The 10 Most Iconic American Badasses
Sharpshooters, comics, presidents – these guys may be very different, but they’re all united in badassery.
To be fair, this list could have been a few hundred entries long (we’re a pretty badass people, people). But in the spirit of the Internet (and because reading is hard), we’ve created a list of 10 of some of the badassest Americans to ever enjoy amber waves of grain and majestic purple mountains…wow that song is weird.
Ever wonder why the Internet creams itself over Teddy Roosevelt? Mostly because the Internet is a silly and best-avoided place, but it’s also because the 26th President of the United States was a board certified doctor of badassery (not a real medical doctor). Afflicted with asthma as a child, nobody could have expected Teddy to eschew his wealthy heritage and start ranching in the Dakota Badlands…where he became a deputy sheriff and captured bandits who stole his riverboat (he caught them and stayed awake the entire three days it took to bring them back to town).
Roosevelt wrote a few books about those adventures (because, okay, why not?) and then decided, “Hey, how about I form a regiment of insane cavalry officers?” Not affiliated with popular rap artist DMX, the Rough Riders were a volunteer force that fought in the Spanish American war. Roosevelt led the famous charge up San Juan Hill, even threatening to shoot malingerers who hesitated (the other Rough Riders thought that was hilarious). A war hero, Roosevelt became Governor of New York, then vice president, and eventually the top dog.
And he had a black belt in jujitsu. And he had a bear and a lion as pets. And he hunted and killed pretty much every animal you can imagine. Aaaand, while on the campaign trail he was shot in the chest by a would-be assassin…then proceeded to finish his stump speech. So think about that next time you’re too tired to clean the microwave because you had a really hard time compiling Excel spread sheets at work.
The greatest American soldier of all time was 5’5” and 110 lbs. Audie Murphy had the body of Captain America pre-Super Soldier serum, but fought like he had vibranium balls (forget a shield). Too small for the Marines and the Navy, Murphy signed up in the 3rd US Infantry Division at the age of 18 in 1942. Distinguishing himself in the Italian theater, Murphy won two bronze stars (one for single-handedly destroying a tank) while surviving the landing at Anzio beach and the liberation of Rome. But it was in France in 1944 where Murphy became Rambo (but with less steroids). After getting separated from his unit, Murphy and a buddy came across a German machine gun nest waving the white flag. But instead of surrendering, the Germans opened fire, killing Murphy’s friend. The sergeant basically went berserk, charged the nest, killed every Nazi in it, picked up the German machine gun and took out two more enemy positions. Alone, Murphy had killed eight and taken 11 prisoners. A few months later, he single-handedly fought off six German Tiger tanks and over 100 infantry with a .50 caliber machine gun mountedon a vehicle that was on fire, loaded with gasoline and about to explode. Murphy ended his military career with: the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts, and a dick-load of honorary French medals.
Perhaps even more important than all of that? Murphy fought for the recognition of PTSD in war veterans for the rest of his post-military career (which included recording country music, raising horses, and acting in Hollywood).
A certified WWII combat ace (he destroyed five enemy aircraft in a single day), Yeager survived being shot down over France and even helped the French resistance make bombs before safely returning to England…where he personally convinced Dwight D. Eisenhower to allow him to fly combat missions again. Oh, and he’s one of the few pilots to shoot down an Me 262, the German’s jet fighter, in an aerial engagement (imagine getting in a fist fight with someone, but the guy had rockets attached to his fists and you had little propellers attached to yours. Okay, that’s not a great comparison. Uh, imagine racing a Bugatti Veyron with your Honda Civic except the Veyron has machine guns, and instead of racing it’s just driving around your car in circles and shooting at you. How’s that? Good? Great.)
Later, just for fun, Yeager became a test pilot for the “X” series of experimental high-speed planes and became the first man to break the sound barrier (with two broken ribs that he didn’t tell anybody about because he didn’t want the test flight to get scrubbed). Then he became a general, drove the pace car for the Indy 500, and set a few more aircraft records for performance and speed…in his seventies.
So winning four gold medals in the Olympics is a pretty big deal. Winning them in the summer of 1936 in Berlin, while Adolf Hitler is preaching the physical superiority of the Aryan race? Yeah, that makes you pretty badass. Not only did Jesse Owens invalidate Hitler’s ideology and humiliate the Nazi leader in his own country, he did it without any recognition from his own president. Neither Franklin Roosevelt nor Harry Truman acknowledged Owens’ badass contribution to defeating the Nazi philosophy and affirming America’s role as “A pretty kickass place where you can follow your dreams and do awesome stuff no matter who you are, which is pretty cool.”
