates the story of the Northwest Rebellion from the Indian point of view:
O! coward self I hesitate no more;
Go forth, and win the glories of war.
Go forth, nor bend to greed of white men’s hands,
By right, by birth, we Indians own these lands.
The audience was deeply moved and called for more of her writing. The next morning’s press spread the word of her triumph and she soon gave full evening readings of her work. It was for this presentation that she wrote what was probably her most famous work—The Song My Paddle Sings.
Her first book—Songs of the Great Dominion—appeared in 1889. The success of her early recitals was such that she soon embarked on a tour of Canadian cities and then, in 1894, gave several readings in London. The timing was just right for the general tone of her compositions, and she was able to meet most of the English literary world. She was favorably reviewed by most of the critics and arranged for the publication in 1895 of White Wampum, a book which received equally warm acceptance.
She was on tour for a large part of the next 15 years, from Vancouver to Halifax and from Boulder, Colorado to Birmingham, England. In 1903 a volume of her poetry, Canadian Born, was quickly sold out of its first edition. When she finally retired from the exhausting schedule of public appearances, she settled in Vancouver, British Columbia.
She gathered a collection of Legends of Vancouver, published in 1911, which one critic hailed as “an imaginative treatment of Indian folklore . . . the beginning of a new literature.” But for the now famous poet it was close to the end. Her final books, The Shaganappi, appeared in 1913, followed closely by Flint and Feathers. She died of cancer on March 7, 1913 at her home in Vancouver and was buried at Stanley Park in that city. In commemoration of her role in Canadian literature, the government issued a 5¢ postage stamp in 1961 celebrating the centenary of her birth, and featuring her portrait—the first such issue honoring an author to appear on a Canadian postage stamp—and the first Indian so recognized.
Source: Great North American Indians by Frederick J. Duckstander
Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680)
Tegaquitha, "Lily of the Mohawks," as she was popularly known, was the first recorded Native American Roman Catholic nun in North America.
She was born in 1656 at Gandawague Castle near Fonda, New York, to a Mohawk father and a Christianized Algonquin mother of the Turtle clan. During her childhood, her parents and a younger brother died from smallpox, and she was left a badly scarred and pockmarked orphan. Never a pretty child, she was adopted by her uncle, a Mohawk chief, but left largely to herself. She was always a "loner" who was apparently quite religiously inclined, and at the age of ten became strongly influenced by Jesuit missionaries.
Eventually on Easter Sunday, in 1635, she was baptized despite the strong opposition of her uncle and took the name Kateri (Catherine).
After this event, she was shunned by most of her tribe, especially when she refused to work in the fields on Sundays. In 1677, she escaped from her village and traveled the 200 miles by canoe to join a colony of Christian Native Americans at Sault St. Louis, not far from Montreal. Here, her life was one of deep asceticism and piety. She sought to establish a convent on Heron Island on the St. Lawrence River, but her plans were rejected by Church authorities; as a result she abandoned the project and became a nun.
It was a time of perfervid piety at Sault St. Louis, and in her zeal to obtain complete penance, Kateri persuaded a friend to whip her, in the custom of the day%u2014a practice which she followed every Sunday for a year. Although the savage whippings became too much for her body to withstand, she resolutely continued the practice. Refusing any aid, she persevered in this mortification until she died at the age of 24 on April 17, 1680 at the Ville Marie of St. Francis Xavier.
She was buried near La Prairie, Quebec. Her devotions and self-denial were so remarkable that many miraculous visions and cures were claimed in her name, and in 1884 she was proposed as a candidate for canonization, and in 1932 her name was formally presented to the Vatican for consideration.
Source: "Great North American Indians" by Frederick J. Dockstader
The tomb of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha at the Saint FrancisXavier Mission at Kahnawake, near Montreal.
When Kateri died, two French settlers - so moved by the sight of herradiant, peaceful face - built a wood coffin to hold her precious remains. When the mission moved from one location to another, her bones were to valuable to leave behind and were exhumed. The coffin made identification possible because Kateri was the only Indian buried in such a fashion.
