History is chock full of people willing to sacrifice comfort, money, safety and their lives in an effort to save others. Unfortunately, they are often unsung.
William Holland Thomas (February 5, 1805 – May 10, 1893) was Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (the only white man ever to be a chief of the Cherokee) and was elected as North Carolina state senator, serving from 1848-1860. As a youth, he worked at the trading post at Qualla Town, where he learned the Cherokee language and befriended some of the people. He was adopted into the tribe by the chief Yonaguska, learned much of the Cherokee ways, and was named by the chief as his successor.
After becoming an attorney, Thomas represented the tribe in negotiations with the federal government related to Indian Removal, preserving the right for Yonaguska and other Cherokee to stay in North Carolina after the 1830s. With his own and Cherokee funds, he bought land in North Carolina to be used by the Cherokee, much of which is now Qualla Boundary, the territory of the federally recognized Eastern Band of Cherokee. Thomas served as a colonel in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War, when he led Thomas’ Legion of Cherokee Indians and Highlanders.