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|Regions with significant populations|
|United States ( Montana, Oklahoma)|
|traditional tribal religion, Native American Church, and Christianity|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Arapaho, Blackfoot, Suhtai, and other Algonquian peoples|
|Regions with significant populations|
|United States ( Montana, Oklahoma)|
|traditional tribal religion, Native American Church, and Christianity|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Arapaho, Blackfoot, Suhtai, and other Algonquian peoples|
The Cheyenne people (// shy-AN) are one of the groups of indigenous people of the Great Plains, and are considered to be part of the Algonquian language–speaking people. The Cheyenne are made up of two Native American ethnic groups, the Só'taeo'o (more commonly spelled as Suhtai or Sutaio) and the Tsétsêhéstâhese (also spelled Tsitsistas). These tribes merged in the early 19th century. Today the Cheyenne people are split into two federally recognized groups: Southern Cheyenne, who are enrolled in the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma, and the Northern Cheyenne, who are enrolled in the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana.
The Cheyenne lived in the area of what is now Minnesota at the time of European contact and were often allied with the Lakota and Arapaho. They migrated west across the Mississippi River and into North and South Dakota in the early 18th century. They adopted horse culture and developed more centralized authority through ritual ceremonies and structure than other Plains Indians in the 19th century. Having settled the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Powder River Country of present-day Montana, they introduced the horse culture to Lakota bands about 1730. Allied with the Arapaho, the Cheyenne pushed the Kiowa to the Southern Plains. In turn, they were pushed west by the more numerous Lakota.
The Cheyenne Nation or Tsêhéstáno had ten bands, spread across the Great Plains, from southern Colorado to the Black Hills in South Dakota. They performed an annual Arrow Renewal ceremony and Sun Dance. When gathered, the bands leaders met in formal council. They fought their traditional enemies the Crow, and later (1856–1879) against United States Army forces. In the mid-19th century, the bands began to split, with some bands choosing to remain near the Black Hills, while others chose to remain near the Platte Rivers of central Colorado.
The Northern Cheyenne, known in Cheyenne either as Notameohmésêhese meaning "Northern Eaters" or simply as Ohmésêhese meaning "Eaters", live in southeast Montana on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. Tribal enrollment figures as of early 2014 show that there are approximately 10,050 enrolled tribal members, of which about 4,939 reside on the reservation. Approximately 91% of the population are Native Americans (full or part race), with 72.8% identifying themselves as Cheyenne. Slightly more than one quarter of the population five years or older spoke a language other than English.
The Southern Cheyenne, known in Cheyenne as Heévâhetaneo'o meaning "Roped People", together with the Southern Arapaho, form the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, in western Oklahoma. Their combined population is 12,130, as of 2008[update]. In 2003, about 8,000 of these identified themselves as Cheyenne. Although, with continuing intermarriage, it has become increasingly difficult to separate the tribes.
The Cheyenne Nation is composed of two tribes, the Só'taeo'o (more commonly as Sutaio) and the Tsétsêhéstâhese (more commonly as the Tsitsistas; singular: Tsétsêhéstaestse), which translates to "those like us" or "Human Beings." These two tribes had always traveled together, becoming fully merged sometime after 1831, when they were still noted as having separate camps. The Suhtai were said to have originally had slightly different speech and customs from their traveling companions.
The name "Cheyenne" derives from Dakota Sioux exonym for them, Šahíyena (meaning "little Šahíya"). Though the identity of the Šahíya is not known, many Great Plains tribes assume it means Cree or some other people who spoke an Algonquian language related to Cree and Cheyenne. The Cheyenne word for Ojibwe" is "Sáhea'eo'o," a word that sounds similar to the Dakota word Šahíya."
One of the most common etymologies for Cheyenne is "a bit like the [people of an] alien speech" (literally, "red-talker"). According to George Bird Grinnell, the Dakota had referred to themselves and fellow Siouan-language bands as "white talkers", and those of other language families, such as the Algonquian Cheyenne, as "red talkers" (Šahíyena).