In the late 1800s, Reverend Clarence Walworth of Saint Mary's Church in Albany, New York,arranged for a monument to be erected over what was then her burial place. Her relics were later exhumed and stored in a wooden chest until they were placed in the marble tomb.
PRAYER FOR CANONIZATION
O God, who, among the many marvels of Your Grace in The New World did cause to blossom on the banks of the Mohawk and of the St. Lawence, the pure and tender Lily, Kateri Tekewitha, grant we beseech You, the favor we beg through her intercession; that this Young Lover of Jesus and
of His Cross may soon be counted among her Saints by Holy Mother Church, and that our hearts may be rekindled with a stronger desire to imitate her innocence and faith.
Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen."
Susan La Flesche (1865-1915)
The first female Indian physician, Susan La Flesche was born into the Sioux in 1865 and graduated from the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania. She administered to Native American tribes, traveling on horseback from her home in Omaha, Nebraska. Eventually La Flesche became a Presbyterian missionary, heading a delegation to the nation's capital to fight for the prohibition of liquor. She died at age 50 in 1915, having spent her life in the service of her people. The symbol depicted at the bottom of the picture represents an Indian goddess against disease.
Source: Famous Native American Leaders - Dover Press
Tallchief was raised in a wealthy family; its resources were the result of her grandfather’s participation in negotiating the Osage treaty, an agreement that led to the establishment of the Osage Tribe of Oklahoma Reservation. Later the reservation was found to contain large quantities of oil, which produced vast sums of money for some Indians. Tallchief’s family was one of those who gained financially through alliances with the federal government and the discovery of oil on reservation land.
Tallchief began studying ballet and taking music lessons at age four. By the time she was eight, she had gone beyond the level of training offered in her native state of Oklahoma, and her family relocated to Beverly Hills, California. She was trained by the noted ballet specialists Bronislava Nijinska, David Lichine—a student of the great Maria Pavlova—and, later, George Balanchine.
When Tallchief was 15, she performed her first solo at the Hollywood Bowl in a piece choreographed by Madame Nijinska. Instead of attending college, she began her formal career as a member of the Ballet Russe. As a dancer with this prestigious Russian troupe, she met with prejudice and skepticism about her talent. Yet, when Balanchine took over as head of the troupe, he had no difficulty in recognizing her worth and appointed her as understudy (substitute in case of illness) for the leading role in The Song of Norway. Creator of such ballet works as Orpheus, SwanLake, and The Four Temperaments and a contemporary of the trailblazing modern composer Igor Stravinsky, Balanchine himself was an unrecognized talent at the time. As his technique developed, he helped shape Tallchief’s abilities and her reputation as a ballerina grew quickly.
Tallchief married Balanchine in 1942, and they moved to France, where she became the first American dancer to perform at the Paris Opera. Though she encountered some resistance as a Native American, she won audiences over with her performances. After returning to the United States, she became the ranking soloist—and the first American prima ballerina (leading dancer)—in the Balanchine Ballet Society (later known as the New York City Ballet). In 1949 Tallchief danced the leading role in Firebird, a part Balanchine choreographed (designed the dance steps) especially for her and remembered as one of her finest performances. A decade later she retired from performance and began directing her own ballet troupe. In later years she painstakingly revisited the leading role she created for Firebird for her students.
Tallchief’s dream of creating a Chicago-based resident ballet company first began to take form in 1974, when she was asked to develop a small troupe that would meet the needs of the Chicago Lyric Opera. In addition, she was invited to direct the Opera Ballet School. During her work there from 1974 to 1979, she established the same high standards for her students that she was given in her own training. An organizational split took place in January 1980. The Chicago City Ballet was formed when the Lyric Opera Ballet separated from the Lyric Opera.
