Tse-tsehese-staestse (Cheyenne) Nation



Drawing by Bear’s Heart (Cheyenne)

“A nation is not conquered
Until the hearts of its women are on the ground.
Then it is finished,
No matter how brave its warriors
Or how strong their weapons.”

Cheyenne proverb

Hanaya, Netonetomohta

“He, our Father, He has shown His mercy unto me.
In peace I walk the straight road”

Morning Song


Eagle War Feathers

A long, long time ago the Cheyenne warriors had not learned yet how to use eagle for their war ornaments. One of their men climbed a high mountain; there he lay for five days, crying, without food. Some powerful being, he hoped, would see him and come to him, to teach him something great for his people.

He was glad when he heard a voice say, “Try to be brave, no matter what comes, even if it might kill you. If you remember these words, you will bring great news to your people, and help them.” After a time he heard voices, and seven eagles came down, as if to fly away with him. But he was brave, as he had been told, though he continued to cry and keep his eyes closed. Now the great eagles surrounded him. One said “Look at me. I am powerful, and I have wonderfully strong feathers. I am greater than all other animals and birds in the world.”

This powerful eagle showed the man his wings and his tail, and he spread all his feathers as wide as possible. He shows him how to make war headdresses and ornaments out of eagle feathers.

“Your people must use only eagle feathers, and it would be a great help to them in war and bring them victories,” eagle said.

Since no loose feathers were about, the seven eagles shook themselves, and plenty of feathers fell to the ground. The Cheyenne picked them up and gratefully took them home to his tribe. On that day, eagle feathers were seen for the first time by the Cheyenne and they knew where they came from.

The man showed his people how to make war ornaments from the eagle feathers, as he had been told. From that day onward, the man became a great warrior in his tribe, and their leader in war parties.

He became so successful his people named him Chief Eagle Feather and he wore his Eagle Feather Warbonnet, as he led the Cheyennes with dignity and pride.

Enough is Enough


One Cheyenne man of long ago had a pointed leg. By running and jumping against trees he made his leg stick in them. When he said the magic word, he dropped again to the ground. Sometimes on a hot day he would stick himself high on the tree trunk for greater shade. However, he knew he could not do this trick more than four times in one day.

A white man came along, saw him perform, and cried out, “Brother, sharpen my leg!” Cheyenne man said, “That’s not too hard. I can sharpen your leg.” So the white man stood on a large log, and with an axe the Cheyenne sharpened his leg. “But you must remember never to perform your trick more than four times in one day, and keep exact count.”

White man then went down toward the river and saw a large tree growing on the bank. Toward this he ran, jumped, and thrust his leg into the tree, where it stuck. He called himself back to the ground. Again he jumped against another tree, but only counted one. The third time he only counted two. The fourth time, birds and animals stood by and watched as the white man jumped high and pushed his leg on the tree up to his knee. But he only counted three.

Then coyotes, wolves, and other animals came to see him. Some asked, “How did the white man learn the trick?” They begged him to show them, so they could stick themselves to trees at night. The white man became even prouder from all of this admiration, and the fifth time he ran harder, jumped higher, and half his thigh entered the tree and there he stuck fast. Then he counted four.

He called and called to bring himself down to the ground again, but he still stuck fast. He called out all night and the next day–but nothing helped him. He asked his animal friends to find the Cheyenne who had taught him the trick, but no one knew whom to look for. The white man had forgotten the secret of freeing himself, and after many days stuck in the tree, he starved to death.

Falling-Star (Northern Cheyenne)

One day in the long ago, two young Indian girls were lying on the grass outside their tepee on a warm summer evening. They were looking up into the sky, describing star-pictures formed by their imaginations.

“That is a pretty star. I like that one,” said First Girl.

“I like that one best of all–over there,” Second Girl pointed.

First Girl pointed to the brightest star in the sky and said, “I like the brightest one best of all. That is the one I want to marry.”

That evening they agreed to go out the next day to gather wood. Next morning they started for the timbered area. On their way they saw a porcupine climb a tree.