The Cheyenne of Montana and Oklahoma speak the Cheyenne language, known as Tsêhésenêstsestôtse (common spelling: Tsisinstsistots). Approximately 800 people speak Cheyenne in Oklahoma. Only a handful of vocabulary differs between the two locations. The Cheyenne alphabet contains 14 letters. The Cheyenne language is one of the larger Algonquian-language group.
The earliest known written historical record of the Cheyenne comes from the mid-17th century, when a group of Cheyenne visited the French Fort Crevecoeur, near present-day Chicago, Illinois. The Cheyenne at this time lived between the Mississippi River and Mille Lacs Lake in present-day Minnesota. The Cheyenne economy was based on collection of wild rice and hunting, especially of bison which lived in the prairies 70–80 miles west of the Cheyenne villages.
According to tribal history, during the 17th century the Cheyenne had been driven by the Ho hé (Assiniboine) from the Great Lakes region to present-day Minnesota and North Dakota, where they established villages. The most prominent of the ancient Cheyenne villages is Biesterfeldt Village, in eastern North Dakota along the Sheyenne River. The tribal history also relates that they first reached the Missouri River in 1676. A more recent analysis of early records posits that at least some of the Cheyenne remained in the Mille Lac region of Minnesota until c. 1765, when the Ojibwe defeated the Dakota with firearms — pushing the Cheyenne in turn to the Minnesota River, where they were reported in 1766.
On the Missouri River, the Cheyenne came into contact with the neighboring Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara people, and they adopted many of their cultural characteristics. They were first of the later Plains tribes into the Black Hills and Powder River Country. About 1730 they introduced the horse to Lakota bands. Conflict with migrating Lakota and Ojibwe people forced the Cheyenne further west, and they in turn pushed the Kiowa to the south.
By 1776 the Lakota had overwhelmed the Cheyenne and taken over much of their territory near the Black Hills. In 1804, Lewis and Clark visited a surviving Cheyenne village in North Dakota. Such European American explorers learned many different names for the Cheyenne, and did not realize how the different sections were forming a unified tribe.
Cheyenne people had an oral culture. Their oral history relays how the prophet Sweet Medicine organized their war societies, their system of legal justice, and the Council of Forty-four chiefs. The ten bands have four leaders each, and the Council of Forty-Four meet to deliberate at regular tribal gatherings, centered around the Sun Dance.
The prophet Erect Horns gave them the Sacred Arrows and accompanying ceremonies, which they carried when they waged tribal-level war. Erect Horns convinced the tribe to abandon their earlier sedentary agricultural traditions to adopt nomadic Plains horse culture. They replaced their earth lodges with portable tipis and switched their diet from fish and agricultural produce, to mainly bison and wild fruits and vegetables. Their lands ranged from the upper Missouri River into what is now Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, and South Dakota.
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Northern Cheyenne (known in Cheyenne either as Notameohmésêhese meaning "Northern Eaters" or simply as Ohmésêhese or Ôhmésêheseo'o meaning "Eaters")
Southern Cheyenne (known in Cheyenne as Heévâhetaneo'o meaning "Roped People", also commonly known as Sówoniá - "the Southern People")
The Heviksnipahis, Hévhaitanio, Masikota, Omísis (Notameohmésêhese proper), Só'taeo'o (Suhtai or Sutaio, Northern and Southern), Wotápio, Oivimána (Northern and Southern), Hisíometanio, Ohktounna and the Hónowa were the ten principal bands that had the right to send four chief delegates representing them in the Council of Forty-Four.
After the Masikota had been almost wiped out through a cholera epidemic in 1849, the remaining Masikota joined the Dog Soldiers warrior society (Hotamétaneo'o). They effectively became a separate band and in 1850 took over the position in the camp circle formerly occupied by the Masikota. The members often opposed policies of peace chiefs such as Black Kettle. Over time the Dog Soldiers took a prominent leadership role in the wars against the whites. In 1867, most of the band were killed by United States Army forces in the Battle of Summit Springs.
Due to an increasing division between the Dog Soldiers and the council chiefs with respect to policy towards the whites, the Dog Soldiers became separated from the other Cheyenne bands. They effectively became a third division of the Cheyenne people, between the Northern Cheyenne, who ranged north of the Platte River, and the Southern Cheyenne, who occupied the area north of the Arkansas River.
