In quiet reverence before the lodge fires, the old people of the Cheyenne
recounted for their young, their sacred stories, the deeds of tribal culture,
heros, and their tales of origin. Without written literature, the Cheyenne,
like others, orally passed their customs, religious ceremonies, and traditions
from generation to generation.
Nothing in the Cheyenne legends recalls migration to the North American Continent.
Rather, it was believed that the first Cheyenne lived under ground and were
led to the surface by one of their more adventuresome people, who, following
a small source of light, discovered the world above them.
It is suspected the Cheyenne were originally from North of the Missouri River
on a large lake. They occupied a region populated by the Algonquon speaking
people. It is suspected they began their tribal migrations from the shores of
the Great Lakes or the upper Mississippi River area. They originally appear
in historical records on a map attributed to Joliet and drawn about 1673. More
definite is a visit of a group of Indians, named "Chaa" or Cheyenne to LaSalle
while he was building Fort Crevecoeur on the Illinois in February, 1680.
By the end of the 1700's the Cheyenne had migrated to the Sheyenne River in
eastern North Dakota. When or why the Cheyenne moved farther up the Minnesota
River and ultimately to the Sheyenne River is unknown, probably due to pressures
from the Sioux or Assiniboin. They lived more than a half century on the Sheyenne,
Their principle village, containing about 70 lodges was located on the south
bank of an old channel of the river, about 12 miles south of Lisbon, Ransom
County, North Dakota. While there they acquired horses and metal knives, but
still did not have guns. Armed with the bow and arrow and lance, the Cheyenne
soon came to depend on the vast buffalo herds supplementing their diet of beans,
corn and squash. It is estimated they acquired horses about 1750.
By the early 1800's, the Cheyenne ranged widely to the southwest of the Missouri
River. A french trader Persine duLuc noted that, although the Cheyenne wandered
the greatest part of the year, they sowed, near their "cottages" (the Cheyenne
built earth lodges to live in, some more than 40' in diameter) maize (corn)
and tobacco, which they came to reap at the beginning of autumn. When the Lewis
and Clark Expedition came upon the Cheyenne along the Missouri River about 1804,
their numbers were estimated at about 300-400 fighting men, but Clark did not
come in contact with the whole tribe, which meant the tribe numbered between
1400 and 1600 persons. He described the Cheyenne as "rich in horses and dogs,
the dogs carry a great deal of their light baggage. They confess to be at war
with no nation, except the Sioux" against whom they had been fighting defensive
wars for as long as they could remember.
Once the Cheyenne were on the plains, rapid cultural changes took place. After
only two generations, Cheyenne living in 1804-1806 near present day Scott's
Bluff, NE, on the North Platte River had completely adjusted to the new environment.
Military Societies of the Cheyenne not only had ceremonial functions such as
their participation in the Sun Dance, but also were largely responsible for
protecting the tribes and maintaining tribal discipline. These societies were
organized on either age-grade basis or continuous membership in a specific society.
These Cheyenne Societies were Wolf Soldiers, Fox soldiers, Dog Soldiers and
Red Shields or Bull Soldiers, and later, the Thunder Bows also known as the
Cheyenne life on the plains early in the 19th century was well adapted to tribal
existence. Their institutions were both meaningful and intergrated. They had
worked out a practical government system and a religion or super naturalism
related directly to the environment in which they lived, established a satisfying
economy, maintained an orderly family and kinship system, and made alliances
with powerful and friendly tribes which assured that they would not be exterminated
by their native foes.
Rivalries developed between bands as their numbers rose and fell. Antagonism
between band members and chiefs finally led to the tribe dividing into the Northern
and Southern divisions, seemingly by individual choice.
The Cheyenne removal to the Arkansas River did not bring peace to the tribe.
The early and mid 1830's were a time of widespread intertribal wars on the southern
and central plains, in which the Cheyenne frequently participated. About this
time frame the Cheyenne and Arapaho formed and alliance. The Cheyenne had large
horse herds and animosity grew between the Cheyenne and Pawnee over the years.
There was no cessation of hostilities between the 2 tribes during the 1850's.
About 1851-52, Alights on the Cloud, a prominent Cheyenne chief was killed by
the Pawnee. The Cheyenne gathered their allies, the Arapaho, Brule' Sioux and
smaller numbers of Kiowa, Kiowa -Apache, and Crow and followed their sacred
Medicine Arrows and Buffalo Hat into battle against the Pawnee. The 1853 war
against the Pawnee ended in disaster for the Cheyenne.