Tallchief noted in an interview with John Gruen for Dance magazine that Balanchine—whom she divorced in 1952—“was forging a whole new technique—a whole new system of dancing. He literally created a new style of classical dancing—and that’s what we mustn’t lose. It’s what I’m promulgating [putting forward] at the Chicago City Ballet because I know it’s right.” Tallchief and the dancer/choreographer Paul Mejia seek to carry on Balanchine’s style and artistic vision at the Chicago City Ballet. Mejia, too, is a student of Balanchine’s, and he and Tallchief share a strong commitment to the late choreographer’s creative ideals.
Although Tallchief officially retired from dancing in 1966, she is remembered as a ballerina with an energy and style and a unique presence. In her interview with Gruen, Tallchief showed that the intensity of her youth burned on when she discussed working with her troupe: “What’s important is that I’m working with very talented young people. Yes, we’re in the process of growth, but I feel that if you have a choreographer like Paul Mejia and a syllabus based on Balanchine, you really can’t go wrong. What I do for the company is teach, and what I teach is what Balanchine taught me.” According to Gruen, Maria Tallchief “retains the dynamics that made her America’s prima ballerina for over two decades” and described her as “a figure still capable of making temperatures rise.”
Native North American Biography edited by Sharon Malinowski and Simon Glickman
Kenojuak (Ashevak) is generally regarded as Canada's foremost Inuit artist. Since her first print appeared in a 1959 collection, she has established an international reputation; her work has been featured in exhibitions throughout Canada, the United States, and Europe. Although most widely renowned for her prints, two of which have appeared on Canadian postage stamps, Kenojuak has worked in a variety of two- and three-dimensional media, including sewing, sculptures, copperplate engravings, paintins and drawings. She was among the first group of Canadians to receive the prestigious Order Canada Medal of Service, an award honoring achievements in all fields of Canadian life. Elected into the Royal Canadian Academy in 1974, Kenojuak has also been awarded numerous commissions, including the mural for the 1970 World's Fair.
On October 3, 1927, in south Baffin Island, Northwest Territory, Ushuakjuk, an Inuit hunter and fur trader, and his wife Seelaki named their newborn daughter Kenojuak, after the infant's deceased maternal grandfather. By participating in this Inuit naming tradition, the parents believed that all of the love and respect that had been given to the deceased during his lifetime would now be bestowed upon their daughter.
Although remembered by Kenojuak as a kind and benevolent man, her father caused conflict within the Ikerrasak camp and was murdered by its other members in 1933. After his death, Kenojuak went to live with her grandmother, Koweesa, who taught her the sewing skills that would resurface in her first works of art years later. While learning to repair sealskins being readied for trade at the Hudson's Bay Company, Kenojuak also devoted many of her childhood hours to chasing small birds, which would later serve as the subjects for many of her prints.
When Kenojuak was 19, her mother and stepfather, Takpaugni, arranged for her to marry Johnniebeo, a local Inuit hunter. A spirited woman, Kenojuak initially resisted the marriage, throwing rocks at her new husband whenever he approached her. In time, however, she came to regard him as a kind, gentle man, whom she loved a great deal. Years later, he developed his own artistic talents and sometimes collaborated with his wife on large projects. During the first few years of her marriage, Kenojuak gave birth to three children: two daughters, Jamasie and Mary, who died in childhood of food poisoning, and a son, Qiqituk, whom another family adopted at birth-a common Inuit custom.
In 1950, the first nurse arrived n the North, providing the Inuit people with their first access to the modern medical care. After testing positive for tuberculosis, Kenojuak was sent to the Parc Savard Hospital in Quebec City, where she stayed from early 1952 to the summer of 1955, narrowly escaping death several times. While recovering, she learned to make dolls and do beadwork in the hospital crafts program; her work caught the attention of James Houston, an early promoter of Eskimo art.
Upon returning to her family, Kenojuak officially launched her career as an artist, selling her sealskin and beaded crafts through a program started by Houston's wife, Alma. She also began carving, selling her work primarily through the Hudson's Bay Company. At the encouragement of Houston, who provided her with supplies, she tried her hand at drawing. After destroying her first effort, she gained enough confidence in her abilities to show her drawings to the promoter, who praised her work and urged her to continue. In 1958 her first print, Rabbit Eating Seaweed, was produced from a design on one of her sealskin bags at a Cape Dorset print shop. Shortly thereafter, several of her original drawings were reproduced as prints, making her work accessible to a wider audience.