After being pushed south and westward by the Lakota and the unified Cheyenne people began to create and expand a new territory of their own. Sometime around 1811 the Cheyenne made a formal alliance with the Arapaho people, which would remain strong throughout their history and into modern times. The alliance helped the Cheyenne expand their territory which stretched from southern Montana, through most of Wyoming, the eastern half of Colorado, far western Nebraska, and far western Kansas. As early as 1820, traders and explorers reported contact with Cheyenne at present-day Denver, Colorado and on the Arkansas River. They were probably hunting and trading in that area earlier. They may have migrated to the south for winter. The Hairy Rope band is reputed to have been the first band to move south, capturing wild horses as far south as the Cimarron River Valley. In response to the construction of Bent’s Fort by Charles Bent, a friend of the Cheyenne who established a popular trading area for the Cheyenne, a large portion of the tribe moved further south and stayed around the area. The other part of the tribe continued to live along the headwaters of the North Platte and Yellowstone rivers. The groups became the Southern Cheyenne, known as Sówoníă (Southerners) and the Northern Cheyenne, known as O'mǐ'sǐs (Eaters). The separation of the tribe was only a geographic one and the two divisions had regular and close contact.
In the southern portion of their territory the Cheyenne and Arapaho warred with the allied Comanche, Kiowa, and Plains Apache. Numerous battles were fought including a notable fight along the Washita River in 1836 with the Kiowa which resulted in the death of 48 Cheyenne warriors of the Bowstring society. In summer 1838, many Cheyenne and Arapaho attacked a camp of Kiowa and Comanche along Wolf Creek in Oklahoma resulting in heavy losses from both sides. Conflict with the Comanche, Kiowa, and Plains Apache ended in 1840 when the tribes made an alliance with each other. The new alliance allowed the Cheyenne to enter the Llano Estacado in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and northeastern New Mexico to hunt bison and trade. Their expansion in the south and alliance with the Kiowa led to their first raid into Mexico in 1853. The raid ended in disaster with heavy resistance from Mexican lancers, resulting in all but 3 of the war party being killed. To the north the Cheyenne made a strong alliance with the Lakota Sioux, which allowed them to expand their territory into part of their former lands around the Black Hills. They managed to escape the small pox epidemics which swept across the plains from white settlements in 1837-39 by heading into the Rocky Mountains but were greatly affected by the Cholera epidemic in 1849. Contact with Euro-Americans was mostly light, with most contact involving mountain men, traders, explorers, treaty makers, and painters.
Like all other plains Indian nations the Cheyenne were a horse and warrior people who developed as skilled and powerful mounted warriors. A warrior was viewed by the people not as a maker of war but as a protector, provider, and leader. Warriors gained rank in Cheyenne society by performing and accumulating various acts of bravery in battle known as coups. The title of war chief can be earned by any warrior who performs enough of the specific coups required to become a war chief. Specific warrior societies developed among the Cheyenne as with other plains nations. Each society had selected leaders which would invite those they see worthy enough to join their society to their society lodge for initiation. Often societies would have minor rivalry or would work together as a unit when warring with an enemy. Military societies played an important role in Cheyenne government, society leaders were often in charge of organizing hunts and raids as well as ensuring proper discipline and enforcement of laws within the nation. Each of the six distinct warrior societies of the Cheyenne would take turns assuming the leadership role within the nation. The four original military societies of the Cheyenne were the Swift Fox Society, Elk Horn Scrapper or Crooked Lance Society, Shield Society, and the Bowstring Men Society. The fifth society is split between the Crazy Dog Society and the famous Dog Soldiers. The sixth society is the Contrary Warrior Society, most notable for riding backwards into battle as a sign of bravery. All six societies and their various branches exist among the Southern and Northern Cheyenne Nations in present times. Warriors use a combination of traditional weapons such as various types of war clubs, tomahawks, bows and arrows, and lances as well as non-traditional weapons such as revolvers, rifles, and shotguns acquired through raid and trade.
