Who Were the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers?
Today we are taking a look at the renowned Cheyenne Dog Soldiers…
Who Are the Cheyenne?
The Cheyenne is a nation of Plains Indians that have inhabited the Great Plains and lands of present-day Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas since the early 1800s. Today they are federally recognised as two tribes: the Southern Cheyenne of Oklahoma and the Northern Cheyenne of Montana. They call themselves “Tsétsėhéstȧhese” which means “people” in the Cheyenne language.
At first European contact, the Cheyenne was a tribe living in Minnesota. Their economy was based on bison hunting and collecting wild rice. By the early 1700s they had been forced into the Dakotas by other migrating tribes, where they embraced horse culture and introduced it to the Lakota in 1730. They formed a close alliance with the Arapaho from 1811. They played a role in pushing the Kiowa further south and were themselves pushed further west by the Lakota and the Ojibwe.
The Cheyenne’s main group was comprised of ten bands stretching across the Great Plains from South Dakota’s Black Hills to southern Colorado. These bands ultimately unified.
Of all Plains tribes, the Cheyenne were most notable for their war society, and they were powerful, skilled horseback warriors. Despite relatively small numbers, they were able to hold back or overcome their opponents and were of more concern to European pioneers travelling west than most other tribes combined (except, perhaps, for the fearsome Comanche). War became a primary concern for the Cheyenne; warriors were viewed by the Cheyenne not as warmongers but as leaders and protectors. Their enemies were many, including the Crow, Blackfeet, Shoshone, Plains Cree, Sioux, Pawnee, Nez Perce, Iowa, Omaha, Comanche, Plains Apache, Osage, and many others – but none more so than the Kiowa and the US Army.
What are Dog Soldiers?
The name “Dog Soldiers” arose from the Cheyenne legend that tells of dogs transforming into fierce and fearsome fighters.
The Dog Soldiers were one of six military societies of the Cheyenne, and its most powerful, distinctive, and aggressive. Founded in the 1830s, they followed a very strict military creed and with extremely effective battle tactics, they commanded (and were accorded) respect similar to today’s Navy SEALs.
Coming to prominence in the 1800s as part of the Indian resistance against the American government’s expansionism, they were unequivocally hostile to their opponents. While other Cheyenne chiefs were open to diplomatic talks with the white leaders, the Dog Soldiers opposed all peaceful policies and chose war as their response. They came to undermine their own Chiefs’ authority and in 1860 refused to sign the treaty that would have forced their tribe onto reservations. They were critical to the Cheyenne resistance to expansion into their territory and were participants in many famous battles.
Dog Soldiers were easily identifiable: they wore eagle-wing bone whistles suspended from a thong around their necks and large feather bonnets on which feathers of birds of prey were placed upright. Their belts were made from skunk skins. They were armed with bows and guns. Their songs were accompanied by a rattle in the shape of a snake. Elite soldiers also wore “Dog Ropes”; these were sashes crafted from buffalo skin adorned with feathers, beads, and porcupine quills and worn over the right shoulder and under the left arm. The very bravest of these warriors fringed their leggings with human hair (scalps).
The soldiers were grouped with one leader per seven assistants, of whom four were chosen for their courage to lead in battle. In battle, each of these soldiers would stake his location to the ground via his Dog Rope and remain pinned there until the battle was over and another soldier released it.
The Waning Power of Dog Soldiers
By 1865, the Dog Soldiers were conducting various raids, particularly along the Platte River. They were not controllable by their tribal Chiefs. In 1869, many of the band were killed in the Battle of Summit Springs. By the mid-1870s, their power waned on the great Plains as American expansionism overcame pushbacks. The society henceforth became a lot smaller and more secretive.
The Cheyenne Today
The Northern Cheyenne reside on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana, with a tribal enrolment of around 10,000 members and fewer than 50% living on the reservation. The Southern Cheyenne form the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma.
To this day, the society of Cheyenne Dog Soldiers still exists – and some of these warriors continue to serve in the US military.