Encouraged by the income their art work might generate, Kenojuak and several other Inuit of Cape Dorset, under Houston's guidance, formed the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative in 1959. The organization, in which the Inuit could purchase shares, served as a senlavik-"a place where one works"-for aspiring Inuit artists. Several of the early drawings, including a stencil by Kenojuak, were collected that same year and displayed in an exhibit in Stratford, Ontario. Viewing the Eskimo art for the first time, the southern audience responded favorably, providing the artists of West Baffin with an incentive to continue their work.
By 1962, Kenojuak's art had gained enough recognition to be featured in a National Film Board production, Eskimo Artist-Kenojuak, which showed the artist at work and provided a detailed account of the printmaking process. The documentary, which took three months to film, also attempted to show Kenojuak and her family participating in the traditional ways of Eskimo life.
While the film-making process was tiresome and artificial, the money she earned from it enabled Jonniebo to purchase his own canoe and achieve his independence as a hunter. This was an added benefit to the family, which by this time had added a daughter, Aggeo, and an adopted son, Ashevak. Kenojuak's financial success, however, was not always admired within her own community. The fact that she was a woman in her early thirties earning significantly more money than anyone in the camp angered many of the men, but it did not prevent her from continuing her work.
As more of her prints were released to the public in subsequent Cape Doreset print collections, Kenojuak's fame spread throughout Canada. In 1967 she was honored with the Order of Canada Medal of Service form Governor General Roland Michener and had her work featured in the National Gallery of Canada. Three years later, her famous work The Enchanted Owl was reproduced on a six-cent Canadian postage stamp. Full-size printed versions of the work would sell for as much as $14,500 several years later, further demonstrating the strength of her reputation. With the help of Jonniebo, she painted a mural for the 1970 World's Fair in Osaka, Japan. By 1972, two years after her husband's death, she had been selected for membership in the Royal Canadian Academy and her work had been exhibited in several European countries, as well as throughout Canada and the United States.
Despite her considerable fame, Kenojuak has never thought of herself exclusively as an artist, but rather has considered her artistic career to the only one facet of her life. "I don't put any aspects of my experience first as the main thing," she stated in Jean Blodgett's Kenojuak, a book-length study of her work. Kenojuak's unwillingness to view herself primarily as an artist is consistent with the traditional Inuit culture; living conditions demanded that men and women develop competence in a wide range of skills in order to survive. What is conventionally considered to be a work of art is valued by the Eskimo people primarily for its usefulness: as a ritual item, as a piece of clothing, or as a source of income. As Kenojuak told Blodgett, "The main reason why I create things is because of my children, my family."
While Kenojuak has placed her work within the Inuit tradition of functional art to some degree, she has also expressed the desire to simply create something beautiful. As told Blodgett, "I try to make things which satisfy my eye, which satisfy my sense of form and color." Consequently, the subject matter of Kenojuak's work seldom reflects any mythological meaning or portrays scenes form Inuit life. She chooses her subjects instead for their inherent beauty and their adaptability to the print medium. As Charlotte Townsend Gualt concluded in Macleans's, "She is voicing the Inuit tradition in which making and decorating things is simply a part of daily life, and at the same time putting herself in the Western tradition of 'art for art's sake.'"
With these two artistic approaches combined in her work, Kenojuak has created an original style that many have sought to duplicate. What has continued to set her work apart from her imitators, however, is her continual experimentation with form and color. While working within the familiar Inuit patterns of birds and animals, Kenojuak has developed unique systems of colors by adding, superimposing, altering, and embellishing designs. According to critics, experimentation like this is what makes he work unique.