The enemies of the Cheyenne included the Crow, Shoshone, Blackfeet, Flathead, Arikara, Gros Ventre, Assiniboine, and Plains Cree to the north and west of Cheyenne territory. To the east of Cheyenne Territory they fought with the Sioux, Pawnee, Ponca, Kaw, Iowa, Ho-Chunk and Omaha. South of Cheyenne territory they fought with the Kiowa, Comanche, Ute, Plains Apache, Osage and Wichita people. Many of the enemies the Cheyenne fought were only encountered occasionally, such as on a long distance raid or hunt. Some of their enemies, particularly the Indian peoples of the eastern great plains such as the Pawnee and Osage would act as Indian Scouts for the US Army, providing valuable tracking skills and information regarding Cheyenne habits and fighting strategies to US soldiers. Some of their enemies such as the Lakota would latter in their history become their strong allies, helping the Cheyenne fight against the United States Army during Red Cloud's War and the Great Sioux War of 1876. The Comanche, Kiowa and Plains Apache became allies of the Cheyenne towards the end of the Indian wars on the southern plains, fighting together during conflicts such as the Red River War.
The Cheyenne and Arapaho people formed an alliance together around 1811 which helped them expand their territories and strengthen their presence on the plains. Like the Cheyenne, the Arapaho language is part of the Algonquian group, although the two languages are not mutually intelligible. The Arapaho remained strong allies with the Cheyenne and helped them fight alongside the Sioux during Red Cloud's War and the Great Sioux War of 1876, also known commonly as the Black Hills War. On the southern plains the Arapaho and Cheyenne allied with the Comanche, Kiowa, and Plains Apache to fight invading settlers and US soldiers. The Arapaho were present with the Cheyenne at the Sand Creek Massacre when a peaceful encampment of mostly women, children, and the elderly were attacked and massacred by US soldiers. Both major divisions of the Cheyenne, the Northern Cheyenne and Southern Cheyenne were allies to the Arapaho who like the Cheyenne are split into northern and southern divisions. The Southern Cheyenne and Southern Arapaho were assigned to the same reservation in Oklahoma Indian Territory and remained together as the federally recognized Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes after the reservation was opened to American settlement and into modern times. The Northern Arapaho were to be assigned a reservation of their own or share one with the Cheyenne however the government failed to provide them with either and placed them on the already established Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming with their former enemies the Shoshone.
In the summer of 1825, the tribe was visited on the upper Missouri by a US treaty commission consisting of General Henry Atkinson and Indian agent Benjamin O'Fallon, accompanied by a military escort of 476 men. General Atkinson and his fellow commissioner left Fort Atkinson on May 16, 1825. Ascending the Missouri, they negotiated treaties of friendship and trade with tribes of the upper Missouri, including the Arikara, the Cheyenne, the Crow, the Mandan, the Ponca, and several bands of the Sioux. At that time the US had competition from British traders on the upper Missouri, who came down from Canada.
The treaties acknowledged that the tribes lived within the United States, vowed perpetual friendship between the US and the tribes, and, recognizing the right of the United States to regulate trade, the tribes promised to deal only with licensed traders. The tribes agreed to forswear private retaliation for injuries, and to return or indemnify the owner of stolen horses or other goods. The commission's efforts to contact the Blackfoot and the Assiniboine were unsuccessful. Along their return to Fort Atkinson at the Council Bluff in Nebraska, the commission had successful negotiations with the Ota, the Pawnee and the Omaha.
Increased traffic of emigrants along the related Oregon, Mormon and California trails, beginning in the early 1840s, heightened competition with Native Americans for scarce resources of water and game in arid areas. With resource depletion along the trails, the Cheyenne became increasingly divided into the Northern Cheyenne and Southern Cheyenne, where they could have adequate territory for sustenance.
During the California Gold Rush, emigrants brought in cholera. It spread in mining camps and waterways due to poor sanitation. The disease was generally a major cause of death for emigrants, about one-tenth of whom died during their journeys.
Perhaps from traders, the cholera epidemic reached the Plains Indians in 1849, resulting in severe loss of life during the summer of that year. Historians estimate about 2,000 Cheyenne died, one-half to two-thirds of their population. There were significant losses among other tribes as well, which weakened their social structures. Perhaps because of severe loss of trade during the 1849 season, Bent's Fort was abandoned and burned.
