U.S. President Andrew Jackson: Surprising Facts about the Man on the Twenty Dollar Bill

When Andrew Jackson was elected president in 1828, he was the first to reach that office as a self-made man. He was born into a poor family in South Carolina. During the American Revolution, Jackson lost his mother and two brothers and was wounded by a British officer.

Family tragedy seemed to follow Jackson throughout his life. As he ran for president, his detractors claimed that Jackson had lived with his wife before their marriage. Actually, they were married for two years before they realized that Rachel’s divorce from her previous husband had not been finalized. Rachel Jackson died from an illness before her husband’s inauguration. Jackson blamed her death on the nasty comments made during the campaign.

Historians have dubbed Jackson’s presidency the “age of the common man.” He was certainly unlike any other president the country had elected.

White House Portrait of Andrew Jackson

White House Portrait of Andrew Jackson

After his inauguration Jackson invited members of the public to attend a reception at the White House. To the dismay of the staff, so many people tried to cram into the White House that items were broken. Shortly after becoming president, Jackson indulged his fondness for chewing tobacco by installing twenty spittoons in the East Room.

Despite his dislike of formalities, Jackson’s terms as president had little impact on the common man. It’s true that more people (at least white, taxpaying males) got to vote in the election that sent Jackson to the White House. Through the Indian Removal Act he gave more white men the opportunity to acquire Native American land.

He did not, however, believe that social or economic equality was desirable. He stated, “Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, or education, or of wealth cannot be produced by human institutions.”

Jackson established the office of president as the chief power in American government for the first time. He made it obvious that he was not going to allow others to tell him what to do. He used the presidential veto more often than any previous president. For example, he vetoed the re-charter of the National Bank and federal support for internal improvements.

His ignorance of financial matters led to an economic crisis which harmed his successor, Martin Van Buren.


How Native American Jim Thorpe Became an Olympic Gold Medalist

Jim Thorpe’s mixed race parents Hiram and Charlotte lived on the Sac and Fox Indian reservation in present-day Oklahoma. As young boys, Jim and his twin brother Charlie fished, hunted small game, and did chores around their father’s farm. At the 1912 summer Olympics, American Jim Thorpe won two gold medals. One of his competitions, the decathlon, required competitors to participate in ten track and field events. Thorpe’s victories were even more remarkable because he couldn’t particpate in organized sports for many years.

The boys’ relatively unregimented lifestyle ended when their parents insisted that Jim and Charlie attend the nearby boarding school run by whites. At the age of six, Jim started classes at the government school.  The school offered no sports, so Jim and his friends made up their own games. One of their favorites was “prairie baseball.” According to Jim, “teams would be chosen and the game would be played out in the field…we were also interested in basketball, but we had no track. Only the Indians participated in this type of activity and it was of an unofficial nature.” Both boys learned the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic at boarding school, but Jim missed the freedom of the reservation.

The death of Jim’s twin brother Charlie from pneumonia made Jim even more rebellious and he often ran away from school. His father grew tired of Jim’s antics and sent him to the Haskell Institute, a Native American school in Kansas. Though discipline at his new school was strict, Jim started to learn more about organized sports. He and his friends learned the basics of football from one of the school staff members, but Jim also watched the varsity football team practices. One player noticed Jim on the sidelines and, impressed with the younger boy’s knowledge, made him a football out of leather straps sewn together and stuffed with rags. Thrilled with this new gift, Jim organized football games among his classmates.

Jim abruptly left school when he heard his father was injured, but by the time he got home Hiram had recovered. After a few months, however, Jim’s mother passed away. Jim ran away again, but when he returned his father enrolled him in the local school so he could help with the farm. Accounts differ on how he ended up attending the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, but at age sixteen he left home again for vocational school.

Carlisle played an important role in Jim’s sports career. The school had a strong football team, but Jim was too small to play on the varsity squad. Instead, he played on an intramural team. Carlisle’s sports coach Glenn Warner soon noticed the future Olympian. On the way to one of his games, Jim saw the varsity track team practicing the high jump. They couldn’t clear the bar, which was set at five feet nine inches. Jim asked if he could try and succeeded on his first attempt.

The next day, Coach Warner asked Jim if he knew what he had done. Jim said, “Nothing bad I hope.” Warner replied, “Boy, you’ve just broken the school record!” Warner put Jim on the track team—his first experience with organized sports. Jim participated in a variety of sports at Carlisle, but that day marked the start of an amateur career that would eventually lead him to the Olympics as a decathlete.

The Childhood of Crazy Horse, Native American Warrior

Crazy Horse, 1877

Crazy Horse, 1877

Although his actual birthday is unknown, most historians agree that Crazy Horse was born around 1840 in present-day South Dakota. From the day he was born, Crazy Horse’s hair and skin was much lighter than the other boys in the Lakota tribe. His mother called him Light Hair, which was the name he kept until he proved himself in battle. Then his father called him Crazy Horse. The name didn’t mean that he was crazy but that he had spirit and energy.