“I’ll climb the tree and pull him down,” said First Girl. She climbed but could not reach the porcupine.

Every time she stretched her hand for him, the porcupine climbed a little higher. Then the tree started growing taller. Second Girl below called to her friend, “Please come down, the tree is growing taller!”

“No,” said First Girl as the porcupine climbed higher and the tree grew taller. Second Girl could see what was happening, so she ran back to the camp and told her people. They rushed to the tree, but First Girl had completely disappeared!

The tree continued to grow higher and higher. Finally, First Girl reached another land. She stepped off the tree branch and walked upon the sky! Before long she met a kindly looking middle-aged man who spoke to her. First Girl began to cry.

“Whatever is the matter? Only last night I heard you wish that you could marry me. I am the Brightest-Star,” he said.

First Girl was pleased to meet Brightest-Star and became happy again when she got her wish and married him. He told her that she could dig roots with the other star-women, but to beware of a certain kind of white turnip with a great green top. This kind she must never dig. To do so was “against the medicine”–against the rules of the Sky-Chief.

Every day First Girl dug roots. Her curiosity about the strange white turnip became so intense that she decided to dig up one of them. It took her a long, long time. When she finally pulled out the root, a huge hole was left. She looked into the hole and far, far below she saw the camp of her own people.

Everything and everyone was very small, but she could see lodges and people walking. Instantly she became homesick to see her own people again. How could she ever get down from the sky? She realized it was a long, long way down to earth. Then her eyes fell upon the long tough grass growing near her. Could she braid it into a long rope? She decided to try, every day pulling more long grass and braiding more rope.

One time her husband Brightest-Star asked, “What is it that keeps you outdoors so much of the time?”

“I walk a great distance and that makes me tired. I need to sit down and rest before I can start back home.”

At last she finished making her strong rope, thinking by now it must be long enough. She tied one end of the rope to a log that she rolled across the top of the hole as an anchor. She let down the rope. It looked as though it touched the ground.

She lowered herself into the hole, holding onto the braided rope. It seemed to take a long time as she slowly lowered herself until she came to the end of the rope. But it did not touch the earth! For a long while she hung on dangling in midair and calling uselessly for help. When she could hold on no longer, she fell to the ground and broke into many pieces. Although she died, her unborn son did not die, because he was made of star-stone and did not break.

A meadowlark saw what happened and took the falling-star baby to her nest. There the lark kept him with her own baby birds. When they were older, Falling-Star crept out of the nest with the little birds. The stronger the birds grew, the stronger grew Falling-Star. Soon all of them could crawl and run. The young birds practiced their flying while Falling-Star ran after them. Then the young birds could fly anywhere they wished, while Falling-Star ran faster and faster to keep up with them.

“Son, you had better go home to your own people,” said Mother Meadowlark. “It is time for us to fly south for the winter. Before long, the weather here will be very cold.”

“Mother Meadowlark,” asked Falling-Star. “Why do you want me to leave you? I want to go with you.”

“No, Son,” she replied. “You must go home now.”

“I will go if Father Meadowlark will make me a bow and some arrows.”

Father Meadowlark made a bow and pulled some of his own quills to feather the arrows. He made four arrows and a bow for Falling- Star. Then he started Falling-Star in the right direction toward his home, downstream.

Falling-Star travelled a long time before he reached the camp of his people. He went into the nearest lodge owned by an old grandmother.

“Grandmother,” he said. “I need a drink of water.”

“My grandson,” she said to him, “only the young men who are the fastest runners can go for water. There is a water-monster who sucks up any people who go too close to it.”

“Grandmother, if you will give me your buffalo-pouch and your buffalo-horn ladle, I will bring you water.”

“Grandson, I warn you that many of our finest young men have been destroyed by the water-monster. I fear that you will be killed, too.” But she gave him the things he asked for. He went upstream and dipped water, at the same time keeping watch for the monster.

