LITTLE WOLF, THE GREAT CHEYENNE CHIEF
Chief Little Wolf
As a Southeasterner, I haven’t had an opportunity to become acquainted with the descendants of the western tribes of Native Americans. The Cherokee and Lumbee Indians where I live have become widely incorporated into our blended society. Although there is a Cherokee reservation in the mountains of North Carolina, most of the Cherokee were forced to leave their native land here by President Andrew Jackson on the now infamous Trail of Tears exodus.
Because I’m a western author, I am fascinated by western tribes and their battle to maintain their culture and land. One of these famous American Indian leaders was Cheyenne Chief, Little Wolf or Ohcumgache which literally translated means Little Coyote. Little Wolf was born in Montana in the mid-1820’s. As he grew into adulthood, he became greatly respected and honored by his people. Little Wolf was chosen as one of the "Old Man" chiefs among the Council of Forty-four, a high honor in traditional Cheyenne culture. He was also chosen as Sweet Medicine Chief, bearer of the spiritual incarnation of Sweet Medicine, a primary culture hero and spiritual ancestor of the Cheyenne. Because of this honorary title, he was expected to be above anger, as well as concerned only for his people and not for himself.
Little Wolf is known as a great military tactician and led a group of warriors known as the "Elk Horn Scrapers" during the Northern Plains War. He also fought in Red Cloud's War and the war for the Bozeman Trail, which lasted from 1866 to 1868. He was the chief of the Bowstring Soldiers, an elite Cheyenne military society. Even in his youth, Little Wolf demonstrated exceptional bravery and brilliant understanding of battle tactics. First in conflicts with other Indians like the Kiowa and then in disputes with the U.S. Army, Little Wolf led or assisted in dozens of important Cheyenne victories.
Historians believe Little Wolf was most likely involved in the disastrous, Fetterman Massacre of 1866, in which the Cheyenne cleverly lured a force of 80 American soldiers out of their Wyoming fort and wiped them out. After Cheyenne attacks finally forced the U.S. military to abandon Fort Phil Kearney along the Bozeman Trail, Little Wolf is believed to have led the torching of the fort. He was also a leading participant in the greatest of the Plains Indian victories, the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.
Although he did not fight in the Little Bighorn battle, he did play a significant role before and after the battle. Some scouts from Little Wolf’s camp found food left behind by Custer’s attack troops and were observed by U.S. military scouts. When it was reported to Custer, he thought he had been discovered by the main camp of the Sioux and Cheyenne on the Little Bighorn and decided it was crucial for him to move forward with his attack in order to prevent the escape of the Indians. When the battle ended, Little Wolf arrived and was almost killed by the angry Sioux who believed he had scouted for the whites. Little Wolf was able to convince the Sioux by his adamant denials and from the support of his fellow Northern Cheyenne present during the battle and, therefore, was saved him from harm.
Little Wolf at Fort Laramie
But, what Little Wolf is most famous for is his great escape from captivity.
After the defeat of Morning Star (Dull Knife) by Col. Ronald S. Mackenzie in November 1876, Little Wolf was forced onto a reservation in Oklahoma's Indian Territory. Two years later, he and Dull Knife led almost 300 Cheyenne from their reservation near Fort Reno, Oklahoma, through Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakota Territory into the Montana Territory, their ancestral home.
All the while, they miraculously eluded the U.S. cavalry units which repeatedly tried to capture them. Though Little Wolf and Dull Knife announced that their intentions were peaceful, settlers in the territory they passed through feared attack. The government dispatched cavalry forces that assaulted the Indians, but Little Wolf’s skillful defensive maneuvers kept Cheyenne casualties low. When the band neared Fort Robinson, Nebraska, Dull Knife and some of his followers stopped there. Little Wolf and the rest of the Cheyenne continued to march north to Montana.
While continuing to travel north, in the spring of 1879, Little Wolf and his followers were overtaken by a cavalry force under the leadership of Captain W.P. Clark, an old friend of Little Wolf’s. The confrontation could have turned violent, but with his force of warriors diminished and his people tired, Little Wolf was reluctant to fight the more powerful American army. Clark’s civilized and gracious treatment of Little Wolf helped convince the chief that further resistance was pointless, and he agreed to surrender.
Little Wolf And His Wife, Morning Star
Later on, Little Wolf would become a scout for the U.S. Army under Gen. Nelson A. Miles. It is unfortunate that Little Wolf became involved in a dispute which resulted in the death of Starving Elk. Drunk, Little Wolf shot and killed Starving Elk at the trading post of Eugene Lamphere on December 12, 1880. Little Wolf went into voluntary exile as a result of this disgrace. His status as a chief was revoked. Though formerly a celebrated Cheyenne warrior, the disgraced Little Wolf lived out the rest of his life in self-imposed exile on the Northern Cheyenne Indian reservation but had no official influence among his own people. He died in 1904 and is interred in the Lame Deer cemetery, alongside the gravesite of Morning Star. George Bird Grinnell, a close friend and ethnographer who documented Little Wolf's life, called him, "the greatest Indian I have ever known."
You can find all her western stories about the Wilding family saga by clicking onto The Wildings link.
