In 2012, we spotlighted Andrew Jackson as our top pick for worst U.S. president—because he earned his “Indian Killer” nickname. He was a major proponent of Indian removal, his first effort was waging a war against the Creeks. The Creeks lost 23 million acres of land in Georgia and Alabama, paving the way for cotton plantation slavery.
He would recommend that troops systematically kill women and children to complete the extermination of Indigenous Peoples. In 1830, he signed the Indian Removal Act, which legalized ethnic cleansing. Within seven years 46,000 indigenous people were removed from their homelands east of the Mississippi. Their removal gave 25 million acres of land “to white settlement and to slavery,” according to PBS. The area was home to the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole nations. In the Trail of Tears alone, 4,000 Cherokee people died of cold, hunger, and disease on their way to the western lands.
So why would this country pay homage to such a man on its currency. Jackson has graced the $20 bill since 1929, replacing 24th President Grover Cleveland.
So we’ve compiled another list of Natives who could take Jackson’s place on the $20 bill. Who do you think it should be?
Sarah Winnemucca, a Northern Paiute woman born in 1844, dedicated her life to improving the living conditions for American Indians in the West. As the daughter of Chief Winnemucca and granddaughter of Chief Truckee, she learned to interact with white settlers. By the age of 14, she could speak three Indian dialects, as well as English and Spanish. She served as an interpreter for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and as a scout for the U.S. Army during the Bannock War of 1878.
Black Elk, born in 1863 on the Little Powder River in what is now Wyoming, was a second cousin of Crazy Horse, and he followed the great Sioux leader all the way to Canada. Black Elk was at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, and he fled with Crazy Horse into Canada afterward. But, as History.com says, Black Elk returned to the United States before his cousin, and by the age of 19 became a healer for his tribe. He became involved with the Ghost Dance movement in 1889. Ghost Dancers believed the song and dance would make the white men leave, as well as bring the buffalo and the Native American way of life back. The government’s desire to quell this movement resulted in the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, which Black Elk also survived.
Vine Deloria Jr., born near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1933, was an activist, writer, and lawyer, who grew up speaking Dakota and Lakota Sioux. In 1964, he became the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, and often appeared before Congress to testify in Native civil rights cases. He published his first book, Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto in 1969. In it he argues for a return to tribal autonomy, opposes the government’s termination policy, and attacks the position of anthropologists, government officials and missionaries who dealt with Natives. According to Newsweek, the book “resolutely destroys the stereotypes and myths that white society has built up about the Indian.” The book became a national bestseller and as American National Biography Online says, “established the author as the nation’s most eloquent and provocative activist for Native American rights.”
Jim Thorpe, whose Indian name was Wa-Tho-Hunk (“Bright Path”) was born in 1887, would go on to become the “World’s Greatest Athlete.” To this day he is the most known American Indian athlete. He won gold medals and set records during the 1912 Olympics in the decathlon and pentathlon. He’s even been seen on a box of Wheaties.
Black Kettle, born in 1812, was a renowned Southern Cheyenne peace chief who agreed to settle his people near Sand Creek in Colorado in 1861. Then, in 1864, even though the chief had tied an American flag with a white banner to the end of a lodge pole and stood waving it in front of his tipi, soldiers led by Col. John Chivington attacked. But, he survived the Sand Creek Massacre, and signed the peace Treaty of Medicine Lodge in 1867.
For those interested, see below for our other lists of Natives who should replace Jackson on the $20 bill.