Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Indian Chiefs

Rate this book
Biographies of six Western Indian chiefs who led their people in a historic moment of crisis, when a decision had to be made about fighting or cooperating with the white pioneers encroaching on their grounds.

151 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1987

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Russell Freedman

95 books119 followers
Russell A. Freedman was an American biographer and the author of nearly 50 books for young people. He may be known best for winning the 1988 Newbery Medal with his work Lincoln: A Photobiography.

He grew up in San Francisco and attended the University of California, Berkeley, and then worked as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press and as a publicity writer. His nonfiction books ranged in subject from the lives and behaviors of animals to people in history. Freeedman's work has earned him several awards, including a Newbery Honor each for Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery in 1994 and The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane in 1992, and a Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal.

Freedman traveled extensively throughout the world to gather information and inspiration for his books. His book, Confucius: The Golden Rule was inspired by his extensive travels through Mainland China, where he visited Confucius' hometown in modern day QuFu, in the Shantung Province.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
26 (30%)
4 stars
33 (39%)
3 stars
21 (25%)
2 stars
1 (1%)
1 star
3 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 20 of 20 reviews
Profile Image for Mariah Roze.
1,020 reviews921 followers
November 17, 2017
I read a chapter of this book a day to my students. Each chapter talks about a different Native American chief. The content of the book is very advance and I suggest reading it to high school academic level students.

"Biographies of six Western Indian chiefs who led their people in a historic moment of crisis, when a decision had to be made about fighting or cooperating with the white pioneers encroaching on their grounds."
Profile Image for Luann.
1,278 reviews116 followers
November 11, 2010
I'm surprised more people haven't read and reviewed this early work by Russell Freedman. Perhaps it gets overshadowed by his Newbery-award-winning Lincoln: A Photobiography which was published the same year.

As always with a Russell Freedman book, I learned a lot! He presents biographies of six Indian chiefs, focusing on their leadership during the time of the conflict in the American West as more and more white people settled on the land and hunting grounds occupied by various Indian tribes. The six Indian chiefs are: Red Cloud (Sioux), Satanta (Kiowa), Quanah Parker (Comanche), Washakie (Shoshoni), Joseph (Nez Perce), and Sitting Bull (Sioux).

With such an emotion-laden topic, I think Freedman made a great attempt at maintaining a neutral voice and presenting facts. It would be very easy to slant the material more to one side or the other. Both sides made mistakes and reacted emotionally, and many times violently, to wrongs done to them. I was especially sad to learn about tribes whose leaders continually tried to keep the peace yet their people were still eventually forced to leave their lands and move to reservations.

And yet you can also understand those who did fight back. Freedman quotes one Sioux chief who said: "The whites were always trying to make the Indians give up their way of life and live like the white men. If the Indians had tried to make the whites live like them, the whites would have resisted, and it was the same with many Indians."

Next I need to read Freedman's The Life and Death of Crazy Horse and Buffalo Hunt, which seem like they would go right along with this one.
Profile Image for Helen.
701 reviews89 followers
July 1, 2017
This is a straightforward book describing the lives & fates of six notable North American Indian chiefs (Red Cloud of the Oglala Sioux, Satanta of the Kiowas, Quanah Parker of the Comanches, Washakie of the Shoshonies, Joseph of the Nez Perces, and Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa Sioux) - famous leaders of Indian tribes of the Western US, from Canada to Mexico west of the Mississippi and east of the Pacific Coast States. These Indians occupied territory in the path of the settlers streaming into the West/California/Northwest along the Oregon Trail, and the Santa Fe Trail. Their chiefs were wise and brave, but in the end, none of them could reverse the inevitable loss of their way of life and lands to the thousands of white settlers that streamed into the West.

The arc of each story is familiar and depressing, and the culmination is the devastating massacre at Wounded Knee, which finished off the openly performed Ghost Dance religion, a messianic faith which was viewed with great suspicion and eventually outlawed by the US government. (No doubt the Ghost Dance religion, along with other Native rituals/faiths, went underground afterwards & is still performed as a private ceremony/ritual, along with other Native American rituals.)