Like other kids who look different than their peers, Crazy Horse probably endured a lot of teasing. His father’s work also made Crazy Horse stand out in a community that valued athletic jobs. According to some accounts, his father did not have the traditional Lakota occupation of hunter/warrior. Instead, Crazy Horse’s father worked as a medicine man.

Instead of feeling hurt by his peers, their teasing only made Crazy Horse want to excel in whatever area he could. As he grew, his uncles and other members of the Lakota community helped him develop the skills of a good hunter. One day he received the gift of a bow and was taught how to carry it, maintain it, and shoot it properly. The first living things he shot at were grasshoppers. His teachers wanted him to learn to learn to shoot precisely, and grasshoppers, being small and fast, presented a challenge for the young boy. Shooting grasshoppers taught Crazy Horse patience and humility. Eventually, his arrows came closer to hitting their targets.

Crazy Horse’s skill and patience caused a great hunter/warrior named High Back Bone to notice him. After asking for his father’s permission, High Back Bone became the boy’s teacher. By age twelve, Crazy Horse’s skill with the bow was nearly perfect. His arrows killed many grasshoppers. He also knew how to wait patiently for deer until the animal got close enough for him to kill it with one shot.

The Lakota tribe moved according to the seasons, following the animals they depended on for food. They especially prized the buffalo. Crazy Horse went along on buffalo chases, but as a boy he could only watch the more experienced hunters. Since he couldn’t participate in the adults’ buffalo hunts, Crazy Horse imitated the hunters with his friend Lone Bear. One of the boys pretended to be the buffalo and galloped away on his horse from the other who acted as the hunter. The hunter chased the buffalo with a blunt arrow, but even without the dangers of real arrows or a buffalo herd, the game taught the boys to stay on their horses during a chase.

Crazy Horse thought he would someday use his skills as a horseman and expert marksman to fight other Indian nations that were his tribe’s enemies. Horn Chips, one of Crazy Horse’s contemporaries, stated, “when we were young all we thought about was going to war with some other nation; all tried to get their names up to the highest…and Crazy Horse wanted to get the highest rank.” Though no one knew it at the time, most of the skills Crazy Horse learned as a boy would be needed for fighting an enemy he had not yet seen—the white man.

The Native American Sioux: The Role of Boys and Girls in Sioux Society

Although girls and boys had different roles in Sioux society, their parents were not disappointed if they had a daughter. Parents in this Native American tribe doted on all of their children. Jonathan Carver, an explorer who visited the Sioux on the Great Plains in the mid-eighteenth century, observed that “Nothing can exceed the tenderness shown to them by their offspring.” Sioux children rarely got spanked and their parents allowed them to make decisions. Unlike American families today, which usually have only two parents and their children in one home, in a Sioux family, children lived with their parents as well as aunts, uncles, and other extended family members. In this way, Sioux children received extra attention and advice because they had many adults to look after them.

Like American kids, Sioux boys and girls played with toys. Their toys would prepare them for their roles in the community. Girls played with dolls and small tepees to prepare them for motherhood and domestic tasks. Boys played with bows and arrows, which would be sharpened when they were older so they could practice the skills they needed to become braves. By age eight, boys and girls spent more time with their elders.

Girls learned to plant, harvest, sew, and cook alongside their mothers. Cooking must have been a challenge based on the variety of meat Carver saw the women preparing. He wrote, “All their victuals are either roasted or boiled…their food usually consists of the flesh of the bear, the buffalo, the elk, the deer, the beaver, and the raccoon.” The Sioux did not forget to eat their vegetables, either. They ate corn, which the women harvested as well as the inside barks of a shrub that Carter was not familiar with, but he said it tasted good.  Women were also responsible for cleaning and decorating the family home—the tepee. By the time a girl became a teenager, she looked forward to marrying a Sioux brave and using her new skills as a wife.

Boys spent their preteen years learning to ride horses and shoot moving targets. They also learned to shoot on horseback. These skills were important because men were expected to hunt the food and bring it to the women. Also, Native American tribes rarely got along with each other so boys needed to know the skills of warfare. By the age of fifteen, young men could join the other warriors.

Prior to becoming a warrior, however, boys were initiated into manhood through their “vision quest.” The young man entered a hut called a sweat lodge with his elders. Heated rocks were brought into the hut and cold water was poured over them. The steam that was created purified the boy’s soul. Then he spent four days alone on a hilltop without eating. The quest would prove the boy’s bravery as well as his willpower since he would hear strange noises outside at night. During this time, the boy prayed that he would have dreams that would help him decide what he would do when he grew up. After the four days, an elder brought the boy home and interpreted his dreams. Grown men and occasionally women would participate in more than one vision quest if they felt the need for guidance; however, the first vision quest for a boy was the most important.