Russell Means: A Look at His Journey Through Life


As news of his walking on spreads across Indian country, we’ve taken the time to look back at Russell Means’ storied life. He passed at 4:44 a.m. on October 22 at his home in Porcupine, South Dakota.

Means laughed in response to being called the most famous American Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse by the Los Angeles Times. Last year he told the Rapid City Journal: “I thought Jim Thorpe was,” he said with a grin. “Jim Thorpe was my hero.”

November 10, 1939

Born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.


Family moved to the San Francisco Bay area.


Graduated from San Leandro High School in San Leandro, California.


Became the first national director of the American Indian Movement (AIM).

Participated in a prayer vigil on top of Mount Rushmore to, as the New York Times put it, “dramatize Lakota claims to Black Hills land.”

Helped lead AIM’s Thanksgiving Day demonstration at Plymouth Rock where 200 American Indians seized the Mayflower, painted Plymouth Rock red and observed a day of mourning.


Participated in the Trail of Broken Treaties from California to Washington, D.C. (AIM was one of eight Indian organizations involved). Led the week-long occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to protest broken treaties.

Filed a $9 million lawsuit, as director of the Cleveland AIM chapter, against the Cleveland Indians baseball team for its use of “Chief Wahoo,” its toothy Indian mascot. “It epitomizes the stereotyped images of the American Indian,” Means said. “It attacks the cultural heritage of the American Indian and destroys Indian pride.”


Russell Means Dennis Banks 1973 03 07 AP730307066 270x182 Russell Means: A Look at His Journey Through Life

Russell Means, AIM leader on the Pine Ridge Reservation, left, tells villagers on March 7, 1973 in Wounded Knee that they must continue their fight against the government until their demands are met. At right is Dennis Banks another AIM Leader. (AP Photo)

February 27, 1973

Was a leader of the armed 71-day standoff at Wounded Knee against federal agents. Thousands of shots were fired, two Indians were killed and an agent was paralyzed. Means and Dennis Banks, another protest leader, were charged with assault larceny and conspiracy.


Case against Means from the Wounded Knee standoff dismissed for prosecutorial misconduct.

Clash between police and Indian activists outside a Rapid City, South Dakota courthouse.

Republic of Lakotah released its Declaration of Continuing Independence by the Frist International Indian Treaty Council.


Anna Mae Pictou Aquash is murdered on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, an act that was connected to AIM. Authorities believe three AIM members shot and killed Aquash because she was an FBI informant.

Murder charges are filed against Means and Richard Marshall, an AIM member, for the shooting death of Martin Montileaux at the Longbranch Saloon in Scenic, South Dakota. Means was acquitted, but Marshall served 24 years in prison.

Means shot in the abdomen during a tussle with an Indian Affairs officer in North Dakota.

In another incident, a bullet grazed his forehead while he was on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in Mission, South Dakota in what Means called a drive-by assassination attempt. He received 12 stitches to close the wound.


Survived another assassination attempt in South Dakota when he was shot in the chest.

Led a caravan of 500 Sioux and Cheyenne during the centennial of Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s last stand at Little Big Horn in Montana.


Russell Means Marlon Brando Today 1978 07 18 AP780718037 270x180 Russell Means: A Look at His Journey Through Life

Native American leader Russel Means and actor Marlon Brando appear on NBC's Today Show in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, July 18, 1978. Brando is a supporter of political rights of American Indians. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi)


Participated in the “longest walk” when American Indians walked from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., which was the largest, single-day peaceful protest up to that time. The demonstration blocked all anti-Indian legislation in Congress.


Served one year in prison following the riot at the Rapid City courthouse. He was stabbed by another inmate while serving his time.


Gave “For America to Live, Europe Must Die!” speech at Black Hills International Survival Gathering.

“You cannot judge the real nature of a European revolutionary doctrine on the basis of the changes it proposes to make within the European power structure and society,” he says during the speech. “You can only judge it by the effects it will have on non-European peoples. This is because every revolution in European history has served to reinforce Europe’s tendencies and abilities to export destruction to other peoples, other cultures and the environment itself. I defy anyone to point out an example where this is not true.


