Bender was born in Crow Wing County, Minnesota as a member of the Chippewa tribe--he faced discrimination throughout his career, not least of which was the derisive nickname ("Chief") by which he is almost exclusively known today. After graduating from Carlisle Indian School, Bender went on to a stellar career as a starting pitcher from 1903 to 1917, primarily with Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics (though with stints at the end of his career with the Baltimore Terrapins, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Chicago White Sox).
Over his career his win-loss record was 212-167, for a .625 winning percentage (a category in which he would lead the American League in three seasons). His talent was even more noticeable in the high-pressure environment of the World Series: in five trips to the championship series, he managed six wins and a 2.44 ERA. In the 1911 series, he pitched three complete games, which set the record for most complete games pitched in a six-game series. He also threw a no-hitter in 1910.
Bender was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1953, less than one year before his death in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the age of 70.