At the very moment Falling-Star filled his bucket, the Water- monster raised its head above the water. His mouth was enormous. He sucked in his breath and drew in Falling-Star, the bucket, water, and the ladle. When Falling-Star found himself inside the monster’s stomach, he saw all the other people who had ever been swallowed. With his Star-stone, he cut a hole in the animal’s side. Out crawled all the people, and Falling-Star rescued his pouch and ladle for his grandmother, taking her some cool, fresh water.

“My grandson, who are you?” she asked, marvelling at his survival.

“Grandmother, I am Falling-Star. I killed the monster who has caused our people much suffering, and I rescued all the people who had been swallowed.”

The old woman told the village crier to spread the good news that the monster was dead. Now that Falling-Star had saved the camp people there, he asked the grandmother, “Are there other camps of our people nearby?”

“Yes, there is one farther downstream,” she said.

Falling-Star took his bow and arrows and left camp. The fall of the year had now arrived. After travelling many days, he reached the other camp. Again he went into an old woman’s lodge where she sat near her fire.

“Grandmother, I am very hungry,” he said.

“My son, my son, we have no food. We cannot get any buffalo meat. Whenever our hunters go out for buffalo, a great white crow warns the buffalo, which drives them away.

“How sad,” he said. “I will try to help. Go out and look for a worn-out buffalo robe with little hair. Tell your chief to choose two of his fastest runners and send them to me.”

Later, the old woman returned with the robe and the two swift runners. Falling-Star told them his plan. “I will go to a certain place and wait for the buffalo. When the herd runs, I will follow, disguised as a buffalo in the worn-out robe. You two runners chase me and the buffalo for a long distance. When you overtake me, you must shoot at me. I will pretend to be dead. You pretend to cut me open and leave me there on the ground.”

When the real buffalo arrived, the white crow flew over them screaming, “They are coming! They are after you! Run, run!” The buffalo herd ran, followed by a shabby-looking bull.

The two swift runners chased the old bull according to plan. All kinds of birds, wolves, and coyotes came toward the carcass from all directions. Among them was the white crow. As he flew over Falling-Star in disguise, he called out shrilly, “I wonder if this is Falling-Star?”

Time after time the crow flew over the carcass, still calling, “I wonder if this is Falling-Star?” He came closer and closer with each pass. When he was close enough, Falling-Star sprang and grabbed the legs of the white crow. All of the other birds and animals scattered in every direction.

When Falling-Star brought the captive white crow home to the grandmother, she sent word for the chief.

“I will take the white crow to my lodge. I will tie him to the smoke hole and smoke him dead,” said the chief.

From that moment on, the good Cheyennes were able to kill many buffalo and they had plenty of buffalo meat for all their needs.

The people in gratitude gave Falling-Star a lovely lodge-home and a pretty Indian maiden waiting there to become his wife. They remained all of their lives with the Northern Cheyenne Indian tribe.

How the Buffalo Hunt Began

The buffalo formerly ate man. The magpie and the hawk were on the side of the people, for neither ate the other or the people. These two birds flew away from a council between animals and men. They determined that a race would be held, the winners to eat the losers.

The course was long, around a mountain. The swiftest buffalo was a cow called Neika, “swift head.” She believed she would win and entered the race. On the other hand, the people were afraid because of the long distance. They were trying to get medicine to prevent fatigue.

All the birds and animals painted themselves for the race, and since that time they have all been brightly coloured. Even the water turtle put red paint around his eyes. The magpie painted himself white on head, shoulders, and tail. At last all were ready for the race, and stood in a row for the start.

They ran and ran, making some loud noises in place of singing to help themselves to run faster. All small birds, turtles, rabbits, coyotes, wolves, flies, ants, insects, and snakes were soon left far behind. When they approached the mountain the buffalo-cow was ahead; then came the magpie, hawk, and the people; the rest were strung out along the way. The dust rose so quickly that nothing could be seen.

All around the mountain the buffalo-cow led the race, but the two birds knew they could win, and merely kept up with her until they neared the finish line, which was back to the starting place. Then both birds whooshed by her and won the race for man. As they flew the course, they had seen fallen animals and birds all over the place, who had run themselves to death, turning the ground and rocksred from the blood.

