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Native Americans were the first people to live in America. Learn more about the Cheyenne tribe.

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Cheyenne Tribe

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Cheyenne (from the Sioux name Sha-hi'yena, Shai-ena, or (Teton) Shai-ela, 'people of alien speech,' from sha'ia, 'to speak a strange language'). They were the important Plains tribe of the great Algonquian family. They call themselves Dzi'tsiistäs, apparently nearly equivalent to 'people alike,' i.e. 'our people' from itsistau. 'Alike' or 'like this' (animate); (ehista, 'he is from, or of, the same kind'--Peter); by a slight change of accent it might also mean 'gashed ones', or possibly 'tall people.' The tribal form as here given is the third person plural.

The popular name has no connection with the French chien, 'dog,' as sometimes erroneously been supposed. In the sign language they are indicated by a gesture, which has often been interpreted to mean 'cut arms' or 'cut fingers.' Being made by drawing the right index finger several times rapidly across the left, but which appears really to indicate 'striped arrows,' by which name they are known to the Hidatsa, Shoshoni, Comanche, Caddo, and probably other tribes, in allusion to their old-time preference for turkey feathers for winging arrows. At a later period they moved over to the Cheyenne branch of Red river, North Dakota, which thus acquired its name, being known to the Sioux as "the place where the Cheyenne plant," showing that the latter were still an agricultural people (Williamson). This westward movement was due to pressure from the Sioux, who were themselves retiring before the Chippewa, then already in possession of guns from the east.

After a period of hostility the two tribes made an alliance, some time after which the Cheyenne crossed the Missouri below the entrance of the Cannonball. Later took refuge in the Black Hills about the heads of Cheyenne river of South Dakota, where Lewis and Clark found them in 1804, since which time their drift was constantly west and south until confined to reservations. Since separating from what were called the Southern Cheyenne, and now simply the Cheyenne, in the early 1830s, the Northern Cheyenne stayed in the area around the Upper Platte River. Today it is still the home of the people who call them "Tsistsistas" or "Beautiful People". The name Cheyenne was originally the name given to them by the neighboring Sioux. It meant "red talkers" or "people of a different speech". This was because the Cheyenne language is an Algonquin based tongue, while the Lakota speak a Siouan dialect.

The Northern Cheyenne homeland is a reservation of 437,000 acres in southeastern Montana, just east of their neighbors, the Crow. The Northern Cheyenne continue to utilize the flag described in Dr. Whitney Smith's "Flag Book of the United States", a light blue flag bearing the Indian glyph of the "morning star", or "Wo' hih' hev". The symbol has been used for ages by the Cheyenne in their art and decoration. One common use mentioned in Dr. Smith's book is in the religious ceremony known as the Sun Dance. In the Sun Dance, warriors would paint the star symbol on their chests. The morning star recalls the name of one of the Northern Cheyenne's great chiefs, who was also known by the name "Dull Knife". Wo'hih'hev led his people to their current home after defeat in the Indian wars of the Plains. As such, the wo'hih'hev symbolizes hope and guidance.

In a sacred tradition recited only by the priestly keeper, they still tell how they "lost the corn" after leaving the eastern country. One of the starting points in this tradition is a great fall, apparently St Anthony's falls on the Mississippi, and a stream known as the "river of turtles," which may be the Turtle river tributary of Red river, or possibly the St Croix, entering the Mississippi below the mouth of the Minnesota, and anciently known by a similar name. The Cheyenne also say that they obtained the Sun dance and the Buffalo-head medicine from the Sutaio, but claim the Medicine-arrow ceremony as their own from the beginning. Up to 1835, and probably until reduced by the cholera of 1849, the Sutaio retained their distinctive dialect, dress, and ceremonies, and camped apart from the Cheyenne.

About 1840 the Cheyenne made peace with the Kiowa in the south, having already made peace with the Sioux in the north, since which time all these tribes, together with the Arapaho, Kiowa, Kiowa - Apache, and Comanche have usually acted as allies in the wars with other tribes and with the whites. In 1851 they were still to some extent a distinct people, but exist now only as one of the component divisions of the (Southern) Cheyenne tribe, in no respect different from the others.

The Northern Cheyenne joined with the Sioux in the Sitting Bull war in 1876 and were active participants in the Custer massacre. Later in the year, they received such a severe blow from Mackenzie as to compel their surrender. In the winter of 1878-79 a band of Northern Cheyenne under Dull Knife, Wild Hog, and Little Wolf, who had been brought down as prisoners to Fort Reno to be colonized with the southern portion of the tribe in the present Oklahoma, made a desperate attempt to escape. Those in the north seem to hold their own in population, while those of the south are steadily decreasing. In 1904, they numbered 3,312; Southern Cheyenne, 1,903; Northern Cheyenne, 1,409. Although originally an agricultural people of the timber country, the Cheyenne for generations have been a typical prairie tribe, living in skin tipis, following the buffalo over great areas, traveling and fighting on horseback. They commonly buried their dead in trees or on scaffolds, but occasionally in caves or in the ground.

Books on the Cheyenne

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Links to other sites on the Cheyenne

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Cheyenne History http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/tribes
Indian Congress of 1898 http://www.omaha.lib.ne.us/transmiss/congress/
Northern Cheyenne http://users.aol.com/Donh523/navapage/
Cheyenne http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/
Culture and History http://www.native-languages.org/
Cheyenne Language http://www.geocities.com/cheyenne_language/
My Experience with the Cheyenne http://digital.library.okstate.edu/Chronicles/

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