Even before she was dancing around on the silver screen belting out beautiful melodies with Mel Gibson and some random, questionably-historically-accurate cartoon raccoon, it's pretty safe to say that the Indian princess Pocahontas is the most famous Native American woman in history. Ok, fine. I can live with that. I won't talk shit about Pocahontas, and sure, she was great at the whole stopping a war by preventing her comrades from clubbing John Smith's brains in and then going off, getting captured and being shipped back to England to die of European diseases thing, but with all due respect to the Virginia Algonquin (and perhaps Sergeant Esparza of Generation Kill fame), I typically tend to prefer women who spent more time bathing in the blood of their slain enemies and less time spinning around in a forest getting in touch with the spirits of the wilderness. But that's just me. And probably you, considering that you've chosen to read a website called Badass of the Week and not Adorable Kitty Cat of the Week.
So, long story short, for my money it doesn't get any better than Running Eagle – the Piegan Blackfoot Indian asskicking warrior-princess who routinely led war parties screaming into battle and once moked out two badass-as-fuck Crow warriors by riding full-throttle towards them on horseback with one rifle under each arm, guns blazing, until all that was left was a vapor trail of blood and an oil-slick of bullet-riddled human entrails where her dipshit enemies once dared to stand against her.
Kind of like this, only while traveling 30mph on a horse (bareback)
while dudes in scary-looking warpaint take potshots at you with Winchesters.
The story of history's only female war chief (that I know of) is one of the most famous tales of heroic awesomeness among the people of the Blackfoot Tribe. Unfortunately, as is the case with many badass historical war stories that spent the first couple decades of their existence being passed down orally from generation to generation (huh huh), by the time this warrior-chick's tales of legendary face-obliterating asskicking were finally written down there naturally ended up being some minor discrepancies and nit-picky bullshit. Basically, we have two written versions of her story – one written by a white dude who was adopted into the Blackfoot tribe and claimed to have known her personally, and another by a warrior brave from a rival tribe who claimed he knew a guy that used to ride with her once and was allegedly friends with her brother's sister's cousin's former college roommate. Naturally, neither of these versions are totally reliable, and neither of them really sync up in any appreciable way, so I'll do my best to re-tell this story by taking the most bitchin' parts of both stories and fusing them together like a Lamborghini and a Ferrari being mashed into a solid brick by a junkyard car-crusher.
Running Eagle was born with the name Brown Weasel Woman, which is a significantly less flattering and graceful-sounding name than the one by which we currently know her, but hey, we all gotta start somewhere I guess. She was the eldest child of a respected warrior, though, naturally, as a woman, she got stuck with all the bullshit housework chores like washing dishes, doing laundry, and skinning buffalo carcasses with a knife so they could be cooked up on the Foreman grill. As you can probably imagine, our heroine quickly decided that this was the most bullshit thing of all time, and one day she went out to Warrior Practice and told her Dad to hit her up with a bow and arrow so that she could show those douchebag wannabe warriors the true meaning of badass archery. Dad was like, "OK dude whatevs LOL", and then immediately shit a brick when he realized that this teenage girl was the most dead-eye crack shot since Liam Neeson stone-cold capping that weirdo pedophile dude at the end of Taken. Despite the non-stop protests of her mother telling her to get her ass back in the kitchen, Running Eagle kept punking out on the dishes to take target practice, and before long the warriors of the tribe had adopted her as one of their own. By the time she was fifteen, this chick was already going out on buffalo hunts with the tribe, taking down the dangerous creatures with stone-cold efficiency and easily proving herself as competent as any warrior in the Great Plains.
|Buffalo hunts were no walk in the park; riding down a herd of ultra-aggressive rampaging one-ton horned beasts while armed only with a wooden spear and a traditional short bow isn't exactly like picking up a three-pack of Hungry Mans in the fucking frozen food aisle of the grocery store or hammering the space bar while spinning in a circle in The Oregon Trail.
One day, while out on a buffalo hunt, the small band of Blackfoot hunters were suddenly ambushed by a huge force of rival Flathead Indians, who came out of nowhere and started raining bullets and arrows on Running Eagle's party like a bunch of fucking assholes. Badly outnumbered and surrounded by flying death, the Blackfoot hunters turned and ran for it, but as they were hauling ass out of there some jackass shot Running Eagle's father's horse out from under him, sending her dad face-first to the turf at high speeds in an accident that either did or did not kill him (the sources differ on this, which is interesting because it hardly seems like the sort of detail you fuck up when you re-tell a story). Either way, Running Eagle knew she couldn't just waltz back home while her dad was out there surrounded by scalp-collecting enemy warriors, so, amazingly, she pulled the e-brake, banged a 180-degree U-turn on her horse, and ran back into the middle of the charging enemy, guns and/or arrows blazing. Once she'd driven the enemy back with a hail of projectile destruction she quickly dismounted, grabbed her father, chucked him on her horse, and then tore ass out of there with bullets and arrows and tomahawks whizzing past her head. Oh yeah, and she not only saved her dad, but she also remembered to unpack the fucking buffalo meat from his saddlebags and load it into hers so that she wouldn't come home empty-handed while the jackasses who capped her dad were off enjoying delicious buffalo jerky strips.