This is a lavishly illustrated book, and the easy to read narrative about each of the chiefs, together with an introductory chapter on the concept of Indian chiefs (war chiefs and peace chiefs) means the book can be read almost at one sitting.

Unfortunately, similar to reading all books about American Indians, this is a depressing book overall. The history of American Indians post contact with Europeans is uniformly dismal. The Europeans initially traded for furs at trading posts in North America, starting with Newfoundland & Maine, but then established colonies, and then began engaging in agriculture. Meanwhile, the Europeans raided Indian villages to kidnap, enslave and sell Indians, which led to unending distrust between whites and Indians. As more and more whites arrived in North America, it became clear to the Indians that land was what the whites wanted most, not just furs. Indian hunting grounds became whites-only farmland.

Eventually all the Eastern and Southeastern Indians were driven west of the Mississippi (although some pockets remain in reservations) and then into smaller and smaller reservations out West.

Meanwhile, the vast herds of buffalo were exterminated. The buffalo formed the basis of the Western Indian's existence, together with some agriculture and gathering of nuts, berries and so forth.

The European concept of buying and selling land, and becoming sedentary vs. the Indian way of life, which was not tied to a specific spot (or at least not tied to a specific spot for very long - although they did have villages) was an unbridgeable difference between the two ways of life. Once the Indians lost their land, they lost everything - although they didn't consider the land something that could be owned previously.

The Indians didn't develop the material culture of the whites, and they didn't understand evidently that the accumulation of items and money was of great importance to whites.

The same story of eventual failure and defeat is repeated over and over again. The Indians were driven into enclosures - or reservations - and cut off from their traditional way of life, which included hunting and gathering. Their settlements had previously been located near waterways and good farmland. These areas all were lost to whites. At the reservations, they had to rely on government handouts - often, unhealthy food, often, inadequate food, because usually, the reservations were located on agriculturally poor land, and not even necessarily near a source of water or waterway.

Reservation land set aside for Indians was usually not very productive in terms of farming, and even so, whites often would even encroach on Indian reservation land (grazing, or poaching Indian cattle).

The Indians never got a square deal and the relationship between whites and Indians was marked by mistrust - although many Indians did try to trust the US government, and live at peace with the whites, the government would later change or even rip up treaties. This pattern was repeated over and over again.

The Indian population was devastated by diseases picked up from white immigrants to the New World, by addiction to alcohol, and they could not compete technologically. Perhaps 90% of tribes were wiped out by disease.

Prior to contact, it's not clear if the tribes had developed numeracy. They did not have a metal culture although they made many tools from shells, bones, flint. There were no draft animals or domesticated animals in North America - so this might explain why some other advancements didn't occur, such as constructing masonry buildings, or owning large herds of domesticated animals.

In North America, there was a great deal of decentralization - loose alliances of tribes and there were also, notably, a great many different Indian languages. It would not have been easy to unify the tribes to try to oppose the "invaders." The lack of unity was another factor leading to the total loss of their land, freedom, and way of life.

Pre-contact, the Indians didn't conceptualize land usage or ownership along the same lines as whites. Although they often did try to get along with whites, in the end, they were simply pushed into ever smaller reservations, with some eventually even fleeing to Canada. Although there are only remnants of tribes left today, the total number who claim American Indian heritage in the US is now 5 million. Today, 70% of Americans who claim American Indian heritage live in urban areas.

The book ends with the following paragraph: "The Battle of Wounded Knee Creek, known to the Indians as the Wounded Knee Massacre, marked the end of the Indian wars in the American West. The Indians had lost the West, and a great deal more. Perhaps they found comfort in the words of Sitting Bull, who had said: "If a man loses anything and goes back and looks carefully for it, he will find it.""

