Weird History
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11 Fierce Historical Figures Most People Have Never Heard Of

Updated August 6, 2021 9.4k votes 1.9k voters 71k views11 items

List RulesVote up the historical renegades you're glad you finally got to know.

Deciding who is or isn't a renegade when it comes to history is a bit subjective. Some of history's toughest men and women are people you just wouldn't want to mess with because they were sadistic killers, defiant vigilantes, or truly troubled individuals with anger-management problems.

Many of these fierce figures from history are associated with the military and fighting - often men and women who looked at an adversary and went into the entanglement with gusto, defying all odds. Another category of historical rebels includes those who took it upon themselves to tackle justice or simply did whatever they could to survive in the worst of circumstances.

Some of these people are fairly well-known. Others are individuals we didn't learn about until well after history class was over. We found a bunch of intense historical figures who fall into that latter camp. Vote up the individuals who brought some major fire and fury to history.

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    Alison Botha Survived Being Suffocated, Disemboweled, And Nearly Beheaded

    Video: YouTube

    After a night out with friends in December 1994, Alison Botha was abducted near her home in Port Elizabeth (now known as Gqeberha), South Africa. She was subsequently sexually violated, stabbed, suffocated, nearly beheaded, and essentially disemboweled.

    Botha's neck was cut more than 15 times and she had over 30 knife wounds to her torso when she was left to perish. She recalled,

    All I could see was an arm moving above my face. Left and right and left and right. His movements were making a sound. A wet sound, it was the sound of my flesh being slashed open. He was cutting my throat with the knife. Again and again and again. It felt unreal but it wasn’t. I felt no pain, but it was not a dream. This was happening. The man was slashing my throat.

    But Botha scrawled the names of her attackers in the dirt nearby and made her way to the closest road. Botha later explained, "I realized my life was too valuable to let go... and that gave me the courage to survive."

    Botha was taken to the hospital, where doctors were shocked to see the severity of her problems. She survived, then went on to identify the men who harmed her and testified against them at trial. Now an advocate for survivors of sexual cruelty, Botha said the incident "put me on this path [to] help inspire other people." 

    She tells her story in the 2016 documentary Alison.

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    • Photo: Queery-54 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

      Stanislav Petrov was monitoring the Soviet atomic command center in 1983 when reports of a maneuver by the United States came flooding in. When he saw the reports of incoming missiles, Petrov didn't report it to his superiors - rather, he declared the whole thing to be a false alarm.

      For Petrov, sending it up the chain of command would have probably resulted in retaliation by the USSR and, ultimately, atomic conflict. He later explained that because the reports said only five missiles were launched by the US, it didn't make sense to retaliate

      I just couldn't believe that... all of a sudden, someone would hurl five missiles at us. Five missiles wouldn't wipe us out. The US had not five, but a thousand missiles... I imagined if I'd assume the responsibility for unleashing [WWIII] - and I said, no, I wouldn't.

      Petrov's actions not only prevented open military struggles, but also exposed how flawed the USSR's early warning system truly was. Petrov didn't receive official praise until 2006, but even then, he admitted, "I wasn't 100% sure [that it was a false alarm]. Not even close to 100%."

      • Age: 82
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    • Photo: Canadian government / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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      Francis Pegahmagabow Was The Deadliest WWI Sniper 

      Francis Pegahmagabow volunteered for military service in Canada in 1914. A member of the Wasauksing First Nation, Pegahmagabow spent nearly the entirety of WWI serving as a scout and sniper. It was as the latter that Pegahmagabow demonstrated his patience and "unerring aim," both of which resulted in 378 confirmed kills

      Pegahmagabow fought in some of the most deadly WWI incidents. Through it all he survived chlorine gas, shooting wounds, and bouts of pneumonia. During WWI, Pegahmagabow earned numerous medals and, when he was discharged in 1919, left the military as Canada's most decorated First Nations soldier ever.

      But Pegahmagabow wasn't done. When he returned to Canada, he remained a member of the militia and entered politics. As an outspoken advocate for the rights of First Nations peoples, Pegahmagabow served as the Supreme Chief of the Native Independent Government during the 1940s.  

      • Age: Dec. at 61 (1891-1952)
      • Birthplace: Parry Sound, Canada
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    • Photo: Illustrated edition of La Araucana by Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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      After Galvarino Had His Hands Cut Off, He Replaced Them With Blades 

      During the Arauco conflict between the Indigenous Mapuche people and Spanish colonialists, Galvarino was one of the leaders of an insurrection at Lagunillas, Chile. As a Mapuche warrior, Galvarino was captured at Lagunillas in 1557 and punished by having his hands cut off. According to legend, Galvarino accepted his mutilation willingly and without fear.

      Galvarino was released - essentially as a message to his people about what would happen in the wake of future resistance to Spanish authority. Upon his return, Galvarino called his fellow Mapuche to action and, as he went back to fight against the Spanish, attached knives to each of his wrists. At the next fight he participated in, Galvarino rallied his men, holding up his arms as he said

      [M]y brothers, see that you all fight very well, you do not want [to] be as I am without hands, so that you will not be able to work nor to eat... Those that you are going to fight with cut them, and also will do to whichever of you they take, and nobody is allowed to flee...

      Galvarino was again taken captive, and executed soon after.

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