Well if Dad didn't die by GSW to the back of the skull, he did die shortly after this event of some other cause, leaving young Running Eagle alone to tend to her sickly mother, as well as her two brothers and two sisters. But as we've seen, this chick wasn't super-pumped about the whole housewifery thing, so she did something you don't usually see outside of the Northeastern states – since her display of balls-out awesomeness (probably not the right adjective, but you know what I'm trying to say) had earned her warrior brave status among her tribe, Running Eagle decided fuck it, I'm just going to take a "wife" to take care of my house for me while I'm out doing badass shit. So she hired a local widow (a woman who had been physically abused her now-dead husband and had no real interest in remarrying) to run shit on the homefront so Running Eagle could spend her time worrying about manly shit like hand-sharpening obsidian daggers, cleaning her rifle, and spitting tobacco juice while grabbing her crotch. Running Eagle actually never ended up marrying a man – she was worried that taking a husband would strip her of warrior cred, and since she was so badass in battle and on hunts nobody really fucked with her about it.
The closest anyone ever got was some random chieftain of the Blood Indians (which is a fucking rad name for a tribe, BTW), but when the two warmongering shit-stompers went on a raid together, Running Eagle captured 15 horses, killed three warriors with a knife, and came back with their scalps displayed prominently on her clothing, while Chief Blood only captured 10 horses and failed to kill a single enemy in battle. After seeing this miserable display of ball-sucking craptasm from a supposedly-hardcore war chief, Running Eagle basically just laughed in the dude's face and was all like, "Whatever chump, you're way too much of a raging wussbag to handle this hot sauce." According to legend, the dude spontaneously died of excruciating lameness shortly thereafter.
Was Running Eagle a badass Native American War Lesbian? It's tough to say.
Either way, I picture her life going down kinda like Xena: Warrior Princess with tomahawks.
Carrying her dead father's rifle on the warpath in a Inigo Montoya-style homage to her fallen mentor, Running Eagle led the Blackfoot on dozens of war raids against notoriously-hardcore rival tribes like the Flathead and the Crow. One of her first real fights was against the Flatheads, who had snuck into Running Eagle's camp in the middle of the night and ganked a bunch of awesome horses. Running Eagle got revenge by leading a vengeance party to the edge of the enemy's base, sneaking in by herself, stealing 11 thoroughbred chargers, and then riding out singing awesome songs about how much she kicked ass. When the warriors of the tribe came riding hard after her, she twisted around on the horse, capped one dude with her rifle, then rode over to the guy's body, took his rifle, and started riding after the enemy dual-wielding rifles in a badass display of frontier asskicking. They ran for it, Running Eagle returned home victorious, and you know those four War Chief requirements that Joe Medicine Crow hit during World War II? This chick had just hit them all in the span of about fifteen minutes.
After this, and about a dozen more episodes involving blasting through enemy bases and riding home with the scalps of enemy warriors hanging from her stolen warhorses, this badass chick was sent on a spirit quest, and was given a man's name – this is when she officially became Running Eagle (she was Brown Weasel Woman up to this point, but since I prefer Running Eagle that's what I've been using), though as the only woman in the history of her tribe (and the only Native American woman I've ever heard of) to achieve this honor, she was also known as Holy Woman, Sun Dances, Girl Chief, and Medicine Girl – although the Flathead just called her Crazy Woman, which is still actually pretty awesome. Needless to say, she'd achieved true badass street cred with her peeps and enemies alike, which is admirable.
|Badass Blackfoot Indian Warriors. Running Eagle would have led men like these into battle.
Running Eagle died a few years before 1850. She had been leading a war party against the hated Flatheads, and had become embroiled in a huge melee in the middle of a Flathead camp. After her five bravest warriors went down in combat, she was clubbed in the back of the head while knife-fighting another guy, dying on the spot. A few days later her allies rode out and killed six Flatheads in her honor.
The Blackfoot named a waterfall after her in Glacier Park, Montana, near the site where she saw her vision during her spirit quest. The waterfall was of course renamed by the white dudes who "discovered" it a few years later, but nowadays it's only known as Running Eagle Falls. It remains a sacred place to the people of the Blackfoot Tribe.
Waterfalls of Montana
Her Insultingly Uninformative Wikipedia Stub
Ewers, John C. Plains Indian History and Culture. Univ. of Oklahoma, 1998.
Hungry Wolf, Beverly. The Ways of My Grandmothers. HarperCollins, 1982.
Roscoe, Will. Living the Spirit. Macmillan, 1988.
Schultz, James Willard. Running Eagle, the Warrior Girl. Houghton Mifflin, 1919.