Known as "The Father of Texas," Stephen Austin
established the first American colony in the Tejas
province of Mexico and saw it grow into an
independent country that later became the state of
Austin was born in southwestern Virginia, but his family moved to Missouri when he
was five years old. Stephen’s father wanted to start a colony in Mexico, but died
before he was able to do it. The colony would be where the state of Texas is today.
Stephen continued the work of his father, asking the government in Mexico City for
the right to build a colony for Americans.
For many years, Stephen was in between the Mexican government and the American
colonists in Tejas. He had to enforce Mexican laws and control his colonists, but he
also had to help the colonists get what they wanted. Sometimes these decisions were
difficult. Slavery was illegal in Mexico, but the farmers in Tejas wanted slavery to
help them grow their crops. Stephen made sure that his colony had slaves.
For a long time, Stephen just wanted Tejas to continue to be a part of Mexico. His
colonists wanted Tejas to become its own country. They wrote a declaration of
independence for Texas, and had Stephen take it to Mexico City. The president of
Mexico put Stephen in prison for rebelling against the Mexican government.
After he got out of prison, Stephen was a general in command of the Texas army and
fought against Mexico. He went to Washington D.C. and asked the United States
government for help. The United States army helped fight against Mexico, and Texas
became its own country for a while. Stephen Austin became an important man in the
Buffalo Bill Cody
William Cody was born in Iowa in 1846. He grew up
on the prairie. In 1860, he joined the Pony Express,
which advertised for "skinny, expert riders willing to
risk death daily." Already a good horse rider at age 14,
Cody was perfect for the job.
During the Civil War, Cody served first as a Union
scout and fought against Indians. After the war, he got
married and started hunting buffalo to feed railroad
construction crews. He killed over 4,000 buffalo in
seventeen months, which is when he earned the
nickname “Buffalo Bill,” which he used for the rest of
An author began writing stories about Buffalo Bill, which were partly truth and partly
fiction. These tall tales became very popular. In 1872, Buffalo Bill started acting in
plays based on the stories about his life, and became even more famous. He even
started writing his own stories, which made him appear to be very brave and strong.
Beginning in 1883, he started a new outdoor show. It was part rodeo, part circus, and
part history. He had cowboys fighting Indians, and had them act out famous battles.
He had sharpshooters and expert horse riders. Sometimes he even had famous Indian
chiefs, like Sitting Bull, who had been an enemy of the United States. Buffalo Bill’s
Wild West Show made Buffalo Bill rich and famous, and it lasted for many years.
Because he was so famous, he was asked to help restore peace after battles between
Indians and the United States. Because people knew he was rich, sometimes they
would try to trick him out of his money. He lost a lot of his money to these people.
Kit Carson was born in Missouri in 1809. His father died
when he was very young, so Kit needed to work to help
his family. He left home when he was sixteen years old,
and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. He became a fur
trapper who traveled around the west from Colorado to
California, trapping animals and selling their fur to make
money. For many years he was friendly to Indians, and
even had a wife who was an Indian woman.
Carson became a guide for John C. Fremont, an explorer
for the United States government. Fremont wrote a book
about his travels which was read by many people. Fremont described Carson as being
very brave, and soon other people wrote stories about Kit Carson that made him sound
almost like a superhero.
He became a leader in the United States Army during the Mexican-American War,
and fought against the Mexican Army in California. Later, during the Civil War, he
fought against the Navajo Indians. The United States government wanted the Navajo
to move to a new place, and they wanted to stay where they had lived for many years.
Kit Carson used his soldiers to destroy the crops and orchards of the Navajo people.
Then he got other tribes of Indians to help attack the Navajo. The Navajo had no
choice but to leave their land. Carson forced the Navajo to walk 300 miles from
Arizona to the reservation in New Mexico, where they were kept for many years,
living in terrible conditions. Many of them were sick, and many Navajo Indians died
because of this. The United States said Kit Carson was a hero, but the Navajo said he
was a villain.
Chief Joseph was born in Oregon in 1840. He was given
the name “Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt,” or “Thunder Rolling
Down the Mountain,” but was known as Chief Joseph
because his father sometimes used the name Joseph after
he was baptized by Christian missionaries. Chief Joseph’s
father was a leader of the Nez Perce Indians. He wanted
peace with the United States, and signed a treaty that
would give his people a large area of land. Then gold was
discovered on the Nez Perce land, and the United States
wanted it. They wanted to take back 90% of the land. This
made Chief Joseph’s father angry.
