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.
The Apache have been called the greatest guerrilla fighters the world has ever seen. Of these, Geronimo is the most famous. He defied the US government for over 25 years, and while he surrendered twice, he was never defeated. To understand the significance of this, it’s helpful to consider that at his final surrender in 1886 his band consisted of only 16 warriors, 14 women, and six children. The army had been pursuing them with 5,000 troops, a fifth of its entire regular army, and had spent over a million dollars a year to fight them. Yet, he and his small band were never defeated, but voluntarily surrendered. And in spite of what was a huge expenditure of money and troops for that time, it could be argued that the 100 renegade Apache scouts used by the army were the most important element in the limited success that they had in running Geronimo down. His surrender brought to an end to the Indian wars and the violence and uncertainty that had accompanied them.