Cultural Survival in Western America, the Northern Cheyenne's Last Fight

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From George Armstrong CusterÂ?s last fight with the Northern Plains Indians on the Little Big Horn River in Montana to the Northern CheyennesÂ? last fight for freedom in Kansas, Vernon MadduxÂ?s Â?In Dull KnifeÂ?s Wake: The True Story of the Northern Cheyenne Exodus in 1878Â? describes the desperate struggle between Indian and White for cultural survival in western America.

The story begins with General George Armstrong Custer’s “last stand” on the Little Big Horn River in southeastern Montana. The army’s fight with the Northern Plains tribes was the beginning of the end of the Northern Cheyenne’s struggle to hold on to their northern homelands. In retaliation for their part in the fight with Custer’s 7th Cavalry, the federal government removed Chiefs Dull Knife and Little Wolf and their Northern Cheyenne to Darlington Reservation in the dry southern plains of Indian Territory (Oklahoma).

Ill health, starvation, an intolerable environment, and the will to be free became the rationale for Dull Knife and his people to escape the confines of the reservation and head north to their homelands in Montana. However, their desperate determination to be free overcame any concern the Northern Cheyenne might have had for the life and welfare of the newly settled citizens of Kansas or Nebraska.

After their escape from Darlington Reservation, the Cheyenne swept along the eastern edge of the Great Plains like a razor-sharp scythe. Following along in their wake was the 4th regiment of the U.S. Cavalry. The men of the 4th marked and recorded the bodies of nearly a hundred men and boys White, Black, and Native American. The dead lay by themselves in the grass on a wide prairie, on isolated roads, or on hilltops. Some were found slumped over their tools and farm implement. One died in the doorway of a crude dugout. They all had to die. In the Cheyenne eyes it was justified. Cowboys perished for their weapons and horses; soldiers perished because they were a threat; and the settlers perished because there were in the way. But many died for no good reason except that they were victims of a century of frustration.

The story ends in the Northern Plains of Nebraska. After fighting all the way north, the army captured the Northern Cheyenne and locked them inside an army barracks at Fort Robinson. Another escape was planned and implemented. The final chapter of the history of the fighting Cheyenne was written in frozen blood across the prairie west and north of Fort Robinson. The army destroyed almost all of Dull Knife's band in a buffalo wallow near Warbonnet Creek in extreme northwestern Nebraska.

In Dull knife's Wake is a well-told, well-balanced account of the last resistance of the Northern Cheyenne. The author presents a complete and accurate account. In so doing, he doesn't argue that the methods employed by the average warrior to obtain critical goods for their escape were not justified. The goal is merely to guide the reader along the trail and to show the humanity on both sides.

In Dull Knife's Wake can be purchased at Horse Creek Publications, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders and Biblio distribution.

Author Vernon Maddux is an historian and Assistant Professor of Hiostry at Rose State College in Oklahoma City

Sue Schrems

Norman, Oklahoma

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Sue Schrems