Cheyenne - History and Cultural Relations

Cheyenne history and cultural relations are linked to their shifting adaptations from a woodland people to equestrian nomads on the Great Plains. Although the Cheyenne have never been associated with a specific archaeological focus, oral tradition and ethnohistorical evidence confirm that the protohistoric Cheyenne occupied the woodland-prairie Country of the upper Mississippi Valley, where they inhabited semisedentary villages located along lakes and rivers. As early as 1680, the Cheyenne initiated contact with the French in an attempt to establish trade relations. Their desire for trade provoked attacks from the Sioux and Chippewa, who were competing for domination. Outnumbered and possessing no firearms, the Cheyenne were forced westward into the Minnesota Valley and eventually onto the northeastern plains. On the plains, the Cheyenne established at least twelve fortified earthlodge villages along the Sheyenne and Missouri rivers. Allied with the Mandan and Arikara, they continued to war with the Chippewa, Assiniboin, and expanding Sioux. During this period, the Cheyenne incorporated the So'taa'e, intermarried Arikara, and the Moiseyu, a Siouan group from Minnesota. Although forced out of the Great Lakes fur Market, the Cheyenne continued to trade, serving as middlemen between more westwardly nomadic Plains groups and the Missouri River village people. Between 1742 and 1770, the Cheyenne acquired horses and became equestrian nomads. By 1820, the Cheyenne had stabilized their geographical and political position in the Black Hills region, allying themselves with the Arapaho and Oglala. From here, the tribe expanded in a southwesterly direction. Their separation into northern and southern divisions began as early as 1790 and was accelerated in the 1830s by the establishment of Bent's Fort on the Arkansas River and Fort William on the North Platte River.

Formal relations with the U.S. government was marked by the signing of the 1825 Friendship Treaty and White-Cheyenne relations were generally amicable until the 1840s. During this decade, the Cheyenne witnessed a flood of Whites migrating along the Oregon Trail and the destruction of their environment and bison herds; they also contracted infectious diseases at this time. The Cheyenne and their allies responded by conducting a series of minor raids. To end Indian-Indian and Indian-White hostilities, the U.S. government negotiated the Treaty of 1851, making the division Between the Northern and Southern Cheyenne permanent. The reduction of their land base, the continuing invasion of Whites, and the construction of forts prompted the Cheyenne to fight. For the next twenty-five years, they waged war against the U.S. military and White settlers; the Southern Cheyenne surrendered in 1875 and Northern Cheyenne resistance ended in 1879. With the Southern Cheyenne settled on their reservation, the U.S. government attempted to reconsolidate the tribe by forcibly removing the Northern Cheyenne to Indian Territory. Culturally alienated, starving, and infected with dysentery, measles, and malaria, 257 Northern Cheyenne broke out and avoided capture until crossing the North Platte River. There they divided into two bands, both of which were eventually captured, with the remnants allowed to relocate in 1881 from Indian Territory to Pine Ridge Agency. In 1884, the Tongue River Reservation was established by executive order in southeastern Montana and all the Northern Cheyenne were reunited. In 1892 the Southern Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation was dissolved through allotment. The Northern Cheyenne Reservation was allotted in 1932, although the land was never opened to White homesteading, thus preserving the integrity of the Reservation. Presently, both tribes continue to struggle to establish the legal and cultural rights they have lost over the centuries.


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