Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cheyenne Primacy In The Great Sioux War

Liberty, M., Cheyenne Primacy: The Tribes' Perspective As Opposed To That Of The United States Army; A Possible Alternative To 'The Great Sioux War Of 1876', Nov 2006

The Sioux have been given star billing in “The Great Sioux War of 1876” on the basis of greater visibility and higher total numbers than other tribes. There has in fact been a kind of tunnel vision if not megalomania concerning Sioux prominence -- due in part to their great number of subdivisions and bands, all identified often simply as “Sioux.”

The opinion of other tribes that it was a Cheyenne war in 1876 rather than "The Great Sioux War" is made more plausible by the "Body Count" of seven Cheyenne camps destroyed by the army before 1876 -- more than those of all other tribes put together. Three more were destroyed that year, making a total of ten. According to historian Jerry Greene, the total number of camps of other peoples so destroyed was six (four before 1876) divided among the Shoshone, Arapaho, Piegan, and Lakota as listed below (Greene, personal communication, 1999.) ...

Even with the seven instances of Cheyenne camp destruction by US troops before 1876 (or six, if the first Platte Bridge fight is not counted) compared to four such instances of all other tribes combined before 1876, it is easy to see how the opinion may have prevailed among the tribes in general that the Cheyennes had been singled out for special and unusual punishment. ...

My premises are that:

1) The Cheyennes preceded the Sioux into the Black Hills, and thence into the Powder River Country south of the Yellowstone including Powder River, Tongue River, and the Littlehorn-Bighorn drainages. And they were arguably the prime force in all wars of the northern plains after 1860. (Contemporary Cheyenne remarks to this effect include that of late tribal historian Bill Tallbull, who said “The Sioux were just at the Fetterman fight to hold the Cheyenne horses,” and another, “The Crows did the scouting, the Cheyennes did the fighting, and the Sioux got the credit” (Mary Ellen McWilliams and moccasin telegraph to author, 1999.)

2) The Cheyennes preceded the Sioux in getting horses, later passing them on to the Oglalas with whom they were closely allied and intermarried (Grinnell 1956: 36-37 ; Stands in Timber and Liberty 1998: 116-118; Porter 1986:61; Moore 1996:94).

3) The Cheyennes were first to conduct tribal-level warfare, rather than that of individual bands or war parties -- “horse and scalp raids” in Utley’s terms. This happened against the Bannocks-Shoshonis in 1817, the Crows in 1820, and in four subsequent fights including two against the Pawnees as late as 1853 (Grinnell 1956: 25, 72. ) The tribal Sacred Arrows were carried by the tribe as a whole against these enemies in six recorded moves of the Arrows in 36 years, 1817- 1853 (Grinnell 1956: 72). Such attacks featuring the Arrows had to be made by the tribe as a whole.

It is not clear that any of the seven Lakota groups (Oglala, Hunkpapa etc.) ever went to war as entire societies in this way.

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