The buffalo then told their young to hide from the people, who were going out to hunt them; and also told them to take some human flesh with them for the last time. The young buffaloes did this, and stuck that meat in front of their chests, beneath the throat. Therefore, the people do not eat that part of the buffalo, saying it is part human flesh.

From that day forward the Cheyennes began to hunt buffalo. Since all the friendly animals and birds were on the people’s side, they are not eaten by people, but they do wear and use their beautiful feathers for ornaments.

Another version adds that when coyote, who was on the side of buffalo, finished the race, the magpie who even beat the hawk, said to coyote, “We will not eat you, but only use your skin.”

How the First White Man Came to the Cheyennes

In a summer long ago, the Cheyennes were camped near some lakes beyond the Missouri River. Awakening from their sleep one morning, Red Eagle and his wife saw a strange creature lying in their tepee. The woman was frightened and was about to cry out, but Red Eagle quieted her and went closer to the strange being which was slowly rising to a sitting position. Red Eagle saw that this creature was a man who looked something like a Cheyenne, but he had a white skin and hair on his face and spoke in a strange language.

The man was so thin that he had scarcely any flesh on his bones, and for clothing he wore only moss and grass. He was very near death. Red Eagle gave him something to eat, but at first the man was so weak and exhausted that his stomach would not hold it, yet after a little while he got stronger.

Red Eagle told his wife to keep the presence of the stranger a secret. He feared that some of his tribesmen would kill the man, believing that he might bring them bad luck. A few days later, the chiefs sent a crier through the camp, announcing that the Cheyennes would be moving camp the next day.

Knowing that the stranger could no longer be concealed, Red Eagle revealed his presence. “I have taken him for my brother,” he said. “If anyone harms him I will punish them. The Great Spirit must have sent this man to us for a good reason.”

And so Red Eagle clothed him, fed him, and led him back to life. After a time the man learned to speak a few words of Cheyenne. He also learned the sign language of the tribe. In this way he was able to tell Red Eagle that he came from the East, the land of the rising sun. “With five other men I started out to trap the beaver. We were on a lake in a boat when the wind came up suddenly, overturned the boat, and drowned all the others. After I struggled ashore, I wandered about, living on roots and berries until all my clothes were worn and scratched off. Half blind, and nearly dead with hunger, I wandered into your camp and fell into your tepee.”

For the hundredth time the man thanked Red Eagle for saving his life, and then he continued: “For many days I have watched how hard you and your wife work. To make a fire you must use two sticks. Your wife uses porcupine quills for needles in sewing. She uses stone vessels to cook in, and you use stone knives and stone points for your spears and arrows. You must work hard and long to make these things. My people, who are powerful and numerous, have many wonderful things that the Cheyennes do not have.”

“What are these wonderful things?” Red Eagle asked.

“Needles that keep their points forever for your wife to sew with. Sharp knives of metal to cut with, steel to make a fire with, and a weapon that uses a black powder and sends hard pieces of metal straight at any wild game you need to kill. I can bring you these things if you and your people will help me get beaver skins. My people are fond of beaver fur, and they will give me these wonderful things for you in exchange.”

Red Eagle told his tribesmen what the stranger had said, and they collected many beaver skins for him. The skins were loaded on several travois drawn by dogs, and one day the stranger went off toward the rising sun with his dog-train of furs.

Several moons passed, and Red Eagle began to wonder if the stranger would ever return. Then on a bright sun shiny morning, the Cheyennes heard a noise like a clap of thunder near their camp. On a bluff to the east, they saw a man wearing a red cap and red coat. Above his head he lifted a strange weapon that resembled a black stick, and then he shouted a greeting to them in their own language.

As he approached, they recognized him as the stranger who had taken away the beaver skins. He had brought the Cheyennes all the wonderful things he had told about–knives, needles and steel — and he showed the people how to use them. Then he showed them the black powder and hollow iron with which he had made the noise like thunder. And that is how the first white man came to the Cheyennes.

