Cheyenne - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Although kinship was the foundation of Cheyenne society, there coexisted four types of social organization: the vestoz (a camp), the manhastoz (a bunch), the notxestoz (military society), and the manhao (a sacred band). The manhastoz was structurally similar to the vestoz, but was larger and usually organized around a chiefs Household; it was organized for trade rather than strictly Subsistence pursuits. The manhao, the largest traditional Cheyenne social unit, was composed of numerous vestoz and manhastoz led by council chiefs. Most important, these ten "sacred bands" were recognized as having a camping position in the Cheyenne tribal circle when they came together to conduct ceremonies. The 1849 cholera and 1850-1851 smallpox epidemics and White expansion resulted in three "sacred bands" becoming extinct and others being depopulated. In response, a notxestoz, the Dog Soldier Military Society, merged with the remnant Mas'kota band and was added to the Cheyenne tribal circle. Aside from kin-based groups, there were various sodalities for men and women. The most famous male sodality was the Contraries; other male sodalities included the Buffalo Men and Horse Men. Women's sodalities focused on skill and achievement in manufactured articles, the most important being the Quillwork Society. In modern times, the War Mothers Association was organized to honor Cheyenne veterans.

Political Organization. Cheyenne political organization was unique among Plains equestrian peoples. They maintained a Council of Forty-four, leaders who made decisions for the entire tribe consisting forty headsmen (four from each of the ten bands) and four councilmen known as the old man chiefs. They were considered the wisest men and were often the tribal religious authorities. Each council member had equal authority and served for ten years. The Council of Forty-four met during the summer when the tribe congregated for ceremonies and decided on future tribal movements, relations with other tribes, the schedule of tribal Ceremonies, and important internal tribal matters. To carry out their decisions, the Council of Forty-four relied upon the six Cheyenne military societies. Membership in any of the military societies was open to all young men, although most boys joined their father's society. In addition, each society selected several young women, known for their chastity and virtue, who served as assistants in society ceremonial functions.

Social Control. The mechanisms of social control ranged from public ridicule, social withdrawal, songs, and ostracism to physical punishment carried out by the military societies. Such mechanisms were replaced during the reservation period. After allotment and Oklahoma statehood in 1906, the Southern Cheyenne came under the legal jurisdiction of state law enforcement agencies. Since that time, the Southern Cheyenne, like the Northern Cheyenne, have instituted a Tribal police force and tribal court system.

Conflict. Forced onto the plains through conflict, the Cheyenne, between 1790 and 1850, warred against the Crow, Shoshone, Pawnee, and numerous other tribes to establish hunting territories, to acquire new land, and to maintain an advantageous position in their trade relations with other tribes and Europeans. Other reasons for going to war were more individualistic, usually to acquire horses, take captives, or gain revenge. After 1850, the nature of warfare changed and the growing conflict with Whites became a fight for survival.


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