The Cheyenne After Washita
In the course of DQMW I think we've gotten a good sense of the historic events related to the Cheyenne in the years right after the Civil War, including Sand Creek and Washita (scrambled chronology aside), but I've noticed that people seem to be vague on post-Washita Cheyenne history. So, I thought I'd try to give a summary history.
First, I really think there is a general misconception as to the fate of the Cheyenne after Washita. There *were* survivors of Black Kettle's band at Washita (remember Sully remarking that 40 or 50 women and children were unaccounted for). They were taken as prisoners to Fort Supply. Also, Black Kettle's camp was not the only band of Southern Cheyenne and there were also the Dog Soldier bands. And let's not forget the Northern Cheyenne, allied with the Lakota.
Actually, the first major post-Washita event has already been mentioned in "One Nation", that is, the Battle of Summit Springs (referred to by Sgt. O'Connor). In midsummer 1869 (Washita was November of 1868) Tall Bull's Southern Cheyenne village of Dog Soldiers who still hadn't surrendered to the reservation area of Indian Territory clashed (with the help of some Sioux allies) with a force of 8 companies of the 5th Cavalry, including a battalion of 150 Pawnee under Maj. Frank North, in the upper Republican River area of Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska, traditional hunting areas of the Cheyenne. As the Pawnees struck the village the Cheyenne scattered, some retreating to a deep ravine to make a stand. Although a number of Cheyenne and Sioux did manage to escape across the Platt to the North, 52 were killed (including many women and children).
Among the Southern Cheyenne remnants on the Reservation, their new life concentrated around Camp Supply under Little Robe, with Yellow Bear's Arapahos also part of the reservation. The Kiowa and Comanche were present in a separate reserve in the area of Ft. Sill. To the west, in Texas, there were still buffalo, and mixed bands did leave the reservations to hunt in the old way.
Unfortunately, the Indians were not the only ones pursuing the buffalo. The government strategy to decimate the herds, forcing the Indians into even greater dependency, was well underway. Of the nearly 4 million buffalo killed between 1872 and 1874 only 150,000 were killed by Native hunters. And the wasteful deliberate slaughter infuriated all the Plains tribes.
By the spring of 1874 tensions finally boiled over. After a Medicine Lodge among the Cheyenne, a large war party, composed of Kiowas, Comanches, and Cheyenne set out for a temporary settlement of White buffalo hunters at Adobe Walls, a ruin, which may have been an early trading post of William Bent and St. Vrain. A Comanche medicine man of some influence, I sa tai, had a vision indicating that he had medicine which would protect the warriors. On June 27, 1874 (almost exactly two years before the Custer fight on the Little Big Horn) the fight at Adobe Walls took place. Due to bad luck in timing, instead of hitting the hunters' camp while they still were sleeping, the war party found the buffalo hunters were already up. The repeated charges were ineffective, with heavy losses, and around mid-afternoon the warriors drew off. I sa tai was disgraced and his medicine discredited, since 6 Cheyenne and 3 Comanches were lost in the fight.
Although they did manage to disrupt the buffalo hunting in the area, it was seen as a frustrating defeat. For some time afterwards, small Dog Soldier bands continued hostilities, attacking emigrant parties and isolated ranches, but eventually action of seven troops of the 4th Cavalry quelled the outbreaks. Early in 1875 twenty-five Cheyenne were identified as recalcitrants, were imprisoned, and ultimately sent into exile to Fort Marion in Florida, where they remained in prison for five years, breaking the will for resistance among the Southern People.
However, just as things in the South died down, events in the North heated up. Just to summarize a bit of Northern Cheyenne history, after the discovery of gold in the Black Hills by Custer's Expedition of 1874 on *reservation* land in violation of existing treaties, tensions increased greatly, leading to Crook's Fight on the Rosebud in 1876, followed closely by the Custer Battle (finally). The military reaction was swift, as Dull Knife's village of Northern Cheyenne was captured late that same year. The next year, 1877, the band of Two Moons surrendered.
After giving themselves up to the government, these residents of the high, dry country of Montana and North Dakota found themselves transported to hot, humid Indian Territory, to join their kin, the Southern Cheyenne. Even before the Northern Cheyenne were moved south in the late 1870's there were 427 Southern Cheyenne families on the Darlington reservation, consisting of roughly 2300 individuals. The reservation was shared with another 1766 Arapahos. When meager rations weakened them and disease (malaria for one) began to attack them, a small group of the Northern People determined to return to their homeland in the north. (And they didn't need Sully's help to do so).