After Joseph’s father died, Joseph became the leader of the
Nez Perce Indians. The United States continued to take
land away from the Indians. Some of the Indians killed some white men who had
settled on the Nez Perce land. The United States Army sent two thousand soldiers to
attack the Nez Perce. Chief Joseph led his people in a journey that went from Idaho to
Montana in a retreat that covered 1,400 miles.
As they were retreating, the Nez Perce continued to fight the United States Army,
even though they only had two hundred warriors. This lasted several months. As
they fought, newspapers across the United States wrote articles about how brave Chief
Joseph was. Chief Joseph became famous as a fighter, even though his brother was
actually the leader in many of the battles.
Eventually Chief Joseph surrendered so that his people wouldn’t be killed. They were
forced to move far away from their homes to land in Oklahoma. They lived there
with other Indians for many years, until at last they were allowed to return to Idaho,
closer to their old homes. Chief Joseph was famous for helping his people, even
though he lost the war with the United States.
William Clark was born in Virginia, and moved with
his family to Kentucky when he was a teenager.
When he was nineteen years old, he joined the army,
and fought against Indians. In the army, he became
friends with Meriwether Lewis. In 1803, Lewis asked
him to join the “Corps of Discovery.” This was a
mission to explore the area between the Mississippi
River and the Pacific Ocean. William Clark became
part of the famous team “Lewis and Clark.”
Clark studied astronomy and mapmaking to help them on their journey. They
followed the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and made friends with many groups of
Indians along the way. The most famous Indian to help them was a woman named
Sacagawea, who became an important guide and helper for them. Sacagawea was
able to help them as they met different groups of Indians along the way, including the
Shoshone and Nez Perce. The Indians helped by giving Lewis and Clark horses and
food, and teaching them the best ways to go through the mountains.
After returning from their journey, Lewis and Clark became famous. Because of his
many experiences with Indians, William Clark became the Indian agent for the United
States. This meant he would work for the United States government to try and make
treaties with the Indians, so there would be peace. Both whites and Indians said that
William Clark was a good man, who treated both sides fairly.
Even as a young man, Crazy Horse was known as a
fierce warrior. He was born in South Dakota, and was
stealing horses from other Indians by the time was
thirteen years old. He was a war leader by the time he
was twenty. Soon he joined other Indians in their
attacks on white people who were moving onto Indian
Crazy Horse wasn’t just famous for being brave in
battle. He also wanted to keep the Indian way of life.
He didn’t want to change to become more like white
Americans. The United States Army wanted to force the Lakota Indians to move onto
other land, and take away most of the Lakota land. This made Crazy Horse angry. He
fought against the United States Army.
Crazy Horse joined with other Indians and fought against them in the famous Battle of
Little Bighorn. This battle is famous because the Indians won, killing many American
soldiers. After this battle many of the Indians escaped to Canada, but Crazy Horse
continued to stay and fight. Because so many buffalo had been killed, it became
impossible for the Indians to live their traditional ways. Crazy Horse agreed to move
to an Indian reservation so he could take care of his wife and family.
George Armstrong Custer
George Armstrong Custer was born in Ohio, and
wanted to be a soldier. He went to West Point
Academy in New York, a training school for the
army. Soon after he graduated, the Civil War
started, and Custer became a general. He became
famous for his bravery, often pushing his soldiers
into very bloody battles.
Custer was best at leading the cavalry—soldiers
riding horses. After the Civil War was over, he was
given command of soldiers that were fighting
against Indians. The United States government wanted the Indian land for white
farmers. This led to fighting between the Indians and the United States. Custer
fought against many groups of Indians in the west.
Some people didn’t think Custer was a good leader. They said he was too dangerous,
and got too many of his own men killed. Sometimes when there was a battle, they
couldn’t find Custer anywhere to get their orders.
General Custer attacked an Indian village in Wyoming, because he thought he could
beat any group of Indians. The Indians fought back in a famous battle, and killed
General Custer and all of his soldiers. This battle meant that General Custer would be
famous forever, even though he was famous for being a man who lost a battle.
Meriwether Lewis was born in Virginia in 1774. He became a captain
in the U.S. Army, and in 1801 became a private secretary to President
Thomas Jefferson. President Jefferson thought that Lewis would be a
good choice to lead a group of explorers across the continent. From
1801 until 1803, Lewis studied science and navigation at a university,
trying to learn everything he could about the journey they’d be taking.