Interesting post, Sarah. And if the military/govt. would have left them alone to begin with...Native American history would have been different, then and for future generations.ReplyDelete
Fabulous. We sometimes forget those who were here before. The accounts of the Indians are a fascinating read and worth the time. Black Hawk/ Keokuk and of course Standing Bear all have fascinating stories. Thank you for sharing this one. Doris McCraw/Angela RainesReplyDelete
It's such fascinating history. Reading about the great leaders of the Indian tribes and how they were treated always makes me wonder if I would have seen past the propaganda if I lived back then.ReplyDelete
Sarah, That is fantastic! I love to hear stories like this. Well done! Now, tell us another. *grin*ReplyDelete
Linda, you're right. It seems so cruel to us now to force such a free spirited people to live on a plot of land (usually not the best land either) instead of allowing them the dignity and freedom to ride the plains. Fear makes people do cruel things, doesn't it? It would be so interesting to imagine what they would be like now if the Europeans had left them alone.ReplyDelete
Ya know, I can't help but think of the Scots and William Wallace. The English did a very similar thing by outlawing the Scots to wear their tartans and kept forcing them to submit to English laws. History does repeat itself, and some people never learn.
Thank you so much for your comment, Linda, I really appreciate it.
Yes Doris, it is fascinating to read about these individual leaders in American Indian history and how their leadership failed or succeeded and what their personal lives were like. In reading some of the quotes spoken by some of these leaders, I have seen how wise and connected they were to the Earth. They were often portrayed as savages in movies and literature, but now we know the truth--they were just different.ReplyDelete
I am always glad to see you, Doris. You are such a positive support for everyone.
Gerald, I thought about your comment and I have to say, I really do wonder if I would have believed the propaganda or not. I'm certain settlers had heard those tales and were terrified. We all know what frightened people do when they meet those they fear. I imagine, unless I had already become acquainted with the genuine Indians before the propaganda started, maybe I would have known it was just a means to destroy a group of people for those who would benefit from it. Most settlers didn't get that opportunity though.ReplyDelete
Gerald, I always enjoy your comments. This one was thought provoking for me. Thank you so much for coming by.
Hello there, Connie. Because I am a southeasterner, there is so much I don't know about the old west. But I sure do love writing western tales, so it requires a whole lot of research.ReplyDelete
What I love about research is I find amazing stories like this one that peaks my interest. Writing a monthly blog for Sweethearts gives me an opportunity to share some of what I learned. It's just so much fun. I don't use even half of what I research. It's addictive like Pinterest. LOL
So good to hear from you Connie. Thank you for dropping in.
What a wonderful story about Little Wolf. He was one of a kind. I have read a little about him, but I usually do more research about the Comanche, the most fierce of all the tribes. There are so many stories out there about individual Native Americans, from different tribes. I do love to read about them. Unlike many, I don't spend much time wringing my hands on how the white man treated the Native Americans. What was, was, and what will be, will be. Yes, atrocities happened, but it does no good now to go back.ReplyDelete
I used to worry so about the Blacks being slaves, when I learned that slavery would never have existed if the black Africans had not rounded up countless numbers of their own people and sold them to the white man. I wonder how many blacks today actually know that? I bet they think the white man went to Africa and rounded up these black Africans.
But no...absolutely not. Their own kind rounded them up and sold them. Thus began the century of slavery.
History is great, isn't it..but it never fails to distress me in some way.
Thanks, Sarah...this was a wonderful post.
Great article, Sarah. It saddens me to know how Little Wolf ended his days. He was a great leader for his people. Thank you for telling us about him.ReplyDelete
What a fascinating account, Sarah. This is a new chief and escape for me. I have always despised Nelson Miles for his persecution of the Nez Perce. My heart always breaks when I read of the mistreatment of our first nations and their brave leaders.ReplyDelete
Good info, Sarah. It's always interesting learning about the different tribes and leaders.ReplyDelete
Celia, I love how honestly you speak your mind. In a society where we are often silenced by political correctness, it's refreshing to see a genuine, unvarnished opinion. And that's just one of the many things I like about you.ReplyDelete
Those of us today did not participate in slavery or the treatment of American Indians. We cannot shoulder the blame for things we didn't do or take credit for the accomplishments of our ancestors. And there is no way to rewrite the past.
Thank you so much for all your support and wisdom.
Lyn, it sort of reminded me of Moses in the bible who made one mistake, and because of it, he didn't get to see the Promised Land.ReplyDelete
Thank you for dropping by to comment on my blog.
Tanya, it's good to see you. I don't know much about the western tribes of American Indians. I have to research every single thing. I do know about the Cherokee Indians because they live here in North Carolina. Although they were forced from their land by President Jackson, many remained. They continue to practice their culture and beliefs. I'm grateful for that.ReplyDelete
Thank you for visiting my blog.
Paty, it's a pleasure to have you visit my post. I like poking around the internet to find interesting people and history to blog about. It's like a little hobby.ReplyDelete
Thank you for visiting me.
Celia, I wanted to add that real history seems to get lost over time because it is reinvented to suit a certain purpose or misinterpreted by some. The news media seems determined to change real history to suit their own purposes as well. History is fascinating--and mangled.ReplyDelete