Origin of the Buffalo


Long ago, a tribe of Cheyenne hunters lived at the head of a rushing stream, which eventually emptied into a large cave.

Because of the great need for a new food supply for his people, the Chief called a council meeting.

“We should explore the large cave,” he told his people. “How many brave hunters will offer to go on this venture? Of course, it may be very dangerous, but we have brave hunters.” No one responded to the Chief’s request.

Finally, one young brave painted himself for hunting and stepped forth, replying to the Chief, “I will go and sacrifice myself for our people.”

He arrived at the cave, and to his surprise, First Brave found two other Cheyenne hunters near the opening, where the stream rushed underground.

“Are they here to taunt me,” First Brave wondered? “Will they only pretend to jump when I do?”

But the other two braves assured him they would go.

“No, you are mistaken about us. We really do want to enter the cave with you,” they said.

First Brave then joined hands with them and together they jumped into the huge opening of the cave. Because of the darkness, it took some time for their eyes to adjust. They then discovered what looked like a door. First Brave knocked, but there was no response. He knocked again, louder.

“What do you want, my brave ones?” asked an old Indian grandmother as she opened her door.

“Grandmother, we are searching for a new food supply for our tribe,” First Brave replied. “Our people never seem to have enough food to eat.”

“Are you hungry now?” she asked.

“Oh, yes, kind Grandmother, we are very hungry,” all three braves answered.

The old grandmother opened her door wide, inviting the young braves to enter.

“Look out there!” she pointed for them to look through her window.

A beautiful wide prairie stretched before their eyes. Great herds of buffalo were grazing contentedly. The young hunters could hardly believe what they saw!

The old grandmother brought each of them a stone pan full of buffalo meat. How good it tasted, as they ate and ate until they were filled. To their surprise, more buffalo meat remained in their stone pans!

“I want you to take your stone pans of buffalo meat back to your people at your camp,” said the old grandmother. “Tell them that soon I will send some live buffalo.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, kind Grandmother,” said the three young Cheyenne braves.

When the young hunters returned to their tribe with the gifts of buffalo meat, their people rejoiced over the new, good food. Their entire tribe ate heartily from the old grandmother’s three magic pans, and were grateful.

When the Cheyennes waked at dawn the next day, herds of buffalo had mysteriously appeared, surrounding their village! They were truly thankful to the old Indian grandmother and to the Sky Spirits for their good fortune.

Yellowstone Valley and the Great Flood

“I have heard it told on the Cheyenne Reservation in Montana and the Seminole camps in the Florida Everglades, I have heard it from the Eskimos north of the Arctic Circle and the Indians south of the equator. The legend of the flood is the most universal of all legends. It is told in Asia, Africa, and Europe, in North America and the South Pacific.” Professor Hap Gilliland of Eastern Montana College was the first to record this legend of the great flood.

This is one of the fifteen legends of the flood that he himself recorded in various parts of the world:

He was an old Indian. his face was weather beaten, but his eyes were still bright. I never knew what tribe he was from, though I could guess. Yet others from the tribe whom I talked to later had never heard his story.

We had been talking of the visions of the young men. He sat for a long time, looking out across the Yellowstone Valley through the pouring rain, before he spoke. “They are beginning to come back,” he said.

“Who is coming back?” I asked.

“The animals,” he said. “It has happened before.”

“Tell me about it.’

He thought for a long while before he lifted his hands and his eyes. “The Great Spirit smiled on this land when he made it. There were mountains and plains, forests and grasslands. There were animals of many kinds–and men.”

The old man’s hands moved smoothly, telling the story more clearly than his voice.

The Great Spirit told the people, “These animals are your brothers. Share the land with them. They will give you food and clothing. Live with them and protect them.

“Protect especially the buffalo, for the buffalo will give you food and shelter. The hide of the buffalo will keep you from the cold, from the heat, and from the rain. As long as you have the buffalo, you will never need to suffer.”