In 1846 Thomas Fitzpatrick was appointed US Indian agent for the upper Arkansas and Platte River. His efforts to negotiate with the Northern Cheyenne, the Arapaho and other tribes led to a great council at Fort Laramie in 1851. Treaties were negotiated by a commission consisting of Fitzpatrick and David Dawson Mitchell, US Superintendent of Indian Affairs, with the Indians of the northern plains.
To reduce inter-tribal warfare on the Plains, the government officials "assigned" territories to each tribe and had them pledge mutual peace. In addition, the government secured permission to build and maintain roads for European-American travelers and traders through Indian country on the Plains, such as the Emigrant Trail and the Santa Fe Trail, and to maintain forts to guard them. The tribes were compensated with annuities of cash and supplies for such encroachment on their territories. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 affirmed the Cheyenne and Arapaho territory on the Great Plains between the North Platte River and the Arkansas. This territory included what is now Colorado, east of the Front Range of the Rockies and north of the Arkansas River; Wyoming and Nebraska, south of the North Platte River; and extreme western Kansas.
In April 1856, an incident at the Platte River Bridge (near present-day Casper, Wyoming), resulted in the wounding of a Cheyenne warrior. He returned to the Cheyenne on the plains. During the summer of 1856, Indians attacked travelers along the Emigrant Trail near Fort Kearny. In retaliation, the US Cavalry attacked a Cheyenne camp on Grand Island in Nebraska. They killed ten Cheyenne warriors and wounded eight or more.
Cheyenne parties attacked at least three emigrant settler parties before returning to the Republican River. The Indian agent at Fort Laramie negotiated with the Cheyenne to reduce hostilities, but the Secretary of War ordered the 1st Cavalry Regiment (1855) to carry out a punitive expedition under the command of Colonel Edwin V. Sumner. He went against the Cheyenne in the spring of 1857. Major John Sedgwick led part of the expedition up the Arkansas River, and via Fountain Creek to the South Platte River. Sumner's command went west along the North Platte to Fort Laramie, then down along the Front Range to the South Platte. The combined force of 400 troops went east through the plains searching for Cheyenne.
Under the influence of the medicine man White Bull (also called Ice) and Grey Beard (also called Dark), the Cheyenne went into battle believing that strong spiritual medicine would prevent the soldiers' guns from firing. They were told that if they dipped their hands in a nearby lake, they had only to raise their hands to repel army bullets. Hands raised, the Cheyenne surrounded the advancing troops as they advanced near the Solomon River. Sumner ordered a cavalry charge and the troops charged with drawn sabers; the Cheyenne fled. With tired horses after long marches, the cavalry could not engage more than a few Cheyenne, as their horses were fresh.
This was the first battle which the Cheyenne fought against the US Army. Casualties were few on each side; J.E.B. Stuart, then a young lieutenant, was shot in the breast while attacking a Cheyenne warrior with a sabre. The troops continued on and two days later burned a hastily abandoned Cheyenne camp; they destroyed lodges and the winter supply of buffalo meat.
Sumner continued to Bent's Fort. To punish the Cheyenne, he distributed their annuities to the Arapaho. He intended further punitive actions, but the Army ordered him to Utah because of an outbreak of trouble with the Mormons. (This became known as the Utah War.) The Cheyenne moved below the Arkansas into Kiowa and Comanche country. In the fall, the Northern Cheyenne returned to their country north of the Platte.
Starting in 1859 with the Colorado Gold Rush, European-American settlers moved into lands reserved for the Cheyenne and other Plains Indians. Travel greatly increased along the Emigrant Trail along the South Platte River and some emigrants stopped before going on to California. For several years there was peace between settlers and Indians. The only conflicts were related to the endemic warfare between the Cheyenne and Arapaho of the plains and the Utes of the mountains.
US negotiations with Black Kettle and other Cheyenne favoring peace resulted in the Treaty of Fort Wise: it established a small reservation for the Cheyenne in southeastern Colorado in exchange for the territory agreed to in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. Many Cheyenne did not sign the treaty, and they continued to live and hunt on their traditional grounds in the Smokey Hill and Republican basins, between the Arkansas and the South Platte, where there were plentiful buffalo.