Although Kenojuak has achieved more financial success than any Inuit artist before her, she has remained firmly within the culture of the Inuit people. While she has replaced her traditional igloo with a modern frame house, she has not given up her love for the outdoors; she still travels with her third husband, Joanassie Igiu, and six children to some of her old campsite areas to hunt and fish during the summer, living off the land as she did as a child. While family obligations have limited the amount of time she devotes to her work, she has not given up drawing and carving. "I continue to do so primarily for the future these works of art will guarantee for my children," she noted in Kenojuak. "When I'm dead, I am sure there will still be people discussing my art".
Mary Musgrove Matthews Bosomworth
Mary Interpreting For
General Oglethorpe &
Mary Musgrove was a half-breed Yamacraw Indian of the Muscogean Tribe. Her Indian name was Coosaponakesee. Her father was a white trader and her mother a Yamacraw Indian. Mary's mother was a sister of Emperor Biem who had tried, in the terrible war in 1715, to drive the white man out of the southeast. She had been sent to South Carolina when she was ten years old to go to school. Mary could speak both Creek and English.
Mary was a tiny woman about five feet tall, wore her hair in two long braids with a band of beads across her forehead, and a feather stuck into the band. She married John Musgrove, a white trader who was the son of a South Carolina official. Mary and John's trading post was Mount Venture located on the Altamaha River.
On February 12, 1733 General James Edward Oglethorpe (founder of the colony of Georgia) sailed with four small boats down the coast and up the Savannah River to his new home. (Georgia was the first colony to be established in the 18th century.) When he landed at Yamacraw Bluff, he used Mary (who was about 33 years old at this time) as his interpreter for the first meeting with the Yamacraw Chief (or Mico), Tomochichi, an imposing man six feet tall and 90 years of age. (Tomochichi was very interested in Oglethorpe's gun, which he called a "fire stick'. He remained a fast friend to Oglethorpe until his death in 1739.) Since she regarded and believed in the white man strongly, she was very influential in convincing the Yamacraw Indians to support General Oglethorpe in the settling of Georgia. General Oglethorpe regarded Mary as a valuable interpreter and employed her for a yearly salary of one hundred pounds sterling, which in that day was equal to a great deal more than five hundred dollars. But, Mary earned all that was paid to her and more.
Not only did she interpret for General Oglethorpe, but she also aided in concluding treaties and aided in securing warriors from the Creek nation in the war that occurred between the colonists and the Spaniards who occupied Florida.
When Oglethorpe left Georgia in 1743 (1742 ?) he gave Mary a ring from his finger. After malaria claimed four of Mary's sons and her husband John, she married a man named Matthews, who also died. In 1744 she married Thomas Bosomworth, who was previously the chaplain to Oglethorpe's regiment. Reverend Bosomworth was a very shrewd individual. Up until her marriage to Bosomworth, Mary had never closed to labor for the good of the colony. After her marriage to Thomas, her conduct was such as to keep the whites in constant fear of massacre and extermination.
Bosomworth set about winning the Creek Indians to his devious ways. He convinced Malatche (brother of Mary) to have himself proclaimed as emperor of the Creek nation. Then he procured from the Creek emperor a deed of conveyance to he and Mary of the islands of Ossabaw, Sapelo, and St. Catherine. Thomas then convinced the Creek nation to proclaim Mary as the "Empress of Georgia." He used Mary's influence and previous rapport to his own good.
Mary, having won support of all the Indians, made instant demand for surrender of all the lands that had belonged to the Upper and Lower Creek Indians. In August 1749 while meeting in Savannah, Mary and Thomas were privately arrested due to debts Thomas owed in South Carolina for cattle. The Indian Chiefs and council president met on several occasions to negotiate the return of lands to the Indians. Bosomworth repented of his folly, wrote to the council president apologizing for his wanton conduct.