For many winters the people lived at peace with the animals and with the land. When they killed a buffalo, they thanked the Great Spirit, and they used every part of the buffalo. It took care of every need.

Then other people came. They did not think of the animals as brothers. They killed, even when they did not need food. They burned and cut the forests, and the animals died. They shot the buffalo and called it sport. They killed the fish in the streams.

When the Great Spirit looked down, he was sad. He let the smoke of the fires lie in the valleys. The people coughed and choked. But still they burned and they killed.

So the Great Spirit sent rains to put out the fires and to destroy the people.

The rains fell, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded valleys to the higher land.

Spotted Bear, the medicine man, gathered together his people. He said to them, “The Great Spirit has told us that as long as we have the buffalo we will be safe from heat and cold and rain. But there are no longer any buffalo. Unless we can find buffalo and live at peace with nature, we will all die.”

Still the rains fell, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded plains to the hills.

The young men went out and hunted for the buffalo. As they went they put out the fires. They made friends with the animals once more. They cleaned out the streams.

Still the rains fell, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded hills to the mountains.

Two young men came to Spotted Bear. “We have found the buffalo,” they said. “There was a cow, a calf, and a great white bull. The cow and the calf climbed up to the safety of the mountains. They should be back when the rain stops. But the bank gave way, and the bull was swept away by the floodwaters. We followed and got him to shore, but he had drowned. We have brought you his hide.”

They unfolded a huge white buffalo skin.

Spotted Bear took the white buffalo hide. “Many people have been drowned,” he said. “Our food has been carried away. But our young people are no longer destroying the world that was created for them. They have found the white buffalo. It will save those who are left.”

Still the rains fell, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded mountains to the highest peaks.

Spotted Bear spread the white buffalo skin on the ground. He and the other medicine men scraped it and stretched it, and scraped it and stretched it.

Still the rains fell. Like all rawhide, the buffalo skin stretched when it was wet. Spotted Bear stretched it out over the village. All the people who were left crowded under it.

As the rains fell, the medicine men stretched the buffalo skin across the mountains. Each day they stretched it farther.

Then Spotted Bear tied one corner to the top of the Big Horn Mountains. That side, he fastened to the Pryors. The next corner he tied to the Bear Tooth Mountains. Crossing the Yellowstone Valley, he tied one corner to the Crazy Mountains, and the other to Signal Butte in the Bull Mountains.

The whole Yellowstone Valley was covered by the white buffalo skin. Though the rains still fell above, it did not fall in the Yellowstone Valley.

The waters sank away. Animals from the outside moved into the valley, under the white buffalo skin. The people shared the valley with them.

Still the rains fell above the buffalo skin. The skin stretched and began to sag.

Spotted Bear stood on the Bridger Mountains and raised the west end of the buffalo skin to catch the West Wind. The West Wind rushed in and was caught under the buffalo skin. The wind lifted the skin until it formed a great dome over the valley.

The Great Spirit saw that the people were living at peace with the earth. The rains stopped, and the sun shone. As the sun shone on the white buffalo skin, it gleamed with colours of red and yellow and blue.

As the sun shone on the rawhide, it began to shrink. The ends of the dome shrank away until all that was left was one great arch across the valley.

The old man’s voice faded away; but his hands said “Look,” and his arms moved toward the valley.

The rain had stopped and a rainbow arched across the Yellowstone Valley. A buffalo calf and its mother grazed beneath it.

Cheyenne Myth of the Golden Eagle

“When all living things were birds and animals, there was an old man who had power to heal the sick, and who could see into the future. This old man prayed to the creator so that his people could live in harmony with each other and with all life forces and the universe. This old man became the golden eagle, a messenger for his people to the creator. His talons were strung together and worn by a medicine man; his wing bones were made into whistles; and his feather and plumes were used in religious ceremonies and worn in remembrance of the Great Spirit.”