Profile Image for Joan.
1,997 reviews
December 29, 2020
This is well written, respectful and tragic. This is a accounting of 6 well known leaders of Native American tribes. Really, what they all found out one way or another, was that there was no solution to dealing with the more technologically advanced, murderous White men. The whites were determined to have more land and they got it. Each treaty signed was good just long enough until the Whites decided they needed more land. Some tried war, others tried obedience, others tried negotiation, etc. each one ended up defeated. Since this was written in 1987, I was wondering how it would hold up. But I was forgetting that this was written by the superb Freedman, who approached every subject with curiosity and respect. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Frances.
452 reviews
October 11, 2022
This is a children’s book but I would say appropriate for 8th grade up. The author did an excellent job of profiling six Indian Chiefs: Red Cloud, Satanta, Quanah Parker, Washakie, Sitting Bull, and Joseph. Very sad and a tragic history of our country. Heartbreaking
Profile Image for Lauren Gibson.
27 reviews
April 22, 2012
I read the book Indian Chiefs by Russell Freedman
SUMMARY: This book is a biography about 6 different indian chiefs that lived in the western states during the 1800's. This book tells the struggles they had to go through when their land was gradually getting taken from them and their struggle to stay in one place. This book also shows an insight to the 6 different tribes the chiefs are from. The Oglala Sioux, Kiowas, Comanches, Shoshonis, Nez Perces, and Hunkpapa Sioux. The chiefs decide wether their tribes should fight or cooperate with the white people taking their land.
CRITIQUE: This book has many different main characters so it would be tough to just focus on one to be a person of interest. But i believe the main subject of this book, being indians could be a subject of interest. When children are young there are a lot of units on indians and their heritage so they might be interested in the different tribes through this book. The book is set in a time period so long ago i do not believe that children will be able to relate to the chiefs. That was also a whole different way of life, so i do not believe they will understand some of the hardships and decisions they had to make. Such as it talks about the Nez Perce War, and Reservations and no children will know what these are or what they consisted of. They probably dont truly understand the meaning of war and fighting, which there is alot of in this book. The information seems to be very rela and authentic. And there are many photographs to further explain and give details of what the people and places they lived on looked like at that time. These photographs helped me visualize better what they used to fight, and the different places they were fighting over. I did not find the authors word style appealing. he used some words that i did not even know the definition to, such as "flanked" and many of the tribe names and peoples names were very hard to keep straight and organized while reading. The pictures helped me a lot while reading to better understand the sequence of events and to see the different people and what they looked like.
RESPONSE: I did not really enjoye reading this book. Although it was very informational i do not believe that children will be interested in it because some of the words and names are hard to read. This book has many good facts and shows what was happening at this time in history by many perspectives, but this is meant for older people who are interested in this subject. I would not have this book in my classroom because i dont think it is very appealing to children and they would not be able to read it with ease or without assistance.
Profile Image for Kristi Hudecek-Ashwill.
Author 2 books38 followers
November 6, 2012
My 10-year old son brought this home from the school library for me to read and it is by far the most interesting and informative book I've ever read about this subject and I've read quite a few of them.

The book covers Red Cloud, Satanta, Quanah Parker, Washakie, Joseph and Sitting Bull. In all honesty, the only chiefs I'd ever heard of were Red Cloud, Sitting Bull and Chief Joseph whom I think everybody has heard of at one time or another and I knew of other two because I lived in South Dakota the majority of my life. But everything was interesting. The stories of their lives and how they stood up against the white man and the army, their valiant efforts to preserve their lands and their way of life and how they eventually went to the spirit world. The pictures and sketches were fascinating and some of them made me feel sad.

I could really get on my soapbox about how badly the Indians were treated back then and in a lot of cases, still are but they were wronged. They were lied to, cheated and made to adopt a lifestyle they couldn't relate to. They were robbed of their dignity and their pride. The government offered to give them money for the land and if they refused it, the government just took it then shoved them onto those godforsaken reservations and yes, they are still godforsaken and the people forgotten.

I do have to appreciate one fact that the author did tell another version of the Wounded Knee Massacre. The common story is that the cavalry opened fire on the Indians while they were marching them out of Wounded Knee and that the Indians were defenseless. Essentially, that is true but what they don't tell you in your history books or classes is that at least one Indian had a gun and fired on the cavalry and the rest is history. I'd read an article in a South Dakota newspaper that was written and printed right after it happened (on microfilm) that said the same thing. I was surprised to see that version in this book. Regardless of who fired the first shot, it was still a massacre

I really did like this book and recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about the Native Americans and their history. It will make you understand the culture a little bit and maybe appreciate them as people.

