The Cheyenne



The North American Plains Indian people of Algonkian stock who inhabited the regions around the Platte and Arkansas rivers during the 19th century.

Before 1700 the home of the Cheyenne was in central Minnesota, where they farmed, hunted, gathered wild rice, and made pottery. They later occupied a village of earth lodges on the Cheyenne River in North Dakota; it was probably during this period that they acquired horses and became more dependent on the buffalo for food.

After the town was destroyed by the Ojibwa (Chippewa), the Cheyenne settled along the Missouri River near the Mandan and Arikara Indians. Toward the close of the 18th century, smallpox and the aggression of the Dakota decimated the village tribes at the same time that the horse and gun were becoming generally available in the northeastern plains. The Cheyenne moved farther west to the area of the Black Hills, where they developed their unique version of the tepee-dwelling nomadic Plains culture and gave up agriculture and pottery.

During the early 19th century, they migrated to the headwaters of the Platte River. In 1832 a large segment of the tribe established itself along the Arkansas River, thus dividing the tribe into northern and southern branches. This division was made permanent in the First Treaty of Ft. Laramie with the U.S. in 1851.

Cheyenne religion recognized two principal deities, the Wise One Above and a god who lived beneath the ground. In addition four spirits lived at the points of the compass. The Cheyenne were among the Plains tribes who performed the sun dance in its most elaborate form. They placed heavy emphasis on visions in which an animal spirit adopted the individual and bestowed special powers upon him so long as he observed some prescribed law or practice. Their most venerated objects, contained in a sacred bundle, were a hat made from the skin and hair of a buffalo cow and four arrows--two painted for hunting and two for battle. These objects were carried in war to insure success over the enemy.

The Cheyenne were organized into 10 major bands governed by a council of 44 chiefs and 7 military societies, of which the Dog Soldiers society was the most powerful and aggressive. There were also social, dance, medicine, and shamanistic societies.

The Cheyenne fought constantly with the Kiowa until 1840, when a lasting peace was established between them. From 1857 to 1879 the Cheyenne were embroiled in raids and wars with the whites. They began raiding white settlements and posts on a wide front after Black Kettle's peaceful village was massacred on Sand Creek. In the Treaty of Medicine Lodge (1867), the southern Cheyenne were assigned a reservation in Oklahoma but settled there only after 1875. After Custer's attack on the Washita River village in 1868, the southern Cheyenne were fairly peaceful until 1874-75, when they joined in the general uprisings of the southern Plains tribes. The northern Cheyenne joined the Dakota in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

In the late 20th century there were about 2,000 northern Cheyenne on the Tongue River Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana and more than 3,000 intermingled among southern Cheyenne and Arapaho in Oklahoma.



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