Famous Native American Men

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13141

One man showed the pilgrims how to survive; one gave his people a written language; one was a great athlete; and another became vice president. Meet Squanto, Sequoyah, Jim Thorpe, and Charles Curtis!


United States

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Native American father and son

Squanto, Sequoyah, Jim Thorpe, and Charles Curtis all lived very different lives, but each contributed something unique to American - and Native American - history!

In this lesson, you'll watch several videos to learn about these famous Native American men. As you watch the videos, have some paper ready for taking notes. Write down their tribes, birth and death, family, accomplishments, and legacy (what they're remembered for, honors they received, things that were named after them). You'll use this information later, in the Got It? section.


Squanto teaching

Image by H.W. Collingwood and retouched by Theornamentalist, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

Born in 1585 in Massachusetts, Squanto was called Tisquantum by his parents. He was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe. He was kidnapped by an Englishman, who wanted to sell him into slavery, and taken to Spain.

Some Catholic monks set him free, taught him Christianity, and took care of him. He later went to England, lived with a family there, and learned English. This would prove very useful to him when he was able to return to his home in 1619.

When he returned to America, he discovered his entire tribe had been killed by an infection epidemic. In 1620, Squanto used his knowledge of the English language to help foster relationships between the Pokanoket tribe and the English settlers on the Mayflower.

Watch Who was Squanto?, from Reading Through History, to learn more:

  • For what is Squanto best remembered?


Sequoyah with a tablet depicting his writing system for the Cherokee language

Image by Henry Inman after a painting by Charles Bird King, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

Sequoyah, also spelled Sequoya or Sequoia, was born near what is now Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1770. His mother was a member of the Cherokee nation. His father was probably a white man, but no one knows for sure who he was. Sequoyah helped his mother by working in the garden and taking care of the cattle while she ran a trading post.

Early in life, he was wounded somehow and became physically disabled. Knowing he could not survive as a farmer or warrior, he became a silversmith and later took over the trading post when his mother died.

Though he never went to school, he was very intelligent and loved to invent new things. In 1809, he began creating an alphabet so that the Cherokee language could be written down. At first, he tried to make a picture for each word. Realizing that was too complicated, he came up with another system. He worked on it for a long time. Finally, in 1823, his alphabet and writing system were officially adopted by the Cherokee.

Learn more by watching the following video. Remember to take notes!

Sequoyah from mrsagbarton1981:


When the Cherokee leaders realized what a great gift Sequoyah had given them, they gave him a medal. It's said that he wore that medal for the rest of his life!

  • Why do you think that medal was so important to him?

Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe while playing for the Canton Bulldogs between 1915 and 1920

Image from Heritage Auctions, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

Jim Thorpe was born in 1887 in what is now Oklahoma. A member of the Sac and Fox tribe, his Indian name was Wa-Tho-Huk, which means Bright Path. Jim had a difficult childhood. He had a twin brother, Charles, who died when he was 9. Jim's mother died two years later.

Jim hated going to school and ran away several times. Finally, his father sent him away to the Indian school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The coach there, named Glenn "Pop" Warner, recognized that he was a talented athlete and encouraged him to compete in track and field events.

Later, Jim would go on to play college football, professional football, and professional baseball and to win gold medals in the 1912 Olympics.

Learn more about Jim's football career by watching the NFL Films video #37: Jim Thorpe | The Top 100: NFL's Greatest Players (2010) | NFL Films.

Strangely, Jim Thorpe represented America in the Olympics even though he was not recognized as a U.S. citizen! As you learned at the beginning of the lesson, Native Americans were not granted citizenship until 1924. Maybe that's why some people found it easy to take advantage of him, and why he ended up having his Olympic medals and records taken away.

To learn about Jim's Olympic experience, watch a portion of the Jim Thorpe Biography from Jim Magnet Man:


In 1983, the Olympic committee restored Jim Thorpe's gold medals and gave them to his children.

  • How do you think young Native Americans were inspired by watching Jim's success?

Charles Curtis

Charles Curtis, 1931

Image by Strauss Peyton, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

Charles Curtis was the son of a white man and an Indian woman. His mother was a member of the Kaw tribe. He was born in 1860 in Topeka, Kansas. His mother was a descendant of two chiefs: Chief White Plume of the Kaw tribe and Chief Pawhuska of the Osage tribe.

Charles's mother died when he was three. His father was often away, so his maternal grandparents (his mother's parents) took care of him. When the Kaw tribe was forced to move from their land, his grandmother urged him to go to his father's parents. It was sad for him to leave his beloved grandparents and his tribe, but he knew it would be best for him. So he lived with his paternal grandparents while he went to high school.

Later on, Curtis became a lawyer, and then he ran for Congress. He had a long career as a politician and eventually became the Vice President of the United States under Herbert Hoover, from 1929 to 1933.

Watch three segments of the following video to learn more about Curtis Charles.

Our Charley: Charles Curtis "A Boy Forced to Choose" from humanitieskansas:


  • Would you have made the same choice Charles did?

Now that you've learned about some famous Native American men, head over to the Got It? section, where you'll organize all your information and decide which of these great men you'd like to meet!

Elephango's Philosophy

We help prepare learners for a future that cannot yet be defined. They must be ready for change, willing to learn and able to think critically. Elephango is designed to create lifelong learners who are ready for that rapidly changing future.