The $9 million lawsuit against the Cleveland Indians baseball club for its Chief Wahoo mascot was settled out of court for $35,000 and is later widely criticized.


Served as a vice presidential candidate joining Larry Flint in his unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination.


Ran for president. Means campaigned for the Libertarian Party nomination but lost it to Ron Paul, a former and future Congressman from Texas.


Announced his retirement from AIM.


Began his acting career by playing Chingachgook in “Last of the Mohicans.”

With the Colorado chapter of AIM, stopped the Columbus Day parade in Denver, which was meant to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ “discovery” of America.


Hosted HBO documentary “Paha Sapa.”


Appeared in “Natural Born Killers” as the “Old Indian.”


His autobiography Where White Men Fear to Tread was released with writing help from Marvin J. Wolf.

Here are a couple of passes from the memoir:

“For millennia, we Indians lived as part of the earth. We were part of the prairies and the forests and the mountains. We knew every blade of grass, every plant, every tree. We knew the winds and the clouds, the rivers and the lakes. We knew every one of the creatures that fly and crawl and burrow and run and swim—all our relatives with whom we share this earth. We are part of the earth, but not the most important part.”

“Sadly, the white man equates happiness with the pleasing of his senses. My Uncle Matthew King used to shake his head and say, ‘The white man is like a little child; you have to be patient with him.’ But Grandmother Earth is running out of patience. What Eurocentric societies have done to indigenous peoples all over the world they are now doing to themselves— poisoning the land and air and water, abusing one another as they abuse our sacred Grandmother. We are approaching the abyss of species suicide.”

Provided voice talent as Powhatan in Disney’s animated film “Pocahontas.”

Starred as Sitting Bull in the CBS mini-series “Buffalo Girls.”


Charged with threatening, and battery against Leon Grant, his Omaha father-in-law, and battery against Jeremiah Bitsui, a Navajo. Means pleads not guilty to these charges.


Russell Means Arrested Nebraska 1999 07 03 image 2 AP9907030895 270x364 Russell Means: A Look at His Journey Through Life

American Indian activist Russell Means, center, is arrested in Whiteclay, Nebraska, on Saturday, July 3, 1999. Means and eight other American Indians were arrested for crossing the police line after marching from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to Whiteclay. The march was held protesting treaty violations, the unsolved murder of two Sioux men and the sale of alcohol in Whiteclay. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)


Held a press conference regarding the murder of Anna Mae Aquash. He says, “The reason I called for this press conference for my participation is to tell the world, about the leadership of the American Indian Movement at that time, was well aware of what happened to Anna Mae, and two of the leaders ordered her death. Vernon Bellecourt made the phone call to the house on Rosebud, which… [Means gets emotional]… is my brother’s house…  and Clyde Bellecourt took the call from Vernon and then issued the order for her death, for her murder, in 1974 and 1975.”

“If AIM is the perpetrator of this grisly murder, in collusion with the FBI, then I want it brought out…”


Arrested in Denver, Colorado while protesting the Columbus Day parade.


Campaigned to become governor of New Mexico but was barred from the ballot.


Vernon Bellecourt denies allegations of involvement in Anna Mae Aquash’s murder.

Ran for the office of president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe but was beaten by Cecilia Fire Thunder, the first woman to be elected to that position.


Arlo Looking Cloud is convicted of first-degree murder for his role in the shooting death of Aquash.


Republic of Lakotah withdraws from the United States to become a free and independent country.


John Graham was convicted of felony murder for his role in the shooting death of Aquash.


Means is diagnosed with esophageal, or throat cancer and turns to indigenous medicines and spiritual healing ceremonies.

August 14, 2012

Made his last video post to his YouTube page. He titled the video “Clouds.” Watch it here:


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Comment by E.J. Mayton on October 23, 2012 at 1:40am

Thank you so much for paying honor to Russell Means, "Where White Men Fear to Tread" was his story of a flawed, honest, searching life. With the answers he sought may he now rest.

Comment by Diana McCrory on October 22, 2012 at 5:40pm

Beautiful ...

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