The warriors of the combined tribes could not drive the enemy from a strong
defensive position and the battle raged indecisivly for hours. Then a body of
horsemen appeared -- Pottowatomie, armed with new rifles, who alternately advanced
by platoons, firing and retreating. The Plains Indians were no match for the
well organized Pottawatomi warriors, so the former fled the battlefield. In
1854, however, the Cheyenne revenged their defeat when they and the Kiowa cut
off 113 Pawnee and killed then almost to the man.
Restlessness continued with the tribes and by the winter of 1863-64, Gov. Evans
of Colorado Territory was convinced Indian hostilities would begin in the spring.
If all went well, the Indians could be defeated and Colorado Territory could
be cleared of hostilities. In March of 1864, Major General Samuel R. Curtiss
withdrew every man who could be spared from the Indian frontier to meet a Confederate
force poised on the Arkansas River. Govenor Evans began to worry about the defenseless
position of the settlements in Colorado Territory.
Renewed intertribal hostilities between the Cheyenne and Arapaho, Utes, and
Kiowa caused concern. In July 1864, large war parties struck the overland roads
at widely separated points. Several stations and wagon trains were attacked.
The raids continued on through August. The military started moving on the raiders.
Meanwhile, Black Kettle and other Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs were trying to
calm things down.
Black Kettle's band was wintering on Sand Creek, near Fort Lyon. Col. Chivington
did not inform his superiors, but moved his column out of Fort Lyon in late
November. There were between 700-750 men backed up by four 12 lb. howitzers.
By daylight, the troops were in position and swept though the camp. At the onset,
Black Kettle raised both the American and a white flag above his tent, as a
sign the Indians were friendly, but they were ignored. This attack took place
even though peace negotiations were going on elsewhere. Flushed with success,
after his attack at Sand Creek, Chivington anticipated further actions against
the Cheyenne and Arapaho. As it was, Chivington had already had already killed
9 Cheyenne Chiefs, among which were White Antelope, War Bonnett, and old Yellow
Wolf, in addition to Left Hand, an Arapaho. The survivors fled to join their
kinsmen on the Smokey Hill River.
Fighting continued for the next four years, In November, 1868, Custer and the
7th Calvary attacked Black Kettle's camp on the Washita. The Cheyenne fought
desparately to save their families. No quarter was ever given or asked. Warriors
and soldiers fought hand to hand. Some of the women and children began fleeing
toward much larger Indian villages that Custer had not seen. Other warriors
appeared and Custer did not leave unscathed. Black Kettle was killed. After
the Battle of the Washita , Indian sympathizers began to critisize Sheridan
and Custer's actions.
In 1874, the battle at Adobe Walls was not the beginning of the last Indian
Wars on the South Plains, only it's best publisized. Warriors from 5 tribes
of the southern Plains decided to attack the buffalo hunters and trading settlement
at Adobe Walls. Most of the braves were Comanche and Cheyenne and the party
was about 250-300 men, believing that young I-Satai, a Kiowa, had strong Medicine.
An Expedition led by Col. Miles from Camp Supply in 1875, led to the surrender
of a majority of the hostile Cheyenne.. .... The days of freedom ended . The
buffalo hunt, the thrill of horse raids, were all in the past. Rations, schools,
Christianity, and substitutes, but the Southern Cheyenne were powerless to contest
the superior force of the white man. Stripped of their reservation several decades
later by land hungary American farmers and speculaters, the Cheyenne declined
as disease, despair and lethargy took their toll. The Southern Cheyenne clung
stubbornly to their institutions until, finally in the 1930's, some recognition
of their culture was granted by the United States.
In August, 1861. at the outbreak of the War Between The States, Albert Pike,
traveled to Fort Wichita and signed Treaties between the Confederate States
of America and the Plains Tribes. Read about these treaties between
This information was taken from the book, "The Southern Cheyenne", by Donald
J. Buthering, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK. Only parts of the book
was used to build a time line - history of the Cheyenne. This book is found
in many libraries.
The Cheyenne is one tribe with two locations, one in Oklahoma, the Southern
Cheyenne and one in Montana, the Northern Cheyenne. For much more information
on these two reservations, please visit their websites.
Timothy Cook has the website for The
Northern Cheyenne. He has a data base of around 5,000 Cheyenne and a small
archive of early Cheyenne census records, enrollment records for both Northern
and Southern Cheyenne, some as early as 1878 and up to 1970's, some probate
records and a variety of other documents. He will do LIMITED research on the
Cheyenne as well as lookups in his archives. He has a page of very good books
listed for more information on the people. Please check out Timothy's pages.
Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma
Listen to Cheyenne
Cheyenne Language Web Site
More Information on the Cheyenne Language
Cheyenne - Arapaho Flag
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April 15, 2002
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