The Cheyenne were generally friendly toward white settlers until the discovery of gold in Colorado (1858) brought a swarm of gold seekers into their lands. By a treaty signed in 1861 the Cheyenne agreed to live on a reservation in SE Colorado, but the U.S. government did not fulfill its obligations, and they were reduced to near starvation. Cheyenne raids resulted in punitive expeditions by the U.S. army. The indiscriminate massacre (1864) of warriors, women, and children at Sand Creek, Colo., was an unprovoked assault on a friendly group. The incident aroused the Cheyenne to fury, and a bitter war followed. Gen. George Custer destroyed (1868) Black Kettle's camp on the Washita River, and fighting between the whites and the Southern Cheyenne ended, except for an outbreak in 1874-75. The Northern Cheyenne joined with the Sioux and overwhelmed Custer and his 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. They finally surrendered in 1877 and were moved south and confined with the Southern Cheyenne in what is now Oklahoma. Plagued by disease and malnutrition, they made two desperate attempts to escape and return to the north. A separate reservation was eventually established for them in Montana. There were almost 12,000 Cheyenne in the United States in 1990.
See G. B. Grinnell, The Fighting Cheyennes (1915, repr. 1956) and The Cheyenne Indians (2 vol., 1923, repr. 1972); E. A. Hoebel, The Cheyennes (1960); D. J. Berthrong, The Southern Cheyennes (1963); J. Millard, The Cheyenne Wars (1964); John Stands in Timber and M. Liberty, Cheyenne Memories (1967); P. J. Powell, Sweet Medicine (2 vol., 1969); J. H. Moore, The Cheyenne Nation (1987).
Plains Indian people of Algonquian language stock, living principally in Montana and Oklahoma, U.S. Originally farmers, hunters, and gatherers who lived in central Minnesota, the Cheyenne moved in the early 19th century to regions around the Platte and Arkansas rivers and split into the Northern Cheyenne and the Southern Cheyenne. In these areas they adopted the lifestyle of the Plains Indians; after acquiring horses, they became more dependent on the buffalo for food and developed a tepee-dwelling nomadic mode of life. They performed the sun dance and placed heavy emphasis on visions in which an animal spirit adopted an individual and bestowed special powers on him or her. They had well-organized military societies and fought constantly with the Kiowa until circa 1840. In the 1870s they participated in various Indian uprisings, joining the Sioux at the Little Bighorn in 1876. Cheyenne descendants numbered more than 20,000 in the early 21st century.
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Cheyenne are a Native American nation of the Great Plains. The Cheyenne Nation is composed of two united tribes, the Só'taa'e (more commonly as Sutai) and the Tsé-tsêhéstâhese (singular: Tsêhéstáno; more commonly as the Tsitsistas), which translates to "those like us". The name Cheyenne derives from Dakota Sioux 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 that spoke an Algonquian language related to the Cree and the Cheyenne. However, the common folk etymology for "Cheyenne" is "bit like the [people of an] alien speech" (literally, "little red-talker").
During the pre-reservation era, they were allied with the Arapaho and Lakota (Sioux). They are one of the best known of the Plains tribes. The Cheyenne Nation comprised ten bands, spread all over the Great Plains, from southern Colorado to the Black Hills in South Dakota. In the mid-nineteenth 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.
Currently 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. The Southern Cheyenne, known in Cheyenne as Heévâhetane meaning "Roped People," along with the Southern Arapaho, live in central Oklahoma. Their combined population is approximately 20,000.
The earliest known official record of the Cheyenne comes from the mid-seventeenth century, when a group of Cheyenne visited Fort Crevecoeur, near present-day Chicago. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Cheyenne moved from the Great Lakes region to present day Minnesota and North Dakota and established villages. The most prominent of these ancient villages is Biesterfeldt Village, in eastern North Dakota along the Sheyenne River. The Cheyenne also came into contact with the neighboring Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations and adopted many of their cultural characteristics. In 1804, the Lewis and Clark visited a Cheyenne village in North Dakota. Pressure from migrating Lakota and Ojibwa nations was forcing the Cheyenne west. By the mid 19th century, the Cheyenne had largely abandoned their sedentary, agricultural and pottery traditions and fully adopted the classic nomadic Plains culture. Tipis replaced earth lodges, and the diet switched from fish and agricultural produce to mainly bison and wild fruits and vegetables. During this time, the Cheyenne also moved into Wyoming, Colorado and South Dakota.
