Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Although casual gardening continued among some bands as late as 1850, the primary focus was the bison. Besides meat, the bison provided materials for shelter, clothing, and manufactured goods and was a trade item. Of over forty food plants gathered, the most important were the Indian turnip, chokecherries, and plums. European contact resulted in the adoption of trade foods into the Cheyenne diet. Coffee, sugar, bacon, and bleached flour became important commodities, especially during the dramatic decline of the bison. Cheyenne involvement in the nineteenth-century bison robe trade resulted in a further dependency on European goods. On reservations, rations, gardening, and marginal wage labor became the mainstay of the Cheyenne economy. Today the majority of the Southern and Northern Cheyenne income is derived through the federal government. Among the Northern Cheyenne, Tribal enterprises such as logging, ranching, growing alfalfa, seasonal wage labor, and governmental assistance provide most of their income. The Southern Cheyenne are involved in wheat raising, oil exploitation, some ranching, and governmental work projects. Both tribes continue to be underemployed and dependent on governmental support. The most important domesticated animal was the horse, which was used for transportation, warfare, and hunting, and became a source of wealth in Cheyenne society.
Industrial Arts. Cheyenne skills included leatherworking, woodworking, quillworking, featherworking, and stone carving. After direct trade with Europeans, metal objects, glass beads, cloth, and other items to decorate replaced articles of native manufacture. Today the Cheyenne continue to make objects for personal use, powwows, ceremonial purposes, and sale to non-Indians.
Trade. The extent of precontact trade is not fully known, but by the historical period the Cheyenne were involved in a complex trading network. As middlemen, the Cheyenne traded horses, dried bison meat, pemmican, dehydrated pomme blanche, and decorated robes, shirts, and leather pouches with the Missouri River tribes. In exchange, the Cheyenne obtained European items such as guns, powder, and foodstuffs as well as native maize and tobacco. By 1830, they had become involved in the bison robe trade with Europeans, which ended in the 1880s, leading to complete Economic dependency on the U.S. government.
Division of Labor. The division of labor was based on age and sex. Men's work included hunting, raiding, ceremonial activities, and manufacturing all items associated with these pursuits. Young boys and elder men in the household were often in charge of caring for the horse herd. Women's tasks were associated with domestic activities: gathering food and fuel, caring for children, butchering meat, making pemmican, erecting and dismantling the lodge, manufacturing all Household objects, and preparing bison hides for use or trade. Young girls assisted their mothers with these tasks, and elder women relieved the mother of child-care duties. During the bison hide trade period, men's and women's labor focused on acquisition and production of hides. During the reservation period, the division of labor was altered radically with Women's work increasingly devalued and confined to the Household. Since World War II, Cheyenne men and women have been employed in a variety of occupations ranging from trapping to law.
Land Tenure. Aboriginally, any Cheyenne had the right to resources within their territory. Although portions of their territory were contested by other Plains Indians, the Cheyenne claimed and actively defended the region from the yellowstone River to the Arkansas River. Within this territory, each band occupied and utilized a favored location, usually near major rivers.