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Cheyenne are a Native American people of the Great Plainsmarker, who are of the Algonquian-language family. 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 Plainsmarker tribes assume it means Cree or some other people who spoke an Algonquian language related to Cree and Cheyenne. However, the common folk etymology for Cheyenne is "a bit like the [people of an] alien speech" (literally, "red-talker").

During the pre-reservation era, the Cheyenne were at times allied with the Arapaho and Lakota (Sioux), although they migrated west away from Lakota warriors in the 18th century. They are one of the best known of the Plains tribes. The Cheyenne Nation comprised ten bands, spread across the Great Plains, from southern Coloradomarker to the Black Hillsmarker in South Dakotamarker. 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 Montanamarker on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation.

The Southern Cheyenne, known in Cheyenne as Heévâhetane meaning "Roped People", together with the Southern Arapaho, form the federally recognized tribe, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, situated in western Oklahomamarker. Their combined population is 12,130, as of 2008.


The Cheyenne of Montana and Oklahoma speak the Cheyenne language, known as tsêhésenêstsestôtse. Only a handful of vocabulary differs between the two locations. The Cheyenne alphabet contains fourteen letters. The Cheyenne language is part of the larger Algonquian-language group.


The earliest known historical record of the Cheyenne comes from the mid-seventeenth century, when a group of Cheyenne visited the Frenchmarker Fort Crevecoeur, near present-day Chicagomarker, Illinoismarker. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Cheyenne moved from the Great Lakesmarker region to present-day Minnesotamarker and North Dakotamarker, where they established villages. The most prominent of the ancient villages is Biesterfeldt Village, in eastern North Dakota along the Sheyenne River.

There the Cheyenne came into contact with the neighboring Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations, and they adopted many of their cultural characteristics. Conflict with migrating Lakota and Ojibwa nations forced the Cheyenne further west. By 1776 the Lakota had defeated the Cheyenne and taken over much of their territory near the Black Hillsmarker. In 1804, the Lewis and Clark visited a surviving Cheyenne village in North Dakota.

By the mid-19th century, the Cheyenne had mostly abandoned their traditional sedentary agricultural and pottery traditions because of changed conditions. They fully adopted the classic nomadic Plains 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. Having acquired horses, they adopted a nomadic lifestyle, with their range expanding from the upper Missouri Rivermarker into what is now Wyomingmarker, Coloradomarker and South Dakotamarker.

19th century and Indian Wars

Migration south

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Cheyenne still had a substantial presence near the Black Hills, but engaged in hunting and trading for horses as far south as the Arkansas Rivermarker. They may have ranged into Nuevo Mexico for horse-stealing raids. They followed Kiowa and Arapaho to the southern areas. They traded both with the Spanishmarker and with other American Indian tribes, trading goods and materials obtained on the upper Missouri with those of southern tribes.

As early as 1820, traders and explorers reported contact with Cheyenne at present-day Denver, Coloradomarker and on the Arkansas River. They were probably hunting and trading in that area earlier. They may have migrated to the south to 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 Rivermarker Valley.

In addition to endemic warfare with the Assiniboin to the north, and occasional conflict with the Lakota, the Cheyenne warred with the Crow. They suffered a major defeat at their hands in 1819. The following year, they took many Crow prisoners, who were incorporated into the tribe. Endemic warfare with the Crow, the Ute, and the Pawnee were a regular pattern of Cheyenne life until the 1860s.

Following reports in the 1820s of Cheyenne and other tribes' raids on parties on the Santa Fe Trail, US Army troops were sent out from Fort Leavenworthmarker to protect settlers on the trail. In 1834 Charles Bent and his partners established Bent's Fortmarker on the Arkansas Rivermarker. The Bents had been trading on the upper Missouri but were unsuccessful. As they were good friends with the Cheyenne, they were encouraged to relocate to the Arkansas, where the Cheyenne and Arapaho traded with them.

Treaty of 1825

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 Atkinsonmarker 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 Britishmarker traders on the upper Missouri, who came down from Canadamarker.

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 Assiniboin 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.

The cholera epidemic

During the California Gold Rush, emigrants brought in cholera, which spread in the camps and waterways due to poor sanitation. Perhaps from traders, the epidemic reached the Plains Indians, resulting in severe loss of life during the summer of 1849. About half the Cheyenne died, as did many people of other tribes. Perhaps because of loss of trade during the 1849 season, Bent's Fort was abandoned and burned.

Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851

In 1846 Thomas Fitzpatrick was appointed Indian agent for the upper Arkansas and Platte River. His efforts to negotiate with the Cheyenne, the Arapaho and other tribes led to a great council at Fort Laramiemarker in 1851. Treaties were negotiated by a commission consisting of Fitzpatrick and D.D. Mitchell, United States Superintendent of Indian Affairs, with the Indians of the northern plains.

They assigned territories to each tribe and pledged mutual peace. The tribes permitted the United States to maintain roads, such as the Overland Trail and the Santa Fe Trail, through Indian country and maintain forts to guard them. The tribes were compensated with annuities. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 affirmed Cheyenne and Arapaho territory on the Great Plainsmarker between the North Platte and the Arkansas. This territory included what is now Colorado, east of the Front Range of the Rockies and north of the Arkansas; Wyoming and Nebraska, south of the North Platte River; and extreme western Kansasmarker.

Punitive expedition of 1857

In April 1856, an incident at the Platte River Bridge (near present-day Casper, Wyomingmarker), resulted in the wounding of a Cheyenne warrior. After he returned to the Cheyenne on the plains, conflict near Fort Kearny along the Overland Trail during the summer of 1856 resulted in a US cavalry attack on a Cheyenne camp on Grand Island in Nebraska. Ten Cheyenne warriors were killed and eight or more were wounded.

In retaliation Cheyenne attacked at least three emigrant settler parties before returning to the Republican Rivermarker. The Indian agent at Fort Laramiemarker negotiated with the Cheyenne to reduce hostilities. But, the Secretary of War ordered 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, 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.

The Cheyenne on their part, under the influence of the medicine men White Bull, then Ice, and Dark or Grey Beard, became convinced that strong spiritual medicine would prevent the soldiers' guns from firing. When the encounter came on the Solomon River, the US troops charged with drawn sabers; the Cheyenn fled from that. This was the first battle the Cheyenne fought against the US Army. Casualties were few on either side. The troops continued on and two days later burned a hastily abandoned camp, where they destroyed lodges and the winter supply of buffalo meat.

Sumner continued to Bent's Fortmarker, where he distributed annuities due the Cheyenne to the Arapaho. He intended further punitive actions, but was ordered to Utah, where there was trouble with the Mormons. The Cheyenne fled below the Arkansas into the Kiowa and Comanche country and in the fall the Northern Cheyenne returned to their own country north of the Platte.

The Pikes Peak Gold Rush

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 Overland 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 made 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 massacremarker, as it was 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. They planned and carried out an attack with about 1000 warriors on the stage station and fort, Camp Rankin at Julesburgmarker, in January 1865. The Indians then made numerous raids along the South Platte, both east and west of Julesburg, and a second raid on Julesburg 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.

Black Kettle continued to desire peace. He 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 to the Arkansas River with 80 lodges, where he intended to seek peace.

Battle of Washita River

Buffalo Hunter Ralph Morrison who was killed and scalped December 7, 1868 near Fort Dodge Kansas by Cheyennes.
Read of the 3rd Infantry and John O.
Austin in background.
Photograph by William S.
An original print and story can be found at
Four years later, on November 27, 1868, George Armstrong Custer and his troops attacked Black Kettle's band at the Battle of Washita Rivermarker. Although his band was camped on a defined reservation, complying with the government's orders, some of its members were linked to raiding into Kansasmarker 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. He did not command absolute authority over members of his band. When younger members of the band took part in raiding parties, European Americans thought the whole band was implicated.

Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Northern Cheyenne fought in the Battle of the Little Bighornmarker, which took place on June 25, 1876. Together with Lakota and a small band of Arapaho, the Cheyenne killed Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and much of his 7th Cavalry contingent of Army soldiers. Historians have estimated the population of the Cheyenne, Lakota and Arapaho encampment along the Little Bighorn Rivermarker 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.marker, just as the nation was celebrating its Centennial. Public reaction arose in outrage against the Cheyenne.

Northern Cheyenne Exodus

Following the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the US Army increased attempts to capture the Cheyenne. In 1877, after the Dull Knife Fight, when Crazy Horse surrendered at Fort Robinsonmarker, a few Cheyenne chiefs and their people surrendered as well. The Cheyenne chiefs who surrendered at the fort were Dull Knife, Little Wolf, Standing Elk, and Wild Hog, with nearly 1,000 Cheyenne. Later that year Two Moon surrendered at Fort Keoghmarker 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 Laramiemarker, which both Dull Knife and Little Wolf had signed.

Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie and his Fourth Cavalry were transferred to the Department of the Platte as part of an increase in troops following the Battle of the Little Bighorn. 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. Their lodges and supplies destroyed and their horses confiscated, the Northern Cheyenne soon surrendered. They hoped to remain with the Sioux in the north. The US pressured them to locate on the reservation of the Southern Cheyenne in Indian Territory. After a difficult council, they eventually agree to go.

When the Northern Cheyenne arrived at Indian Territory, conditions were very difficult: rations were inadequate, no buffalo survived near the reservation, and, according to several sources, there was malaria. Desperate, in the fall of 1878, a portion of the Northern Cheyenne, led by Little Wolf and Dull Knife, attempted to return to the the north. Upon reaching the northern area, they split into two bands. That led by Dull Knife was imprisoned in an unheated barracks at Fort Robinson without food or water. Escaping on January 9, 1879, many died in the Fort Robinson tragedy. Eventually the Northern Cheyenne were granted a reservation, the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in southern Montana.Brown, Dee (1970). Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, pp.332-349. Holt,Rinehart and Winston. ISBN 0805017305.

Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation

Northern Cheyenne Indian Nation flag

The Cheyenne who traveled to Fort Keoghmarker (present day Miles City, Montanamarker), 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 by the executive order of President Chester A. Arthur November 16, 1884. It excluded Cheyenne who had homesteaded further east near the Tongue River. Those people were served by the St. Labres Catholic Mission. 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. Those who had homesteaded east of the Tongue River were relocated to the west of the river. The Northern Cheyenne sharing land of the Lakota at Pine Ridge 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 earned their right to remain in the north near the Black Hillsmarker, land they considered 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%.


Cheyenne courting scenes, by Big Back, before 1882
Over the past 400 years, the Cheyenne have gone through four stages of culture. First they lived in the Eastern Woodlands and were a sedentary and agricultural people, planting corn, squash beans, and harvesting wild rice. Next they lived in present-day Minnesota and South Dakota and continued their farming tradition. They started hunting bison of the Great Plains. During the third stage, the Cheyenne abandoned their farming lifestyle and became a full-fledged Plains horse culture tribe. The fourth stage is the reservation phase.

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 four seated chief delegates; the remaining four chiefs were the principal advisers of the other delegates. This system also regulated the Cheyenne military societies that developed for planning warfare, enforcing rules, and conducting ceremonies. By the time the Cheyenne reached the Great Plains, they had developed this government.

Anthropologists debate 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 reported that the Cheyenne had a matrilineal band system. Studies into whether the Cheyenne developed a matrilineal clan system are inconclusive.

Traditional Cheyenne plains culture

As they abandoned their agricultural villages near the Missouri River and acquired horses, the Cheyenne adopted the Plains Indian culture. In this nomadic life, the men hunted and fought with and raided other tribes. The women dressed and tanned hides for food, clothing, shelter and other uses. and gathered roots, berries and other useful plants, From the products of hunting and gathering, they 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 Hillsmarker, but later all the Great Plainsmarker from Dakota to the Arkansas River.

Role models

A Cheyenne woman has higher status if she is part of an extended family with distinguished ancestors and gets on well with her female relatives; does not have members in her extended family who are alcoholics or otherwise in disrepute; is hardworking, chaste and modest; is skilled in traditional crafts; knowledgeable about Cheyenne culture and history and speaks Cheyenne fluently. A young woman with these characteristics would have an advantage in a Powwow Princess competition.