During this time Thomas continually fought to secure the money owed Mary for her services when she was working for General Oglethorpe. Around 1759 (1757 ?), Governor Ellis settled Mary's claims by giving her 450 pounds sterling for goods she had expended in the King's service. She was also allowed 1650 pounds sterling for her services as agent. In addition, she was given 2000 pounds sterling from the auction sale of Ossabaw and Sapelo. A grant of St. Catherine Island was also made to Mary Bosomworth for her many good deeds she did for the Colonists in her better days before her mind had been poisoned by Reverend Bosomworth. The Bosomworths lived there for the rest of their lives and are buried there.
Mary & Rev. Bosomworth
Negotiating With Province
President in Savannah
Drawings © Stories of Georgia, Joel Chandler Harris
Text By Beverly L. Pack
Born in North Carolina circa 1790, Abijah Collins was designated as a mulatto and "free person of color" on US census records. She was of Native American heritage and lived in Hyde County, North Carolina. Hyde county was the sight of one the earliest reservations in North America. The Tuscarora War was the most terrible Indian war that ever took place in North Carolina. On February 11, 1715 a treaty of peace was made with the surviving Indians, and they were assigned a reservation on Lake Mattamuskeet in Hyde County. Abijah is a descendant of these natives.
In 1841 Abijah purchased a 150 acre plantation on the east side of the Pungo River for the astounding cost of $400.00. On May 20, 1848 she entered into a deed of trust borrowing $250.00 from Francis M Burgess. The deed covered the plantation where Abijah lived and if she failed to repay the loan, the land would be sold at public auction. The following year, she executed another deed of trust borrowing $450.00. The security for this note included her plantation, a horse, a yoke of oxen, 15 head of cattle and believe it or not a Negro man named Solomon about 55 yrs old. Solomon Spencer also known, as Solomon Davis was a former slave that Abijah had purchased earlier and made him her husband.
Note: North Carolina law prohibited marriage between a free person of color and a slave.
In 1860 a mortgage bill of sale was executed between Abijah and my great-great grandfather John Collins. He borrowed $53.55 with interest for one year. He offered as security, a two-year-old mare called Fil. If John did not pay her back then the mare belonged to her.
Abijah died in 1862 and left a will. In her will she gave her colored husband Solomon to her son John, and asked that the executor of the will be his protector and see that "my husband Solomon Collins is not to suffer if he should not be able to support himself".
Her son John received the plantation where he lived. Son Samuel received the plantation where he lived and daughter Prudence received the 150 acre homestead. Abijah also owned land in Durens Neck, which were given to her three grandchildren Montgomery, Franklin and John Ann Collins. She left one dollar each to three other children Orashe, William and Jones Collins.
Abijah was a remarkable woman. At a time when women had almost no rights she was allowed to enter into contracts, buy and sell property and yes even buy a husband.
HEPSIBETH BOWMAN CROSMAN HEMENWAY 1763 - 1847
By Richard S. Massey
As a descendant of Hepsibeth I was told many stories about all of my Indian ancestors by my beloved Indian Grandmother. The history of Native Americans is sad for all the Indian Nations. The Native people of Southern New England have suffered for 300 years. Many were sold into slavery and the male population was decimated by wars.
Hepsibeth was a descendant of Samuel Bowman, who was one of the proprietors of the town of Natick. This town was an attempt by Plymouth Colony in 1650 to Christianize Indians into being more like their English neighbors. There were several of these villages in Massachusetts and Connecticut, but Natick was the first.
Shortly after the King Phillip war the Bowmans returned to their original homeland of Worcester, which was due partly to racial strife with surrounding towns.
Hepsibeth is referred to in early newspaper articles as an Indian maiden from Packachoag Hill. She was half white, on her father's side. It was illegal for Indians to marry white people in Massachusetts and Hepsibeth is recorded on early town documents as Hepsibeth Bowman, daughter of Lydia Bowman. In 1789 Hepsibeth married Jeffrey Hemenway, a mulatto who had a distinguished Revolutionary war record. She was 26 and he was 53.
I am related to their daughter Lydia. One of my favorite stories of Hepsibeth is how on the first Independence Day she roasted a pig on the common and fed the people of Worcester. She was also well known for her wedding cakes.