Jim Thorpe, Sauk and Fox tribe, was one of the earliest champions of the Olympics and is recognized as the greatest athlete of the first half of the twentieth century. While in high school in Indian Territory, Thorpe realized he enjoyed football and excelled at track and field. While in high school he broke many athletic records and won a place on the United States Olympic team. Jim Thorpe won two gold medals at the 1912 Olympics which would later be revoked and reinstated. They were removed by the International Olympic Committee because he was a professional athlete. This rule was unevenly enforced. He would later play professional football and baseball and become the first president of the NFL.
Cherokee citizen and comedian, Will Rogers, from Claremore, Oklahoma, learned how to be a cowboy on his father’s ranch. He would eventually join a Wild West Show, entertaining the crowd by doing rope tricks and riding a horse. Once motion pictures became popular, he moved to Hollywood and began acting in western movies. While acting, he began to write a newspaper column on the current news all the while ensuring he made people laugh.
Joseph Oklahombi was a fifteen-year-old soldier in World War I and a member of the Choctaw Nation. He served in Company D, 141st Regiment, 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade, 36th Division. He, along with his other tribal members, used their native language to send messages throughout the 71st brigade so that German intelligence could not understand what they were saying. They later were called codetalkers. Not only was he a codetalker, he also fought with his fellow soldiers and has been identified by some as “Oklahoma’s Greatest Hero.” He is the recipient of a Silver Star and the French Croix de Guerre. He came back to Oklahoma after the war and was struck by a truck and killed in 1960.
Born in 1829, Standing Bear was a chief in the Ponca Nation. Shortly after the Ponca people were removed to Indian Territory, in 1877, Standing Bear’s son died. Standing Bear wished to bury his son in his homelands in Nebraska, so he and a group of other tribal members left the territory and traveled to Nebraska. They were captured and incarcerated by the US government in Omaha, Nebraska, for leaving. Standing Bear was interviewed by a newspaper which drew attention to the story, bringing volunteer lawyers to his aide. A federal judge determined that the United States government could not confine the Poncas to a reservation. This decision allowed any Indian to come and go from their reservation at will.
A member of the Cherokee Nation, Jack Montgomery was one of the few American Indians to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his service during World War II in 1945. During the war he attacked German positions, killing eleven enemy soldiers and taking many prisoners in February of 1944. He is from Sallisaw, Oklahoma, and died in June 2002.
Wilma Mankiller, a former chief of the Cherokee Nation, was a brave leader and the first woman to be named chief. She grew up in a big family who eventually moved to California. She came back to Oklahoma and began to help her people with everyday needs. Her work with the tribe before she served as chief earned her the Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to a Cherokee citizen. She died in 2010.
Rosella Hightower is a member of the first Five American Indian Prima ballerinas and the Choctaw Nation. She has performed all over the world with her fellow American Indian ballerinas: Maria Tallchief, Marjorie Tallchief, Moscelyne Larkin, and Myra Yvonne Chouteau. Their pictures are in the rotunda of the state capitol.