Henry Chee Dodge was born in Ft. Defiance, Arizona, the son of a Navajo-Jemez mother and a Mexican silversmith father. When Henry was very young his father was killed while trying to recover Navajo horses stolen from the Navajos by other Mexicans. During the forced march to Bosque Redondo Reservation, led by Col. Kit Carson, Henry’s mother left her six year old son with other relatives to search for food. She never returned.
Dodge was passed from family to family and during a mix-up was left along the trail. An old man and his daughter found him and brought Henry with them to Bosque Redondo where they lived for four years. His Spanish looks and curly hair caused white agents governing the Navajo to choose him as an interpreter for the Navajos.
Returning to the Ft. Defiance area, Henry was reunited with an aunt. He learned English and Spanish and attended the Ft. Defiance Indian School. He worked as a translator for his uncle's trading post. He eventually became the official Navajo interpreter for the U.S. Army.
In 1883 he became the chief of the Navajo police and the following year was appointed "head chief" of the Navajo. This choice was made by a white Indian agent and approved by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Dodge had carefully saved all the money he made in his various jobs and by 1890 started investing in a trading post and sheep ranch.
In the 1920s Dodge and two others founded a council to handle requests for oil exploration leases on Navajo land. From Dodge’s council the new Navajo Tribal Council was formed and in 1923 Dodge was elected the first chairman. In 1927 Dodge convinced the government that the Navajos should receive 100% of the royalties from oil found under the reservation. His leadership brought the tribe to a modern day organization. Some of Henry Dodge's five children followed their father into leadership positions in the Navajo political system.
Reelected to the council again in 1946, Henry Dodge never took office. He contracted pneumonia and died in 1947.