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The Cheyenne Native American Nation History Essay

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The Cheyenne are a Native American Algonquin speaking nation. They are made up of two tribes referred to as Só taa e and Tsé-tsêhéstâhese people, meaning "those like us" which can be found from Montana to Oklahoma.

The Cheyenne people refer to themselves as "Tsitsistas", a more common name, meaning "a beautiful people". The word Cheyenne is derived from the word Å ahi'yela, which means "sa" meaning red and "hiyela" talker" from the Lakota/Dakota Sioux language (Buechel, 1983).

Sometime in the 1600s the Cheyenne were pushed out of the Great Lakes region, particularly middle Minnesota, and went west. At the time of their move west ward, they were known to be a stationary and subsistence people who had permanent villages and grew crops. In the 1700s they had made the journey out onto the plains and became good hunters, semi-nomadic, hunted the buffalo, became good horsemen, and acquired the tipi as shelter. By the time Lewis and Clark arrived, the Cheyenne were still living in earth lodge villages along the Missouri River They also split into other bands and some moved north to North Dakota and lived there in dwellings and grew crops in a village known as Biesterfeldt, North Dakota and others moved towards the Black Hills in South Dakota. In South Dakota there is a sacred mountain named Bear Butte, reserved still today as a sacred mountain in which the Cheyenne and other tribes still use for ceremony. It was here that a prophet named Sweet Medicine entered the mountain called Nowahwus and received the four sacred arrows, and instructions that are still held in high honor by the tribe. Sweet Medicine organized the warrior societies such as the Dog Soldier society, led by leaders who were to maintain peace, order, and hunting territories. Sweet Medicine also created a leadership system which consisted of forty four men known to the people as peace chiefs. Sweet Medicine admonished killing of their own, and if this was to happen required that the sacred arrows be purified in a special ceremony (Moore, 2009).

The Cheyenne established hunting territories in South Dakota, Colorado, and Wyoming. Their alliance with the Arapaho prevented the Shoshone and Kiowa from entering their territories in the west and the Blackfeet and Pawnee from entering into their other hunting territories. There were several bands of Cheyenne who lived from Southern Colorado to the Black Hills in South Dakota. In 1832 the Cheyenne people split into two groups the northern Cheyenne who resumed living along the Platte river and the southern Cheyenne lived along the Arkansas river in Colorado (Moore, 2009). The Lakota Sioux nation were allies with the Cheyenne from the 1860s through the 1890s. They fought at the Little Big Horn next to the Lakota Sioux nation and were allied together against other U.S. Army conflicts. The most devastating confrontation the Cheyenne people suffered with great casualties was at the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado in 1864 and the "Battle" of the Washita in Oklahoma in 1868 (Moore, 2009). The Cheyenne were known to also be allies with the Arapaho nation.

The discovery of gold in 1858 changed the relationship between the U.S. government and the Cheyenne and other Native American nations. This brought a vast amount of people seeking gold to their areas reserved as their lands by treaties with the federal government. In 1861, the Cheyenne had agreed by treaty, to live on lands that were located in South East Colorado. The United States government did not honor this agreement and did not fulfill its obligations to the Cheyenne and as a result nearly suffered starvation. The massacre of 1864 resulted in men, woman, and children being killed by Colonel John M. Chivington and his Colorado Volunteers, even though chief Black Kettle had offered peace with the government officials and had been camped at Sand Creek in Colorado (Moore, 2009). The Sand Creek massacre is remembered as a massacre because the Cheyenne who were camped there, did not provoke this incident, and were unarmed.

This incident made the Cheyenne upset and they revolted with war on the Army. General George Custer destroyed Black Kettle's camp at the Washita River in 1868. In 1869, the Cheyenne had another loss with the U.S. government at Summit Springs, Colorado. Eventually, the northern Cheyenne joined forces with the Lakota Sioux nation and assisted in the victory over the U.S. Army and Custer's Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. Treaties were made with the Cheyenne and the U.S. government between the period of 1830 and 1870. During this period of time more than any other, was seen as a time of warfare between the Cheyenne and the U.S. government. The Cheyenne victories included the conflict with the U.S. government soldiers near Fort Kearny in 1866, at Beecher Island in 1868, and the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876 (Moore, 2009).

The northern Cheyenne then surrendered in 1877 and were moved with the Southern Cheyenne in now the state of Oklahoma. The northern Cheyenne captives whom suffered the devastation of disease, lack of rations, made several attempts to escape and go back to the north where they had previously lived (Moore, 2009). The Cheyenne were granted a reservation eventually in Montana and today live in the area called Lame Deer.

From 1869 to present, there has been a change in which the southern Cheyenne and the Northern Cheyenne live on the lands known as reservations today. After settling on lands near towns, the southern Cheyenne began to do good with farming until the Dawes Act (the General Allotment Act) of 1887, which in the end, required them to surrender three million acres of their reservation and settle on 80-and 160-acre allotments, which they leased to non-Cheyenne individuals. There were at least 11,500 enrolled Cheyenne-Arapaho Native Americans in 2003 and on the northern reservation in Lame Deer Montana there are at least 5,000 (Moore, 2009). In addition, many live on other reservations, married into other tribes, and off the reservations.

Jean Bedell-Bailey

Further Reading

Eugene Buechel. Lakota English Dictionary. Ed. Paul Manhart. (Red Cloud Indian School Inc. South Dakota , 1983)

Moore, John. Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture. Oklahoma Historical Society. 2009. http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/C/CH030.html. (accessed September 26,2009)


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