Profile Image for Evan Hays.
515 reviews10 followers
October 1, 2021
Russell Freedman is so good at what he does. He takes such a very complicated subject and concisely lays out the history in its true complexity. The particular strength of the way he chose to do this book, looking at different chiefs from different tribes, is that he shows how diverse American Indian responses were to the incursion of whites into the American West. Essentially, the game was always rigged against them, and many new that quite well, yet their responses were still very multi-faceted. Even for just one chief, his choices might change over time, or he might remain defiant. But it was also interesting to see across different tribes in different places. This story is really a great tragedy, of course, but hopefully is one we can learn from. I read this book at this time because I will have my students using portions of it for their projects on the West unit coming up. Freedman is ideal for middle schoolers, but really for anyone who is looking to get good basic knowledge on a historical subject.
Profile Image for Chase Parsley.
491 reviews14 followers
March 16, 2021
Published in 1987 and a gift from a friend, I found myself enjoying this book immensely! The title could be better stated as, "How Six Native American Chiefs Dealt with Invading Americans." Sitting Bull, Joseph, Red Cloud, Satanta, Washakie, and Quanah Parker are the six chiefs who are profiled, and this book is both respectful and honest in discussing the conquest of the West. It is written for younger readers but all ages would appreciate Freedman's use of visuals and easy to understand writing.

All six chiefs have different situations to consider, and when combined with their personalities, they make different decisions. This is a great lesson in multiple perspectives. Finally, this book is almost entirely about the last days of the Native Americans. There is a bit of background, but it focuses on the mid/late 1800s. We should never forget this ugly chapter in American history.
Profile Image for Lisa  Montgomery.
713 reviews3 followers
September 6, 2020
This is a collective biography of Amerind leaders told by an award-winning historian.
The author begins by saying "chief" is a misnomer for the tribes have a multi-layered style order of leadership. In discussing Red Cloud, Satanta, Quanah Parker, Washakie, Joseph, and Sitting Bull, Mr. Freedman discloses the interplay of families in the decisions made.
The stories provide us with a better understanding of the difficult decisions each leader made.
Profile Image for Maureen.
57 reviews4 followers
November 18, 2008
Once again Russell Freeman masterfully shares the voices of six Native American leaders who had to make critical decisions during the time of western expansion when their hunting grounds were being settled by the white farmers and ranchers on the western frontier. Each testimony reveals the courage, strength, and pride of the cultures, but ultimately devolves into a tone of frustration, hopelessness, betrayal and ultimately, resignation, as the concept of manifest desting marginalizes the indigenous people of America.

This is a "must read" for any upper intermediate or middle school teacher who is teaching a unit on westward expansion. This is a valuable resource that presents impeccably researched information that paints an accurate and honest portrayal of the victimization of the Native American by the United States government during the 1800's. I used this book as a closing activity to a simulation activity during which the students were assigned to role play and assume thepoint of view of the Native Americans as the government officials systematically usurped the hunting grounds for white settlement, renegged on treaties, and forced Native Americans onto reservations, essentially destroying their ways of life. This complemented the simulation perfectly as it presented historical documentation of the critical decisions the chiefs had to make as to whether they would continue to fight, potentially risking thousands of lives, or giving up their land cooperatively and peacefully in hopes of sustaining a small bit of their heritage and pride.
104 reviews2 followers
November 12, 2013
This book gives perspectives of 6 different Native American Chiefs during the 1800s in the west. A great book for students to see American expansion from another point of view and to also develop critical reading skills. Maybe have students read the typical social students textbook, than have students read this book. What is the textbook leaving out?
15 reviews
November 18, 2010
Have to choose a topic for an essay. It ended up being Indian Chiefs! Its actually a lot better book than I expected! So if you read it great but if you don't it doesnt really matter. Only hurtin ur self!
118 reviews
September 1, 2014
Excellent biographies of Joseph, Sitting Bull, and others. Presented with some bias towards the Native Americans, but also sympathy towards the jobs some calvary officers, like Howard, were told to perform. Photos are good quality and relevant. I want to read more by Mr. Freedman.
Displaying 1 - 20 of 20 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.