There is a tradition among the Cheyennes that in the beginning they
lived upon the upper Missouri or in some part of Canada, existing much
like animals. What they could catch they ate raw, so the tradition says,
and as to clothing, the less they had, the better. They had no love nor
respect for one another, and when a woman gave birth to a child she
would take care of it until it was large enough to catch what it needed
to live on, and then turn it adrift and care no more for it.
They were living somewhere in a valley, and they don't know whether it
was a cloud burst or a tidal wave or what, but all at once the whole
face of the earth became covered with water, and all but a few of the
tribe were drowned. Those that were saved were scattered widely, and
wandered around without seeing one another for several days. Finally the
medicine man found a woman. Now both he and the woman had felt so lonely
that when they saw one another they ran and embraced one another, and,
clasped in one another's arms, created a human love, so that ever after
they lived as man and wife.
And they found the tracks of others
of their tribe, and tracked them up, and when they found them they
embraced them in their arms. And so they kept on till they had quite a
number, and they went to living together in pairs, and loved one
another, and ever after they loved their children.
this advancement, they found some young panthers and raised them as
pets, and when a panther would catch a deer he would eat what he wanted
and leave some for his masters, and he would also leave the hide for
them, and they used the hides for making clothes. And when the panther
wasn't hungry he would catch small game and carry it to the tribe.
And they had precious stones with which they cut wood. And they cut
for themselves clubs, and learned how to throw them. And there was a
medicine man who had a medicine club, and when he threw it at anything
he could kill it. And there came another tribe from the east that they
supposed to be others who had escaped from the flood the same as they
had, but they made war on the Cheyennes. But so great was the power of
this medicine man and his medicine club that no one could stand before
him, and, though the battle lasted several days, the Cheyennes came out
victors, and drove the enemy from the land.
There was a certain
season of the year when it was very hard to get anything to eat, which
must have been in the long winter. And there came a time when they were
near starvation. They had hunted, but could find nothing. There was one
young man who had gone a long way from the camp, and was standing on a
high hill. And he saw something a long ways off that looked white. Going
closer, he saw that the whole prairie was covered with skunks. So he
went back to camp and got the others and they surrounded the skunks and
killed them all. And they took them home and ate them, and they lasted
until the bitter season of the year had past.
This same young
man was considered a prophet, and was the first man to invent fire. This
he did by taking one stick and putting one end on a log. Then he put
sand and dry grass around the stick. Then, holding the other end of the
stick up, and whirling it between his hands, the sand and the wood set
the grass afire.
After the hard year, game was more abundant for
a season. Then came a hard time again, when they had hunted but could
find nothing, and were about to be forced into cannibalism, and were
casting lots by setting two sticks in the ground and rolling a ball
between the sticks. Now there came a man and looked on, and he was
dressed differently from any man that they had ever seen. He had a fine
head-piece on his head, and there was paint on his face, and his
clothing was more beautiful than any they had ever seen. But while he
stood looking on there came another man dressed in exactly the same way
and stood in an opposite direction and looked on.
The camp was
by a big spring, and the man that first came said to the other man, "Why
are you mocking me? You are dressed just as I am."
But the other
man said, "I am not mocking you. A person down in the spring told me to
dress this way."
"Well," said he, "there was a person down in
the spring who told me to dress this way,, too."
one of the Cheyennes, who had heard what they said, "let's go down and
see that person in the spring."
So they went and dived into the
spring, and when they came up they found that they were in a big room.
And there was an old lady in there who was the grandmother of all of
them, and she was glad to see them. Then she built a fire and cooked
them both' meat and corn and put it in a big wooden bowl. And when they
had finished eating the bowl was just as full as it was before.
"Now," said she, when they had eaten, "I heard my people were starving
outside, and you must take them something to eat, but before you go I
must teach you how you must do."
Then she picked up a handful of
corn and said, "This is corn." It was all colors. "You must go to some
rich bottom land and dig up the dirt and plant the corn. And it will
grow and you must take care of it, and you will always have something to
Then she told them to look to the east, and they looked to
the east and saw great fields of corn. Then she told them to look to the
north, and they looked to the north, and the hills and the plains were
buffalo. Then she told them to look to the south, and they looked to
the south, and they could see great herds of ponies. Then she told them
to look to the west, and they looked to the west, and they could see
Then said she, "Which one of these will you
And they said, "Give us the buffalo."
said she would turn the buffalo over to them. Then she told them that by
the paint of their faces and by their head-dress she would know them,
and those that would not wear the paint, were ashamed of her and she
would not protect them. So, when they got to where they were starving,
she would come back again. From this incident came the ghost dance and
"Now," said she, "you must go and feed my people." So
each one took a handful of corn and a handful of meat and went out. And
when they came to the people they called for the big wooden bowls, and
they put in one corn, and in the other the meat, and when they put them
down the bowls were full. Then came the warriors and ate, and when they
had finished there was as much as before they had begun. Then came the
old men and women, and they ate, and when they had finished, there was
still as much as before they had eaten. Then came the children, and when
they had eaten, and had had all they wanted, the food disappeared.