Efforts to make a wider peace continued, but in the spring of 1864, John Evans, governor of Colorado Territory, and John Chivington, commander of the Colorado Volunteers, a citizens militia, began a series of attacks on Indians camping or hunting on the plains. They killed any Indian on sight and initiated the Colorado War. General warfare broke out and Indians made many raids on the trail along the South Platte which Denver depended on for supplies. The Army closed the road from August 15 until September 24, 1864.
On November 29, 1864, the Colorado Militia attacked a Cheyenne and Arapaho encampment under Chief Black Kettle, although it flew a flag of truce and indicated its allegiance to the US government. The Sand Creek massacre, as it came to be known, resulted in the death of between 150 and 200 Cheyenne, mostly unarmed women and children. The survivors fled northeast and joined the camps of the Cheyenne on the Smokey Hill and Republican rivers. There warriors smoked the war pipe, passing it from camp to camp among the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho.
In January 1865 they planned and carried out an attack with about 1000 warriors on Camp Rankin, a stage station and fort at Julesburg. The Indians made numerous raids along the South Platte, both east and west of Julesburg, and raided the fort again in early February. They captured much loot and killed many European Americans. Most of the Indians moved north into Nebraska on their way to the Black Hills and the Powder River. (See Battle of Julesburg, Battle of Mud Springs, Battle of Rush Creek, Powder River Expedition, Battle of Platte Bridge)
Black Kettle continued to desire peace and did not join in the second raid or in the plan to go north to the Powder River country. He left the large camp and returned with 80 lodges of his tribesmen to the Arkansas River, where he intended to seek peace with the US.
Four years later, on November 27, 1868, George Armstrong Custer and his troops attacked Black Kettle's band at the Battle of Washita River. Although his band was camped on a defined reservation, complying with the government's orders, some of its members had been linked to raiding into Kansas by bands operating out of the Indian Territory. Custer and his men killed more than 100 Cheyenne, mostly women and children.
There are conflicting claims as to whether the band was hostile or friendly. Historians believe that Chief Black Kettle, head of the band, was not part of the war party within the Plains tribes. But, he did not command absolute authority over members of his band and the European Americans did not understand this. When younger members of the band took part in raiding parties, European Americans blamed the entire band for the incidents and casualties.
The Northern Cheyenne fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, which took place on June 25, 1876. The Cheyenne, together with the Lakota, other Sioux warriors and a small band of Arapaho, killed General George Armstrong Custer and much of his 7th Cavalry contingent of soldiers. Historians have estimated the population of the Cheyenne, Lakota and Arapaho encampment along the Little Bighorn River was approximately 10,000, making it one of the largest gatherings of Native Americans in North America in pre-reservation times. News of the event traveled across the United States and reached Washington, D.C., just as the nation was celebrating its Centennial. Public reaction arose in outrage against the Cheyenne.
Following the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the US Army increased attempts to capture the Cheyenne. In 1879, after the Dull Knife Fight, when Crazy Horse surrendered at Fort Robinson, a few Cheyenne chiefs and their people surrendered as well. They were Dull Knife, Standing Elk and Wild Hog with around 130 Cheyenne. Later that year Two Moons surrendered at Fort Keogh, with 300 Cheyenne. The Cheyenne wanted and expected to live on the reservation with the Sioux in accordance to an April 29, 1868 treaty of Fort Laramie, which both Dull Knife and Little Wolf had signed.
As part of a US increase in troops following the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the Army reassigned Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie and his Fourth Cavalry to the Department of the Platte. Stationed initially at Camp Robinson, they formed the core of the Powder River Expedition. It departed in October 1876 to locate the northern Cheyenne villages. On November 25, 1876, his column discovered and defeated a village of Northern Cheyenne in the Dull Knife Fight in Wyoming Territory. After the soldiers destroyed the lodges and supplies, and confiscated the horses, the Northern Cheyenne soon surrendered. They hoped to remain with the Sioux in the north but the US pressured them to locate with the Southern Cheyenne on their reservation in Indian Territory. After a difficult council, the Northern Cheyenne eventually agreed to go South.