They did not hide their plans to leave, but did so without "permission". They were overtaken by troops before the group of 300 (only 60 or 70 were warriors) had gone 100 miles. The troops harried the refugees, but despite several skirmishes the Cheyenne continued north. Without going into a lot of details, the bands split up, with Little Wolf's group heading to the Sand Hills and Dull Knife toward Ft. Robinson. Ultimately, Little Wolf's group was allowed to remain in the Powder River country at the Tongue River Reservation in Montana, thanks in large part to the intercession of William P. Clark; Dull Knife wasn't so lucky. Confined at the Fort the Cheyenne steadfastly refused to return south. Locked in a barracks without food, water, or fuel (it was January), the group endured starvation for several days. Finally, after sunset on January 9, 1879, with a full moon brightly lighting the snow, the group made a break from the building. Roughly 65 of the 150 Cheyenne were killed by the troops. The survivors were again sent to Oklahoma. An excellent historical account of this chapter in Cheyenne history can be found in Mari Sandoz' book, "Cheyenne Autumn". For two more recent works from a contemporary *Native* perspective, involving descendants of the Cheyenne involved, other good books are Joe Starita's "The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge" (a multigenerational saga of one Cheyenne/Lakota family) or "Holding Stone Hands" by Alan Boye, in which a group retraces the route of the Cheyenne Exodus.
I won't go into anymore detail about the reservation period in the South other than to say that one disastrous government policy after another destroyed the communal life and impoverished the Cheyenne. What wasn't devastated by leasing Cheyenne lands to White cattlemen, or insistence on an agricultural economy in an area better suited to stock raising, was broken up later in the 1890's by the Dawes Act. The division into allotments (and the later alienation of that land) was devastating for the Southern People. In 1892 a little over 500,000 acres remained in Cheyenne and Arapaho hands. The government took the remaining 3,500,000 acres for White homesteaders. (In the North, the People were more fortunate, since they were out of the way of White settlement). The Old Ways were suppressed, and even those who followed the new practices, such as the Peyote Ritual of the Native American Church, were persecuted well into the 20th century. BUT, the Cheyenne, still survive and retain their identity.
Beth Sullivan chose a real time, place and band of Cheyenne as her protagonists, not fictional or composite ones, as she easily could have. And although there is a tendency to apply the role of the "lone survivor, Last of His Tribe" to the character of Cloud Dancing, the "real" situation of the Cheyenne provides just as much potential for meaningful dramatic stories while showing respect for their history and continuity. Whether you believe it or not, the Reservation Years for the Cheyenne (and actually all Native Peoples) were just as devastating as the War Years. They were *not* given the right to choose what to keep of their culture. They were forbidden to speak their own language, practice their religion (the phrase of Franklin in GAMS about having to "beg ve'ho for Sun Dance" was true well into this century), and their culture was ridiculed. From Francis La Flesche's biography (he was an Omaha) of his school days in a Mission School, The Middle Five, there is this passage:
your people music, and do they sing?"
"They do," answered on of the large boys.
"I wish you would sing an Indian song for me," continued the man, "I never heard one."
There was some hesitancy, but suddenly a loud clear voice close to me broke into a Victory song; before a bar was sung another voice took up the song from the beginning, as is the custom among the Indians, then the whole school fell in, and we made the room ring. We understood the song, and knew the emotion of which it was the expression. We felt, as we sang, the patriotic thrill of a victorious people who had vanquished their enemies; but the men shook their heads, and one of them said, "That's savage, that's savage! They must be taught music."
Cloud Dancing did *not* lose all his people, his "roots", at Washita, despite the Romantic appeal of that idea. Of the 75 lodges of Black Kettle's band camped along the Washita (which would be roughly 200 individuals more or less) the casualties were 103 killed and 53 taken captive (as Sully clearly says). Some even escaped. As it is written in the Grinnell book, The Fighting Cheyenne, "The people of Black Kettle's village who survived went down to the other villages below, in many cases being taken there by friends who came up with horses for their transportation..."
While Beth Sullivan, for some reason, chose to populate Palmer Creek with a hodge-podge of Nations and never address the fate of the Washita Captives, they did exist and they did survive. And so did the Cheyenne as a People, North and South, proudly and defiantly. As Sully knew, "The Spirit of a People IS the People".
From Eagle Wing, the Website of the Northern Cheyenne:
Yes, the Cheyenne's (limited) sovereignty and existence will continue. It will continue because they are proven survivors and fighters, having survived conventional and unconventional warfare, i.e., extermination, starvation, germ warfare and an ongoing genocide. The Cheyenne's have adapted to several different ages and lifestyles, and survived: From the cold North to the marshes of the Great Lakes region, from the Great Plains to a tiny reservation. And so it is with the Information Age that they will not only survive in it, but adapt, prosper, and succeed as well.
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