And yet the people were all in doubt, saying, "Must we believe these
men?" So there came out of the spring a big fine buffalo heifer. She
came close up to them, then turned around and disappeared into the
spring. Then they said, "Now we believe." So they put paint on their
faces, and shouted aloud, and danced all night. And when the morning
came the whole face of the earth was covered with buffalo. So they went
out and surrounded a herd and caught them with their hands, and with
their clubs they killed them. These were the first buffalo they had seen
or heard tell of.
And they began raising corn, also, so when the
winter had come and the buffalo had gone farther south, they put their
corn in a cave and followed the buffalo. And. while they were gone, some
of the tribe came and stole all the corn. When they came back,
therefore, and found all their corn that they had depended on gone, and
nothing left for them to eat, they went south. They found more buffalo,
and they went still farther south, until, in Old Mexico somewhere, they
found a tribe that had many ponies. But they had nothing with which they
could buy ponies, and they could not make war on these other Indians,
for they could ride away from them, and they had ropes made of raw-hide.
So the Cheyennes went by night and stole some ponies, and kept
on until they had stolen enough for all their warriors. And so they
never tried to raise any ponies. They ran them so hard after buffalo
that they never could raise any colts, and when they needed new ponies
they simply went back and stole them. But the Mexican tribe grew very
tired of this stealing, and made war on the Cheyennes, and drove them
back to the Black Hills, where, after this, they remained a great deal
of their time, until the white man came.
These old Indians are
big, stout men, and the best ropers I ever saw. In times of peace they
are good, clever, sociable Indians, and would fight a white man in any
way he cared to fight, and then shake hands and forget their wars. But
there are very few of the old ones living nowadays, and the younger ones
that have been raised as prisoners of war are more sullen. They believe
that all kinds of meat is good to eat. There is no difference to them.
They will eat a dead pony just as quickly as they will a steer that they
have butchered. It makes no difference to them what has been the cause
of death of a cow or hog or pony; they will eat it just as quickly as if
they themselves had killed it. They believe that human flesh is
forbidden, but that anything else in the shape of meat is good to eat.
They believe that the devil is an evil spirit, and that he uses
a person's appetite to destroy him with, such as tobacco and whisky and
coffee and fine clothing, and indeed anything that a person can exist
without is the devil's agent. They say before they knew the white man
they knew nothing of such things, and that then they were perfectly
happy. They say they had clothes that satisfied them just as well as the
clothes they have nowadays. Now, too, they know how to use tobacco and
coffee, and as they are out of these articles about half the time they
are unable to be happy, for they have come to love these agents of the
devil. They believe that sin came into the world first through man's
appetite. They believe in obeying literally the command of the Savior
when he said, "Take no thought of the morrow; what ye shall eat, or what
ye shall drink, or wherewithal shall ye be clothed," for they will eat
the last bite on the place and then lie down and go to sleep just as
contentedly as if they had a store.
You can't make any sort of a
trade with an Indian when he is full. You must catch him when he is
hungry, and then you can make any kind of a trade with him that you
want. When an Indian decides to sell a pony he will call about him his
wife and children and all the neighbors, and they will reach a decision
as to which one shall be sold. And then that pony and no other will be
sold, no matter if no more than a third of what he is worth is realized.
And you might just as well talk to the wind as to try to buy a pony
which the council has not decided should be sold.
A number of
the younger members of the tribe have been educated, and they make good
clerks and soldiers, and are able to engage in almost any kind of
business, competing on even terms with the younger class of other tribes
which have been under government protection and tutelage for a hundred
and fifty years. This ought to be sufficient to convince anyone that it
is all in the way one is raised.
The winter quarters of the
Cheyennes are generally along some water course on the edge of the
prairie and handy to timber. They put posts in the ground around a
square large enough for one of their tents or tepees. A pole is then
fastened at the top of the posts and another at the bottom. Next a ditch
is dug around the entire enclosure. Then they take big sunflower weeds
or small willows, put one end in the ground and fasten a pole on the
outside all around, leaving a place for a door. The tepee is then
erected inside the enclosure.
The accompanying picture shows an
Indian village at Colony, Oklahoma.
From one to two dozen families live in a village. The children all play
together. In case of trouble between the children the mothers usually
settle it between themselves, and if they fail the attention of the band
chief who presides over the village is called to the matter and his
decision is final.
The women, while in their tepees, generally
spend their time doing bead work or making shoes, as shown in the
accompanying picture of a group of Cheyenne and Arapahoe women.
History of Oklahoma, Indian
Territory and Homeseeker's Guide
Source: History of Oklahoma and Indian Territory and Homeseeker's
guide, By J. L. and Ellen Puckett, Vinita, Oklahoma, Chieftain
Publishing Company, 1906