When the Northern Cheyenne arrived at Indian Territory, conditions were very difficult: rations were inadequate, there were no buffalo near the reservation and according to several sources, there was malaria among the people. On 9 September 1878, a portion of the Northern Cheyenne, led by Little Wolf and Dull Knife started their trek back to the north. Upon reaching the northern area, they split into two bands. That led by Dull Knife (mostly women, children and elders) surrendered and were taken to Fort Robinson, where subsequent events became known as the Fort Robinson tragedy. Dull Knife's group was first offered food and firewood, and then after a week and a half, they were to told to go back to Indian territory. When they said no, they were then locked in the wooden barracks with no food, water or firewood for heat for four days. Most escaped in an estimated forty degrees below zero on January 9, 1879, but all were recaptured or killed.
The Cheyenne who traveled to Fort Keogh (present day Miles City, Montana), including Little Wolf, settled near the fort. Many of the Cheyenne worked with the army as scouts. The Cheyenne scouts were pivotal in helping the Army find Chief Joseph and his band of Nez Percé in northern Montana. Fort Keogh became a staging and gathering point for the Northern Cheyenne. Many families began to migrate south to the Tongue River watershed area, where they established homesteads.
The US established the Tongue River Indian Reservation, now named the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, of 371,200 acres (1,502 km2) by the executive order of President Chester A. Arthur November 16, 1884. It excluded Cheyenne who had homesteaded further east near the Tongue River. The western boundary is the Crow Indian Reservation. On March 19, 1900, President William McKinley extended the reservation to the west bank of the Tongue River, making a total of 444,157 acres (1,797 km2). Those who had homesteaded east of the Tongue River were relocated to the west of the river.
The Northern Cheyenne, who were sharing the Lakota land at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation were finally allowed to return to the Tongue River on their own reservation. Along with the Lakota and Apache, the Cheyenne were the last nations to be subdued and placed on reservations. (The Seminole tribe of Florida never made a treaty with the US government.)
The Northern Cheyenne were given the right to remain in the north, near the Black Hills, land which they consider sacred. The Cheyenne also managed to retain their culture, religion and language. Today, the Northern Cheyenne Nation is one of the few American Indian nations to have control over the majority of its land base, currently 98%.
Over the past 400 years, the Cheyenne have changed their lifestyles. In the 16th century they lived in the regions near the Great Lakes. They farmed corn, squash, and beans, and harvested wild rice like other indigenous peoples of the Northeastern Woodlands. They migrated west in the 18th century and hunted bison on the Great Plains. By the mid-19th century, the US forced them onto reservations.
The traditional Cheyenne government system is a politically unified system. The central traditional government system of the Cheyenne is the Arrow Keeper, followed by the Council of Forty-Four. Early in Cheyenne history, three related tribes known as the Heviqsnipahis, the Só'taeo'o and the Masikota, unified themselves to form the Tsé-tsêhéstâhese or the "Like Hearted People" who are known today as the "Cheyenne." The unified tribe then divided themselves into ten principal bands:
Each of the ten bands had four seated chief delegates; the remaining four chiefs were the principal advisers of the other delegates. Smaller bands or sub-bands had no right to send delegates to the council. This system also regulated the Cheyenne military societies that developed for planning warfare, enforcing rules, and conducting ceremonies.
Anthropologists debate about Cheyenne society organization. On the plains, it appears they had a bilateral band kinship system. However, some anthropologists reported that the Cheyenne had a matrilineal band system. Studies into whether, and if so, how much the Cheyenne developed a matrilineal clan system are continuing.
While they participating in nomadic Plains horse culture, men hunted and occasionally fought with and raided other tribes. The women tanned and dressed hides for clothing, shelter, and other uses. They also gathered roots, berries, and other useful plants. From the products of hunting and gathering, the women also made lodges, clothing, and other equipment. Their lives were active and physically demanding. The range of the Cheyenne was first the area in and near the Black Hills, but later all the Great Plains from Dakota to the Arkansas River.
A Cheyenne woman has a higher status if she is part of an extended family with distinguished ancestors. Also, if she is friendly and compatible with her female relatives and does not have members in her extended family who are alcoholics or otherwise in disrepute. It is expected of all Cheyenne women to be hardworking, chaste, modest, skilled in traditional crafts, knowledgeable about Cheyenne culture and history and speak Cheyenne fluently. Tribal powwow princesses are expected to have these characteristics.
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