Notable Cheyenne

See also


  1. The Cheyenne word for Ojibwa is "Sáhea'eo'o," a word that sounds similar to the Dakota word Šahíya.
  2. Bright, William (2004). Native American Place Names of the United States. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, pg. 95
  3. Oklahoma Indian Affairs. Oklahoma Indian Nations Pocket Pictorial Directory. 2008:7
  4. Pages 13 to 21, Bertbrong, The Southern Cheyenne
  5. Page 17, Bertbrong, The Southern Cheyenne
  6. Page 23, Bertbrong, The Southern Cheyenne
  7. Pages 24 to 26, Bertbrong, The Southern Cheyenne
  8. Page 143, Francis Paul Prucha, American Indian treaties: the history of a political anomaly, University of California Press (March 15, 1997), trade paperback, 562 pages ISBN 0520208951 ISBN 978-0520208957
  9. Pages 113 to 11, Bertbrong, The Southern Cheyenne
  10. Pages 106 to 123, Bertbrong, The Southern Cheyenne
  11. Pages 133 to 140, Bertbrong, The Southern Cheyenne
  12. Pages 111 to 121, Grinnell, The Fighting Cheyenne
  13. Pages 99 to 105, Hyde, Life of George Bent
  14. Pages 133 to 140, Bertbrong, The Southern Cheyenne
  15. Pages 111 to 121, Grinnell, The Fighting Cheyenne
  16. Pages 99 to 105, Hyde, Life of George Bent
  17. Pages 133 to 140, Bertbrong, The Southern Cheyenne
  18. Pages 111 to 121, Grinnell, The Fighting Cheyenne
  19. Pages 99 to 105, Hyde, Life of George Bent
  20. Pages 124 to 158, The Fighting Cheyenne, George Bird Grinnell, University of Oklahoma Press (1956 original copyright 1915 Charles Scribner's Sons), hardcover, 454 pages
  21. Pages 168 to 195, George E. Hyde, Life of George Bent: Written From His Letters, ed. Savoie Lottinville, University of Oklahoma Press (1968), hardcover, 390 pages; trade paperback, 280 pages (March 1983) ISBN 0806115777 ISBN 978-0806115771
  22. Page 188, The Fighting Cheyenne, George Bird Grinnell, University of Oklahoma Press (1956, original copyright 1915, Charles Scribner's Sons), hardcover, 454 pages
  23. [1]
  24. Brown, Dee (1970). Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, pp.332-349. Holt,Rinehart and Winston. ISBN 0805017305.
  25. Chapter 29, "Little Wolf and Dull Knife, 1876-79", pages 398 to 413 and Chapter 30, "The Fort Robinson Outbreak", pages 414 to 427, Grinnell, The Fighting Cheyennes
  26. In Dull Knife's Wake: The True Story of the Northern Cheyenne Exodus of 1878 by Maddux Albert Glenn, Horse Creek Publications (October 20, 2003), trade paperback, 224 pages, ISBN 0972221719 ISBN 978-0972221719
  27. Page 30 "WE, THE NORTHERN CHEYENNE PEOPLE: Our Land, Our History, Our Culture", Chief Dull Knife College, Lame Deer, Montana, accessed September 20, 2009
  28. pages 258 to 311, Volume 1, Grinnell, The Cheyenne Indians
  29. Pages 1 to 57, Volume 2, Grinnell, The Cheyenne Indians
  30. Pages 1 to 57, Volume 2, Grinnell, The Cheyenne Indians
  31. pages 247 to 311, Volume 1, Grinnell, The Cheyenne Indians
  32. Pages 209 to 246, Volume 1, Grinnell, The Cheyenne Indians
  33. Pages 63 to 71, pages 127 to 129, 247 to 311, Volume 1, Grinnell, The Cheyenne Indians
  34. Pages 154 to 156, Moore, The Cheyenne
  • The Southern Cheyenne, Donald J. Bertbrong, University of Oklahoma Press (1963), hardcover, 448 pages
  • Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970
  • Mackenzie’s Last Fight with the Cheyenne by Bourke, John G. New York Argonaut Press, 1966
  • The Fighting Cheyenne, George Bird Grinnell, University of Oklahoma Press (1956 original copyright 1915 Charles Scribner's Sons), hardcover, 454 pages ISBN 0-87928-075-1
  • The Cheyenne Indians: Their History and Ways of Life by George Bird Grinnell, Yale University Press (1923) hardcover, 2 volumes, volume 1 358 pages, volume 2 430 pages; trade paperback reprints: The Cheyenne Indians, Vol. 1: History and Society, Bison Books (October 1, 1972) 406 pages, ISBN 0803257716 ISBN 978-0803257719; The Cheyenne Indians, Vol. 2: War, Ceremonies, and Religion, Bison Books (October 1, 1972), 478 pages, ISBN 0803257724 ISBN 978-0803257726
  • Hoebel, E.A. "The Cheyennes".
  • Life of George Bent: Written From His Letters, by George E. Hyde, edited by Savoie Lottinville, University of Oklahoma Press (1968), hardcover, 390 pages; trade paperback, 280 pages (March 1983) ISBN 0806115777 ISBN 978-0806115771
  • Liquidation of Dull Knife by Lackie, William H. Nebraska History Vol. 22, 1941
  • Sandoz, Marie, Cheyenne Autumn. ISBN 0-8032-9212-0
  • Stands in Timber, John, Cheyenne Memories. ISBN 0-300-07300-3
  • Senate Report 708 by US Congress. 46th , 2nd Session, 1860-1891
  • The Pursuit of Dull Knife from Fort Reno in 1878-1879 by Wright, Peter. Chronicles of Oklahoma Vol. 46, 1968

External links and further reading

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