25 Facts: The Cheyenne



The Cheyenne

  1. The word Cheyenne is thought to come from the Sioux Shai-ena, meaning People of a different speech.
  2. They call themselves Tsitsistas (Our People).
  3. The Cheyenne originated in Minnesota, but moved through the Dakotas and onto the Great Plains when they acquired horses from the Spaniards.
  4. Their farming communities switched from harvesting corn, beans, and squash to become nomadic hunters who followed after the huge buffalo herds.
  5. They soon became superb riders who shot antelope, deer, elk, and bison from the backs of their horses.
  6. If they needed to cross water the men crafted tub-shaped boats from a frame of branches covered with buffalo hide.
  7. Around 1832 the tribe split to become the Northern Cheyenne (now based in Montana), and the Southern Cheyenne (now in Oklahoma).
  8. The Northern Cheyenne guard the Sacred Buffalo Hat – an important religious artifact.
  9. The Southern Cheyenne protect the equally-revered Sacred Arrows.
  10. Both tribes worship two main deities: Heammawihio (The Wise One Above), and Ahktunowihio (The Divine Spirit of the Earth).  They also honor four powerful spirits associated with the North, South, East, and West.
  11. The Cheyenne believe in ghosts and underwater monsters.
  12. Eagles symbolize strength and power.
  13. Bears bring good fortune.
  14. Deer represent endurance.
  15. The buffalo was considered a sacred animal because it provided almost everything the Plains Indian needed.
  16. Traditionally, the men hunted, made tools, and defended their tribe.
  17. Dog Soldiers were the fiercest of the Warrior bands that also included Fox Soldiers, Chief Soldiers, and Bowstring Soldiers.
  18. Women were responsible for setting up their mobile tipi homes, gathering and cooking food, making clothes, caring for the young, sick, and old, and for preparing animal skins.
  19. Girls were chaperoned by older women to protect their virtuous reputations.
  20. Boys were allowed to go to war after they had completed their first buffalo hunt.
  21. The Cheyenne were a polygamous society where a man could wed many wives.  But if one of them wished for a divorce she simply placed her husband’s belongings outside her tipi and the marriage was over.
  22. One of the most important ceremonies still practiced is the annual eight-day Sun Dance.
  23.  Their mourning rites include traditional prayer and song.  Female family members often cut off their hair as a mark of respect.  Some women slice their legs with hunting knives too.
  24. The Cheyenne fought several major battles in the Indian Wars, most notably at Sand Creek, Washita River, and Little Bighorn.
  25. Like many other Native American Tribes, the Cheyenne were forced onto reservations during the late nineteenth century.

Want to know more?  Watch this wonderful documentary about the Sun Dance  and how the Sacred Circle is passed on to as new generation:


Debo, Angie.  A History of the Indians of the United States (London: Folio Society, 2003)

De Capua, Sarah.  The First Americans: The Cheyenne (New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2007)

Wikipedia, “Cheyenne” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheyenne

Chief Sitting Bull (c.1831-1890)

Chief Sitting Bull

“The Great Spirit has given our enemies to us.  We are to destroy them.”


  • Sitting Bull was named Jumping Badger at birth, but was nicknamed Slow because of his thoughtful nature.
  • This warrior was a Hunkpapa Lakota holy man, famous for resisting the U.S. government and its Manifest Destiny expansion.
  • During the Red Cloud war of 1866-1868 he led numerous war parties against the military.  He also made guerrilla attacks on prospectors and settlers encroaching on sacred Sioux lands.
  • This chief did not agree with the Treaty of Fort Laramie and refused to sign.
  • His continued resistance throughout the Great Sioux War (1876) at one point halted construction on the Northern Pacific Railway.
  • In a sun dance ceremony before the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Sitting Bull predicted the defeat of the Seventh Cavalry.
  • His leadership inspired this major victory against George Armstrong Custer’s troops.
  • To avoid the inevitable backlash, Sitting Bull fled to Canada, where he claimed political asylum until 1881.
  • This chief became a household name after starring in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.  Here, he befriended Annie Oakley and named her Little Sure Shot.
  • Fearing he would join the dangerous Ghost Dance Movement, Sitting Bull was assassinated by Indian Agency Police in a botched attempt to arrest him.
  • His death was one of the precipitating factors that led to the Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota, 1890.  It marked the end of the Great Sioux Nation.


History.com, “Ten Things You May Not Know About Sitting Bull” at http://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-sitting-bull

Mooney, James, The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1991.

Wikipedia, “Sitting Bull” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sitting_Bull