Starting in the late 1850s and accelerating in 1859 with the Colorado Gold Rush, European settlers moved into the lands reserved for the Cheyenne and other Plains Indians. The influx eventually led to open warfare in the 1864 Colorado War, primarily between the Kiowa with the Cheyenne largely uninvolved but caught in the middle of the conflict.
On November 29, 1864, a Cheyenne encampment under Chief Black Kettle, flying a flag of truce and indicating its allegiance to the authority of the national government, was attacked by the Colorado Militia. The battle known as the Sand Creek massacre resulted in the death of between 150 and 200 Cheyenne, mostly unarmed non-combatants.
Four years later, on November 27, 1868, the same Cheyenne band was attacked at the Battle of Washita River. The encampment under Chief Black Kettle was located within the defined reservation and thus complying with the government's orders, but some of its members were linked both pre and post battle to the ongoing raiding into Kansas by bands operating out of the Indian Territory. Over 100 Cheyenne were killed, mostly women and children.
There are conflicting claims as to whether the band was hostile or friendly. Chief Black Kettle, head of the band, is generally accepted as not being part of the war party within the Plains tribes, but he did not command absolute authority over the members of his band. Consequently, when younger members of the band participated in the raiding, the band was implicated.
The Northern Cheyenne participated in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, which took place on June 25, 1876. The Cheyenne, along with the Lakota and a small band of Arapaho, annihilated Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and much of his 7th Cavalry contingent of Army soldiers. It is estimated that the population of the encampment of the Cheyenne, Lakota and Arapaho along the Little Bighorn River was approximately 10,000, which would make it one of the largest gathering of Native Americans in North America in pre-reservation times. News of the event had traveled across the United States and reached Washington, D.C., just as the United States was celebrating its Centennial. This caused much anger towards the Cheyenne and Lakota.
Following the Battle of the Little Bighorn attempts by the U.S. Army to capture the Cheyenne intensified. In 1877 when Crazy Horse surrendered at Fort Robinson a few Cheyenne chiefs and their people surrendered as well. The Cheyenne chiefs that surrendered at the fort were Dull Knife, Little Wolf, Standing Elk, and Wild Hog with nearly one thousand Cheyenne. On the other hand Two Moon surrendered at Fort Keogh with three hundred Cheyenne in 1877. The Cheyenne wanted and expected to live on the reservation with the Sioux in accordance to an April 29, 1868 treaty of Fort Laramie of which both Dull Knife and Little Wolf had signed. However shortly after arriving at Fort Robinson it was recommended that the Northern Cheyenne be moved to the reservation at Fort Reno with the Southern Cheyenne. Following confirmation from Washington the Cheyenne started their move with 972 people; upon reaching the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation on August 5, 1877 there were only 937. Some elderly had perished along the way and some young men crept away and headed back north. When reaching the reservation the Northern Cheyenne noticed how poverty-stricken the reservation was and began to fall sick in late summer of 1877. However when conditions did not improve upon a federal investigation into reservation conditions the Cheyenne’s were given authorization to hunt. When the Cheyenne attempted to find game to hunt none was found, just a wasteland of dead buffalo remains; this was the winter of 1877-1878. Unfortunately in 1878 there was a measles outbreak that struck the Northern Cheyenne, and in August 1878 the Cheyenne chiefs began the organization to move north. On September 9, 1878 Little Wolf, Dull Knife, Wild Hog, and Left Hand told their people to organize to leave, leaving were 297 (the number could be as high as 353) men, women , and children. By September 13th the Cheyenne had traveled 150 miles to the Cimarron River, this is where the army had caught up to the runaway Cheyenne’s. A fight transpired but the Cheyenne managed to slip away in small bands and get away from the army