Lewis had made friends with a man named William Clark in the army,
and chose him to be co-captain for the journey. They traveled up the
Mississippi and Missouri Rivers to an Indian village, where they spent
the winter. They realized that they would need the help of many groups of Indians to survive the
journey from the Great Plains to the Pacific Ocean. A woman named Sacagawea became their
most important guide on the trip. She was able to communicate with the Indians they met along
the way, and was able to help them trade for food, horses, and other supplies they needed.
Lewis and Clark became famous as explorers, and achieved their goal of reaching the Pacific
Ocean. They also made peaceful contact with many Indian tribes, and made maps and journals
of their journey. After returning to civilization as a hero, President Jefferson made Lewis the
governor of Louisiana.
Julia Louisa Lovejoy
Julia Louisa Lovejoy was born in New Hampshire in 1812. After
she got married, she moved to Kansas with her husband, who
was a minister. They were moving there to try and make Kansas
a state that was free from slavery. The journey to Kansas was
hard, and their four year old daughter died on the way there.
From 1855 to 1856, there was much violence in Kansas. The
people that wanted slavery sent guns and soldiers to fight for
their cause, and the enemies of slavery did the same. They fought
each other in a bloody battle for two years, even though war
hadn’t been officially declared. For a time Kansas had two
governments, one that was for slavery, one against slavery. Julia
wrote letters to newspapers in Boston and New York explaining
what was happening in Kansas.
When the Civil War started, Julia’s hometown of Lawrence Kansas was a center of many battles.
She saw many of her friends and neighbors die. Even though she saw terrible things, Julia
believed that the good side would win. After the Civil War was over, Julia continued to write
letters and newspaper articles. Instead of fighting against slavery, now she fought for women to
get the right to vote. By writing letters, she was able to make her voice heard, even though she
was a woman far away from big cities.
James Marshall was born in New Jersey and learned to be a carpenter
and wheelwright. When he turned 18, he moved to Kansas, and later
decided to move to California. He worked at a sawmill for John
Sutter, and soon Marshall had money and land of his own. He joined
with other settlers to fight against Mexico in the Mexican-American
James Marshall returned from his time in the army to find that his
cattle had been stolen. He was forced to sell his ranch, and went back
to working with John Sutter. The sawmill was on the edge of a river.
One day in 1848, Marshall was checking the sawmill to make sure the
river had cleaned out all of the dirt. He looked down into the clear
water and saw gold!
Word quickly got out that gold had been found in California, and people came from across the
country and around the world to try to find it. This gold rush could have made James Marshall a
rich man, but he wasn’t able to get legal recognition of his discovery. He tried to get strong men
to work in his sawmill, but they all wanted to search for gold themselves. Marshall was famous,
but he ended his life poor, owning a small cabin and farm in California, with no gold of his own.
James K. Polk
James K. Polk was born in North Carolina, and had nine brothers and
sisters. His parents were rich farmers, and were able to send James to
college to get a good education. He was smart and successful, and
soon became a lawyer. When he was 30 years old, Polk became a
congressman, serving in the House of Representatives in Washington,
D.C.. In 1844, Polk became the 11th President of the United States.
More than anything, James K. Polk wanted to expand the United
States, making it bigger and stronger than it had ever been before. To
do this, he needed to take land from Canada and Mexico. The land he
got from Canada was Oregon. This land had been claimed by both
Britain and the United States, and Polk agreed to split that land,
dividing it between Canada and the U.S. The land he wanted from Mexico was mostly in Texas.
This land had been settled by white Americans in the 1830s, and now was rebelling against
Mexico. President Polk sent American soldiers into Mexico. When Mexican troops killed some
of the Americans, President Polk declared war on Mexico.
The Mexican-American War only lasted a few years, but was very bloody. Many of the
Americans didn’t think the United States had the right to take land from Mexico, and were sad
that we were in a war with them. Many other Americans wanted to see the United States grow
bigger, and hoped that we could get even more land from Mexico. After the war, the United
States had added Texas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and most of Arizona and New Mexico to its
territory. It was a victory for the United States, but the war exhausted James K. Polk. He died
only a few months after his presidency ended.
Red Cloud was born in Nebraska in 1822, and became one of the
most important Lakota Indian leaders in history. Much of his early
life was spent in battle against other Indian tribes, including the
Sioux, the Crow, and the Utes.
Beginning in 1866, Red Cloud had a new enemy: the United States.
