Who Are Some Notable Native American Prisoners Throughout History?


Quick Answer

Kiowa Chief Satanta was incarcerated at Texas State Penitentiary around 1871 after he led an attack on a wagon train, killing seven victims. The Kiowa were forced to surrender land and relocate to reservations, and Satanta defied treaties by organizing hunting parties and raiding white settlements. His death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment, and humanitarian outreach led to Satanta’s parole in 1873. He was re-incarcerated in 1875 for participating in the Red River War.

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Apache leader Geronimo was imprisoned for 27 years after surrendering to U.S. forces in 1886. As a young man, Geronimo led frequent rebellions against the Mexican government after Mexican soldiers raided his village and murdered his wife and children. American settlers and miners gradually flooded the area, and Geronimo’s resentment shifted to the U.S. government after his father-in-law, Cochise, agreed to settle their tribe on a reservation. When Cochise died a few years later, the U.S. government violated the agreement and forced the Apache from their lands, inspiring Geronimo to lead a five-year war campaign.

As of 2015, Anishinabe-Lakota activist Leonard Peltier is serving two life sentences in federal prison for the alleged murders of FBI agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams in 1975. Peltier was a leader in the American Indian Movement, which advocated for civil rights during a period when 60 residents of the South Dakota Pine Ridge reservation were allegedly killed by paramilitary squads without sufficient investigation. Humanitarian groups have supported Peltier’s appeals and parole requests for decades, as the chief witness involved in the original conviction admitted to making a false statement after months of harassment from police.

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