Dull Knife, Cheyenne
Called Dull Knife by the Lakota and Morning Star by the Cheyenne, he was one of two principal Cheyenne leaders (with Little Wolf) who led the trek back to their homeland in eastern Montana after the exile to Indian country (later Oklahoma) late in the 1870s and 1880s. Dull Knife, Little Wolf and other Cheyennes may have enjoyed a brief euphoria after they allied with the Lakota and other tribes to defeat George Armstrong Custer at the Little Bighorn in 1876. Within a year, however, reinforced army columns were chasing bands of Lakota and Cheyenne across the Plains.
Dull Knife was weary and depressed as he led his people into the Bighorn Mountains near the head of the Powder River. General Ronald S. MacKenzie moved out of Fort Fetterman in November 1876 and encountered Dull Knife's band in the course of a search for Crazy Horse's Oglalas. Nearly half of MacKenzie's force was made up of reservation-bound Cheyennes and Pawnees, recruited from near-starving conditions. Dull Knife's band had four hundred warriors. MacKenzie's force devastated them.
A band of survivors hobbled to Crazy Horse's camp at Beaver Creek. Eleven children frozen to death during the march, and the Cheyennes were forced to eat nearly all of their horses. Crazy Horse shared his band's scanty food supplies and blankets but refused to rise to the invocations of some of the more hotheaded Cheyennes to stage a last-ditch fight against the army. "The Wasi'chus (white men) outnumber the blades of grass on the prairie," said Crazy Horse. "It is time to take the white man's road...or we shall all be killed." Dull Knife agreed. "We Cheyennes are trying to fight the whirlwind."
In spring 1877, the Cheyennes who had lodged with Crazy Horse during the winter surrendered to General Nelson Miles at Fort Keough. About thirty young warriors - those who had felt betrayed by Crazy Horse's refusal to aid them in a last-ditch battle - enlisted as scouts for Miles against Crazy Horse's band, which was still free. The rest were sent to Darlington Reservation in Indian Terretory.
Dull Knife realized with growing bitterness that promises of abundant game in Oklahoma were a lie. The buffalo were gone, and smaller game had been hunted to near extinction by the Indians who had been sent there earlier. Cheyennes began to die of a fever, probably malaria; others starved. Promised government rations did not arrive on time. In the middle of August 1878, Dull Knife and Little Wolf pleaded with Indian agent John Miles to let the Cheyennes return home. Half the band had died in their year in Oklahoma. Dull Knife himself was shaking with fever as they talked. Miles asked for a year to work on the problem, and Little Wolf told him the Cheyennes would be dead in a year. Miles refused to relent.
The next morning at sunrise, the three hundred surviving Cheyennes broke for the open country, heading for their home on the Powder River, a thousand miles away. The next afternoon, two companies of cavalry caught up with them on the Little Medicine Lodge River. The Cheyennes refused promises of good treatment and drove off an attack, continuing northwestward. The Cheyennes repelled several more attacks over the next few weeks, capturing some non-Indian traders' small arms and buffalo meat along the way. They crossed the Arkansas and the South Platte Rivers, skirmishing again with soldiers. At White Clay Creek, Nebraska, the Cheyennes split into two groups. Dull Knife and 150 others went into Red Cloud Agency to surrender. Little Wolf and a roughly equal number headed into the Nebraska Sand Hills, where they spent the winter in hiding.
Back in Nebraska, Dull Knife's band had found Red Cloud Agency abandoned, so they moved on to Fort Robinson. For two month, Dull Knife's Cheyennes lived at the fort while the commanding officer awaited orders. When they finally came, the orders were to send the Indians back to Indian Terretory. Dull Knife refused to go. "No! I am here on my own ground, and I will never go back. You may kill me here, but you cannot make me go back !" Captain Wessells, the commanding officer, sought to make the Cheyennes change their minds my locking them in a freezing barracks with no food or water. For three days, the Cheyennes remained in the barracks in below-freezing weather. Wessells gave them at last chance to surrender, and the Cheyennes again refused.
Just after sunset on January 9, 1879, Little Shield, a Dog Soldier Society leader, led the Cheyennes in a desperate breakout. The Dog Soldiers led people out of the barracks' windows. Shooting wildly, soldiers chased them out of the fort. Fifty Cheyennes died in the snow that evening. Twenty more died of wounds and exposure; most of the remaining Cheyennes, fewer than a hundred now, were herded back to Fort Robinson. Dull Knife, his wife, and their son were among the few who escaped. They walked eighteen nights, resting by day, to Pine Ridge. They ate bark and their own moccasins to survive. At the Pine Ridge Agency, Bill Rowland, an interpreter, took the family in.
Thirty-one other warriors had escaped the soldiers from Fort Robinson but found themselves pinned down at Hat Creek Bluffs. The soldiers pummeled the area with gunshot and then called on the warriors to surrender. Their answer was three shots - the last three bullets the warriors had. More shooting followed, killing twenty-eight of the men. The surviving three stood up, took up their empty rifles as clubs, and charged the three hundred soldiers, who cut them to pieces. The bones of the dead Cheyennes later were turned over to the Army Medical Museum for scientific study. On October 8, 1993, the remains were returned to a delegation of sixteen Cheyennes in Washington D.C., for reburial under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriaton Act of 1990.
Dull Knife lived out his days on a reservation assigned to the surviving Cheyenne in the Rosebud Valley. He died in 1883 and was buried on high ground near his home.