The U.S. was sending thousands of farmers and miners across the
country, and they were taking land away from the Indians. Red
Cloud worked together with the chiefs of other tribes to attack
soldiers as they marched to their forts in Wyoming and Montana.
After two years of these attacks, Red Cloud was so successful that
the U.S. signed a treaty which gave Red Cloud’s people a large area
of Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota.
The peace treaty did not last. The U.S. Army sent more soldiers, who
attacked the Indians again, taking land away from them. Red Cloud decided not to fight them,
and led his people onto an Indian reservation. From the reservation, he continued to fight in his
own way, arguing with government agents that his people needed more food and more supplies.
Red Cloud got allies in Washington D.C. and other eastern cities, and was able to do more good
for his people through newspaper stories than with guns.
Other Indian chiefs were captured and put in jail or killed—Red Cloud is one of the only chiefs
who survived into the 20th Century.
(1790-1812 or 1884)
Sacagawea was born in about 1790, the daughter of a Shoshone Indian
chief. She was kidnapped by another tribe of Indians when she was ten
years old, and taken to their village on the Missouri River. She was
married to Charbonneau, a French Canadian fur trapper. Lewis and
Clark hired Charbonneau as an interpreter for their famous journey.
Sacagawea came with them, and became one of the most important
members of their expedition. Just before they were supposed to leave on
their journey, Sacagawea gave birth to her first baby, a boy named
Pomp. She carried the baby with them on her back in a cradleboard.
She led the expedition up the Missouri River, and four months later they
met some Shoshone Indians. They needed to get horses from the
Shoshone so they could continue their journey to the Pacific Ocean. The
Shoshone chief was her brother, Cameahwait! Instead of going back to the Shoshone with her
brother, she stayed with Lewis and Clark, getting them the horses they needed and leading them
to the Pacific Ocean. She was the only woman with the expedition, and must have been very
On the return trip, Sacagawea and her husband left Lewis and Clark at the Missouri River. Some
people believe Sacagawea died in 1812 after a fever. Others say she returned to live with her
people in Wyoming, and died there in 1884. No one knows for sure.
Antonio López de Santa Anna
Santa Anna is one of the most famous people in Mexican
history. He was born in Vera Cruz in 1794, and for a long time
fought against Spain’s control of Mexico. In 1833, he became
president of Mexico, which had won its independence from
When Texas rebelled against Mexico in 1835, Santa Anna led
the counter attack against the Americans. He and his forces
killed all of the American defenders at the Alamo, but he was
too confident. He was beaten by Sam Houston and the
Americans, and lost Texas to the United States.
Even though he had lost Texas, he was able to keep the presidency of Mexico by showing people
how brave he had been in battle. He fought against a French invasion in 1838, and had horses
shot out from under him. He lost most of his left leg in a battle, and had to use a wooden leg.
In the Mexican-American War, Santa Anna lost Texas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and most of
New Mexico and Arizona. After Santa Anna sold millions of acres of more land to the United
States for a cheap price, the Mexican people turned on him and took away the presidency. For
the last twenty years of his life, Santa Anna lived a quiet life, never having political power again.
Levi Strauss was born in Germany in 1829. Even living in Europe,
he heard about the Gold Rush happening in California. He came to
San Francisco in 1850, hoping to strike it rich. Many of the people
coming to California didn’t want to get rich by digging for gold,
but by selling supplies to the gold miners. Levi wanted to get rich
He was a tailor, and planned on selling tents and wagon covers to
the miners. These were made out of sturdy canvas, so they would
be extra durable. No one wanted to buy tents or wagon covers, so
Levi started making pants out of the canvas material. Miners
found that the pants were stronger than their usual pants, and could
hold up to the hard work of mining. Levi’s pants were selling as
quickly as he could make them.
Levi Strauss opened a factory in San Francisco, and started adding copper rivets at the edges of
the pants he sold so they would last longer. He also switched from canvas to a heavy blue denim
material, which was called “genes” in France, and became “jeans” in America.
He became rich and famous, and worked to establish other services in San Francisco, including
an insurance company, power company, banks, and several charities. His company is still one of
the biggest clothing manufacturers in the United States, and “Levis” have become part of
American tradition around the world.
Narcissa Whitman and her husband Marcus were some of the first
American settlers in the West. Marcus was a doctor, and both
Marcus and Narcissa were Christian missionaries. They wanted
to go to the Indians in the West and teach them English and how
to be Christians. The Whitmans and another family followed the
Oregon Trail to Washington, and Narcissa became the first white
woman to travel along that trail.