Chief Sitting Bull
We’re pretty sure this guy counts as an OG American, so before you get all upset about his inclusion on this list, just take a gander at his last words, uttered in 1890: “I am not going. Do with me what you like. I am not going. Come on! Come on! Take action! Let’s go!” Yes, when confronted by agents of the US Indian Authority, he basically gave Arnold’s speech from Predator100 years early. And prior to his death, Sitting Bull managed to unite the Western Plains Indians against a much better equipped, trained, and more numerous American army set on rooting out the tribes in favor of settlers. Even after his capture he hilariously joined Wild Bill’s Wild West road show, getting paid good money to ride around a ring and yell epithets at the audience.
At just 31-years-old, Amelia Earhart had a ticker-tape parade in New York City. Not bad for someone who was a second-class citizen most of her life. Born in 1897, Earhart, throughout her childhood, kept a scrapbook of successful women in male-dominated fields. In 1918, she volunteered to nurse victims of the Spanish Flu epidemic, of which she eventually fell victim and almost died. After seeing an aerial show put on by a WWI ace, Earhart was determined to become a pilot. Working as a truck driver, among other jobs, she eventually saved the $1,000 required for flying lessons in 1921. By 1923 she was the 16th woman ever to be issued a pilot’s license. By 1928 she had completed her first transatlantic flight. By 1930 she had created and become the first president of the Women’s Air Derby. In 1931 she set a world altitude record. In 1932 she completed her solo transatlantic flight, and by 1935 had set numerous flying records. It was her 1937 attempt to circumnavigate the globe in a custom Electra 10E that led to her disappearance and presumed death. And this lady was so badass, people are stilltrying to find where she crashed.
What’s one of the most badass things about America? You don’t have to be born here to become a citizen. No individual embodies the American Dream quite like the Terminator. Born to a poor Austrian family in 1947, Schwarzenegger hoped to move to the United States from the age of 10. When he finally got to America at 21 (after crashing a tank and going AWOL during his mandatory Austrian military service in order to enter a body building competition), the Governator proceeded to win seven Mr. Olympia competitions, and, through savvy business investments, was a bona fide millionaire even before launching the greatest Hollywood career ever; Arnold’s movies have grossed an estimated $1,719,036,934. Then, just for fun, Schwarzenegger married Maria Shriver (a Kennedy), ran for governor of the state of California (he won), and did the most American thing of all: had an illegitimate kid with his maid.
Oh, and now he does AMAs on reddit’s fitness boards.
Anything you can do, she can do better (except computer stuff, because those weren’t around in the 19th century, and also, she’s dead). Oakley, after essentially being sold into indentured servitude as a child in the 1870s, would grow up to become one of the greatest gun-wielders of all time. At 15 she beat her first professional marksman, which was the beginning of her famous career. She would later perform for the Queen of England and the President of France, and even shot the ashes off the cigarette of Kaiser Wilhelm II. (After the outbreak of WWI, she wrote to the German leader saying she’d be happy to do it again. That offer was declined.) It’s believed that she trained tens of thousands of women how to shoot, and fought for the right of women to serve in combat (she wanted to form an all-women sharp-shooter unit for the Spanish American war). She died just six years after getting the right to vote.
The second US leader on this list, Jackson is definitely the poster boy for presidential badassery. Scarred for life by a British officer during the Revolutionary War (he refused to clean the man’s boots), Jackson spent his life with two middle fingers proudly raised to most people in power. As a president, he fought for personal liberty and democracy while battling the notion of a federal banking system. Bored a little bit? Okay, he also loved dueling. He loved it so much, that in one match he let his opponent shoot first. The bullet struck Jackson’s chest…which apparently didn’t do much to hurt him, because the future president took his time, aimed, and killed the man. Later, an assassin tried to cut Jackson’s presidency short. The killer misfired with two pistols, and Jackson proceeded to beat him nearly to death with a cane. That’s why his nickname is “Old Hickory” (not because he smelled like delicious BBQ).
There are a few things quintessentially American: freedom, liberty, extra freedom, hamburgers served between a sliced donut, super mega freedom, and just not giving a shit what anyone thinks about you. And if there’s anything Bill Murray does better than anyone else, it’s not caring with the force of a billion suns. If you want him to be in your movie? Call his answering machine and leave a message. He was pulled over by Swedish police under suspicion of driving a golf cart while intoxicated (he also crashed a Swedish house party). Bill Murray created “shotgun golf” with Hunter S. Thompson. He randomly shows up to karaoke parties in New York. He hired a deaf mute as his go-between with the studio for Groundhog Day. Basically, Murray has the combination of a teenager’s perceived invincibility, the timing and skill of a comic genius, and the audacity to do pretty much whatever he feels like. He’s sort of a walking dictionary definition of badass…who was also in Ghostbusters.