From that point on it was a running battle across the Kansas and Nebraska, and soldiers from all surrounding forts (Fort Wallace, Fort Hays, Fort Dodge, Fort Riley, and Fort Kearney) were in pursuit of the Cheyenne’s. About ten thousand soldiers and three thousand settlers chased the Cheyenne both day and night. During the last two weeks of September the army had caught up to the Cheyenne five times but the Cheyenne was able to evade the army by keeping to arduous grounds where it was challenging for the army to follow.In the fall of 1878 after six weeks of running the Cheyenne chiefs held council and it was discovered that 34 of the original 297 were missing, most had been killed but a few had decided to take other paths to the north. This is where the Cheyenne split into two groups. The ones that wished to stop running were going along with Dull Knife to Red Cloud Agency, Wild Hog and Left Hand also decided to follow Dull Knife. The Cheyenne that decided to keep heading north followed Little Wolf to the Tongue River. On October 23rd, 1878 Dull Knifes band of Cheyenne, only two days from Fort Robinson happen to be surrounded by the army. After hearing that Red Cloud and Spotted Tail had been relocated to Pine Ridge, decided due to weather and his peoples condition to go to Fort Robinson anyhow. The Cheyenne decided that night to take apart their best guns, women hid the barrels under their clothing and the smaller pieces were attached to cloths and moccasins as ornaments. On October 25th, 1878 Dull Knife, Left Hand, Wild Hog and rest of the Cheyenne finally reached Fort Robinson. The barracks that were built to hold seventy-five soldiers now held one hundred and fifty Cheyenne. In December Red Cloud was brought to Fort Robinson for a council with Dull Knife and the other chiefs. Dull Knife agreed to fight no more if the great father in Washington would let his people live on Pine Ridge that now held Red Cloud and his tribe. However on January 3rd, 1879 the Cheyenne were ordered to return south to the Southern Cheyenne reservation. When the Cheyenne refuse to return to the reservation in the south, bars were put on windows and no rations were given, including wood for heat. On January 9th, 1879 Dull Knife still refused to go back south, however Wild Hog and Left Hand had agreed to talk but said their people would not go. Upon hearing this Wild Hog was held as a prisoner and shackled. At 9:45 that night the Cheyenne tried to make a daring escape using the dismantled guns they had hidden upon arriving at the fort. By morning sixty-five Cheyenne, twenty-three of them wounded went back to Fort Robinson as prisoners. Only thirty-eight Cheyenne had escaped and were alive, thirty-two of these were together moving north pursued by the army. Six Cheyenne were hiding only a few miles from the fort among rocks, and were found during the next few days. At Hat Creek Bluff, Dull Knife was trapped, only nine of the thirty-two were still alive. In January 1879 Dull Knife reached Pine Ridge where Red Cloud was and held as a prisoner. After months of delay from Washington the prisoners from Fort Robertson were released and allowed to go to Fort Keogh, where Little Wolf had ended up. However several of the escapees later had to stand trial for the murders which had been committed in Kansas, and in 1994 the remains of those killed were repatriated.
The Cheyenne who traveled to Fort Keogh (present day Miles City, Montana) had settled near the fort among them was Little Wolf. 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 the staging and gathering point for the Northern Cheyenne. Many families began to migrate south to the Tongue River watershed area and established homesteads. Seeing a need for a reservation, the United States government established the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, by executive order in 1884. Dull Knife, the remaining chiefs, and Northern Cheyenne at Pine Ridge were finally allowed to return to the Tongue River on their own reservation. The reservation was expanded in 1890; the current western border is the Crow Indian Reservation, and the eastern border is the Tongue River. The Cheyenne, along with the Lakota and Apache nations, were the last nations to be subdued and placed on reservations (the Seminole tribe of Florida was never subdued.).
Through determination and sacrifice, the Northern Cheyenne had earned their right to remain in the north near the Black Hills. The Cheyenne also had 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 at 98%.
The traditional Cheyenne government system is a politically unified North American indigenous nation. Most other nations were divided into politically autonomous bands, whereas the Cheyenne bands were politically unified. The central traditional government system of the Cheyenne was the "Council of Forty-Four." The name denotes the number of seated chiefs on the council. Each of the ten bands had 4 seated chief delegates; the remaining 4 chiefs were the principal advisors of the other delegates. This system also regulated the many societies that developed for planning warfare, enforcing rules, and conducting ceremonies. This governing system was developed by the time the Cheyenne reached the Great Plains.
There is a controversy among anthropologists about Cheyenne society organization. When the Cheyenne were fully adapted to the classic Plains culture, they had a bi-lateral band kinship system. However, some anthropologists note that the Cheyenne had a matrilineal band system. Studies into whether the Cheyenne ever developed a matrilineal clan system are inconclusive.