Narcissa’s life in Washington was hard, and the Whitmans built
several buildings, including a church, a school, a hospital, and
many houses. Narcissa’s daughter died, and Narcissa nearly lost
her eyesight to a sickness. Narcissa was very lonely.
The Whitmans were in Washington to bring religion to the
Cayuse Indians, but Narcissa hated the Indians. She told them
their traditions were wrong, and didn’t want to let the Indians into her house. Marcus and
Narcissa felt like they needed more white families around them to feel at home, and in 1843, he
brought one thousand pioneers along the Oregon Trail to Washington. Soon, the Whitmans had
more white neighbors, and they adopted eleven children.
The Cayuse Indians were suspicious of the Whitmans. They saw Narcissa helping the many
white people coming into their land, and were angry with them. In 1847, there was an outbreak
of measles, a serious disease that killed many Indians and whites. Although Narcissa tried to
help both Indians and whites to fight, more white children survived than Indian children. This
made the Cayuse more angry, and they attacked the Whitman village, killing Narcissa and
Marcus and twelve others.
Brigham Young was born in Vermont in 1801. He had eleven
brothers and sisters, and grew up in a poor farming family.
When he was sixteen years old, he left home to learn how to be
a carpenter. In 1832, Brigham and many of his family members
were baptized into the Mormon Church, and later that year he
went to Canada as a missionary for that church.
Brigham Young went with the Mormons from Ohio to Missouri
to Illinois, and eventually became a leader who was only second
to Joseph Smith, the president of the Mormon Church, who the
Mormons believed was a prophet. After Smith was murdered in
1844, Young led the Mormons on a long journey across the
United States to Utah.
Once in Utah, Brigham Young built up a strong community of Mormon settlers. This community
expanded into Idaho and Arizona, and had colonies as far away as Mexico and Canada. Young
became the first governor of the Utah Territory, and combined religious power and the
government of Utah. Some people didn’t like the Mormons, and encouraged the United States to
send an army to get rid of Brigham Young and his church. The army did come, but Brigham
Young was able to end the conflict peacefully.
Brigham Young encouraged the transcontinental railroad to come through Utah, and the rail lines
met in Utah, north of Salt Lake City. This brought more money and jobs to Utah, and also
brought more Mormons and non-Mormons. Brigham Young used these to strengthen the
Mormon Church and his people, and remained a leader of the Mormons until he died in 1877.
(1844 - 1891)
Sarah Winnemucca was a Paiute Indian, and was born in Nevada.
She was the daughter of a chief, and was very good at learning
other languages. She spoke several different Indian languages, and
learned to speak, read and write English very well.
When there was a war between the Bannock Indians and the
United States government, Sarah helped translate and interpret for
the U.S. Army. She hoped that if she helped the army, they would
treat her people well when the war was over. Instead, the Paiutes
were put onto small reservations in the Nevada desert.
She was a teacher at a school for Indian children in Nevada for several years. Sarah’s dream was
to get a good home for her people, the Paiutes. She wrote letters to newspapers, and traveled
around the United States giving lectures and speeches to get support for her ideas.
Even though Sarah didn’t get the homeland for her people that she wanted, she did important
things. One of the most important is that she wrote a book about her life, which helped us
understand the history and culture of the Paiutes. Because she wrote this book, we know more
about the Paiutes and Sarah’s life than we do about most other tribes of Indians.
(1860 - 1926)
Annie Oakley was born in Ohio in 1860. She grew up shooting a
rifle as a small child, and became famous as a sharpshooter. She
started trick shooting to help her family out financially, earning
money by shooting at small objects. She earned a lot of money
doing this, and even found her husband after beating him in a
Some of her tricks included shooting off the end of a cigarette held
in a man’s lips, hitting the thin edge of a playing card, and even
shooting distant targets behind her while looking in a mirror. She
was so good that she became part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show
in 1885. It was part rodeo and part circus, and Annie Oakley was one of the main attractions. It
was unusual to see a woman who was so talented at shooting, and men and women alike looked
up to her as a hero. Sitting Bull, an Indian chief who also traveled with the Wild West Show,
came to love Annie so much that he adopted her as an honorary member of his tribe.
Annie Oakley performed for kings and queens in Europe, including Queen Victoria of Great
Britain and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Even after being in a train accident, she continued to
perform while partially paralyzed. More than just an expert shooter, Annie Oakley became a
legend of the Wild West, and proved that women could do just about anything that men could
do—and sometimes better.