The Cheyenne lived in a valley next to a herd of buffalo. There was also a beautiful bird that also lived there and every time the warriors went to hunt the buffalo the bird would fly up and warn the buffalo that the Indians were coming to kill them and they would flee. Slowly the tribe was starving to death until a warrior decided to do something about it; so one night he went out on the prairie and dug a hole. He got into the hole and covered it with limbs and grass and then placed some bait on top. The next day the bird saw the bait and landed on top of the trap. The warrior grabbed the bird and tied a cord to its leg. He then threatened to punish the beautiful bird but the bird begged and pleaded that he would never warn the buffalo again so the warrior released him. The beautiful bird flew into the sky and then laughed at the warrior and said; “I lied to you, I lied to you. I am going to warn the buffalo.” The warrior then pulled the bird down from the sky by the cord and told the bird that this time he would be punished.

The warrior built a smoky fire and turned the beautiful bird over and over in the smoke and this is how we got the CROW.

Source: Jack Powell

Other Cheyenne Home Pages

Cheyenne Society

Cheyenne Warrior
(Film by Michael B. Druxman)

Links to Other Cheyenne Home Pages

(Cheyenne {shy-an’} )

Tse-tsehese-staestse is what the Cheyenne call themselves. The word Cheyenne was believed to come from the French word chien for dog. The French traders called these people this because of the famous dog soldiers of the Cheyenne nation. This is erroneous. The now accepted etymology of the word Cheyenne is that it is the anglicized word Shyhela, which is Sioux.

The Cheyenne people are the most western branch of the Algonquian people. They originally came from the great lakes area. There are many theories about why the Cheyenne moved from the great lakes area. Most of them involve competition in the area with the Ojibwe, Ree, and Mandan. They originally lived as sedentary farmers in northeastern Minnesota, from which they began migrating westward in the late 1600s; they later settled along the Cheyenne River of North Dakota. Dislodged ca.1770, they gradually moved southwestward; when encountered (1804) by the Lewis and Clark expedition, they were living as nomadic buffalo-hunters in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Cheyenne Counsel

Religiously, the Cheyenne were guided to the plains area by Maheo. They also were sent a prophet named Sweet Medicine who helped organize themselves, and developed a code to live by. He gave them their first sacred item — the four sacred arrows. It was at this point the Cheyenne became a powerful force to be reckoned with. Their hunting territory extended from the Platte River to what is now eastern Montana. A southern group also had hunting grounds around the Arkansas River. Another group of people known as the Sohtaio also joined the Cheyenne. It is said that these two groups of people were one day fighting, when the Cheyenne overheard the Sohtaio speak amongst themselves. To their surprise, they could understand the people. Peace was quickly pursued and these people have lived with the Cheyenne ever since.

Eric Spotted Elk

In 1832 the tribe split into two branches, the northern Cheyenne, who inhabited the area around the Platte River, and the southern Cheyenne, who lived near the Arkansas River. The Cheyenne were constantly at war with the Crow until 1840, when an alliance was formed with the KIOWA, APACHE, and COMANCHE. From 1857 to 1879 they fought white settlers and the U.S. Army, especially after the brutal Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, in which an estimated 500 Cheyenne were killed. The Cheyenne played an important role in the defeat of Gen. George Custer and the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn (1876).

Cheyenne Lodges

The Cheyenne moved frequently: In South Dakota they lived along the Cheyenne River and in the Black Hills. But bands of their tribe were known in every western state. Before 1700 a large group settled on the Minnesota River, and some Cheyennes visited LaSalle’s Fort in Illinois in 1680. Between 1780 and 1790, their settlements were attacked by Chippewas while Cheyenne men were away hunting. Escapees settled on the Missouri River near other Cheyennes.

Jerome Bushyhead

Today the Cheyenne occupy two reservations, one at Tongue River, Mont., and the other in southwestern Oklahoma. Their population was about 7,500 in 1989.

Black Kettle Museum/Washita Battlefield
Box 252 Cheyenne, OK 73628
Dedicated to Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle


Site of the 1868 “Battle of the Washitas
between General George Custer’s

Painting of Roman Nose


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