The Cheyenne’s tribal lore states that the Great Prophet organized the people into bands, created the office of Chief, and bestowed the rank of warrior on all the men fifteen years and older19. These bands shape the overall political structure of the Cheyenne Nation. Even though the Cheyenne people were divided into Northern and Southern tribes, they still seem to have kept their political traditions parallel. The Cheyenne had many different levels of political structure from the Council of forty-four, the warrior societies, and their tribal structure. With so many different levels of political structure you might think how any decisions might ever be made, the answer is they were all responsible for different aspects within the overall structure of political system. The Council of Forty-four was responsible for the overall leading of the Cheyenne Nation. The warrior societies, as one might think, conducted war with enemies but also depending on their Soldier Chief carried much influence with the Council of Forty-four. In addition, they were used to inflict physical discipline and the security of the tribes.
COUNCIL OF FORTY-FOUR
The Cheyenne had developed a governing system by the time they reached the Great Plains. The Cheyenne tribe would split into bands and live in different locations during the winter. Each band consisted of several extended families that lived in adjacent lodges5. This was done mainly when the tribe had horticulture as their major activity. The Cheyenne social structure was formed in a similar way of the winter living customs. After some of the bands fused together and the horse was adopted, the Cheyenne way of life changed greatly from a horticulturalist to more of a nomadic way of life.
The central traditional governing system used by the Cheyenne Indians is called Council of Forty-Four. The governing system was formed by the ten bands from the Cheyenne tribe27. There were four men from each band chosen by the band to serve a ten-year term. These men were the chiefs on the council. The remaining four chiefs to complete the Council of Forty-Four were the principal advisers of the other delegates23. This system regulated the many societies that developed for planning warfare, enforcing rules, and conducting ceremonies. The Council of Forty-Four was one of the two central institutions of traditional Cheyenne tribal governance, the other being the military societies such as the Dog Soldiers23.
The Council of Forty Four met every summer to make decisions about tribal movements, hunting locations, scheduling ceremonies, issues of warfare, and to settle disputes. The chiefs were to remain separate from the military society leadership because they were considered peace chiefs. Camp police and ceremonial assistance were selected by the chiefs to help enforce their decisions22.
Even though the bands did not form initially for political reasons, in later years, the bands made it more simplistic for decisions to be made. Before the Council of Forty Four, the decisions were made by all adult members based on consensus, with leadership based on ability and maintained by continued confidence48. The Cheyenne tribe was separated into bands by 183215. A band is the smallest unit, usually involving a small group of related households in a region, and usually they are kinship groups related by marriage. The political process of a band usually involves convening on an ad hoc basis to deal with common issues. The ten bands were politically unified. The central traditional government system of the Cheyenne was the “Council of Forty-Four.”The ten bands of the unified Cheyenne tribe are38:
TRIBAL POLITICAL STRUCTURE
The Cheyenne tribal political structure was based around central control of the ten bands or tribes by their individual Chiefs. The bands within the tribe were matrilocal systems. The bands would consist of a matriarch, her married daughters, and their affinal kin5. The women had rank amongst them and together formed a work unit. The basic political structure within the bands consisted of confederations of extended families that were mostly related matrilineal5. Council Chiefs represented the bands and were responsible for the overall movements, security, and organization of the bands that formed the tribe.
Another political structure within the Cheyenne was the warrior societies. There were five warrior societies each of which had a Soldier Chief as its central leader19.
· Hoof-Rattle of Elk
· Dog-Men’s or Dog Soldiers
· Inverted or Bow-String
The Soldier Chiefs were selected from within the warrior societies, which they belonged. The warrior societies were fraternal, military, and semi-religious organizations with special privileges, duties, and dress3. All members of a society would refer to the other warriors within as their “brother” or “friend” whether they were related by blood or not19. During the winter, the warrior bands would return to their families and live among the ten bands under the control of the Council Chief. Some duties that fell under the responsibility of the warrior societies were to maintain and enforce discipline and provide military leadership for the tribe. Typically one of the five warrior bands were selected by the Council Chiefs for a particular duty for a fixed period. Only during times of organized hunts were the warrior societies subordinate to the Council Chiefs5. Usually one of the societies would be asked to refrain from the hunt to police the hunters to ensure the success of the hunt5.
The structure of the warrior societies was patrilineal but did not have inherited titles that were passed down by the Soldier Chief. The Soldier Chiefs of the warrior society were chosen from within the band and held their positions for life5. Although the Soldier Chief’s appointments were for life these societies were built for battle, so after a few years a Soldier Chief may decide to step down. Typically, fathers, sons and brothers all were members of the same warrior society but that did not mean that the Soldier Chief’s next of kin would become chief, the strongest and bravest warriors without regard to lineage were chosen to hold the position. Although the warrior societies were permanent entities of the Cheyenne, their membership often changed. If young warriors wanted to make a name for themselves, they may decide to leave one society and join another that had a strong or ambitious leader.
Social control was enforced though several different methods. At large tribal gatherings such as the Sun Dance, where the entire Cheyenne Nation would gather, one of the warrior societies would then be appointed by the Council of Forty-four to police the ritual and maintain the peace with physical force, if necessary. Outside of the warrior societies, the people were under the guidance of the Council Chiefs. Even the members of the warrior societies would conjugate in these larger tribes during the winter. The primary mechanisms of social control within the tribes were public ridicule, social withdrawal, and ostracism15.
IMPORTANT DATE’S IN CHEYENNE POLITICAL HISTORY
The Cheyenne bands were mostly at peace with the United States. The United States wanted to explore west, in effort to do so, they created the Fort Laramie Treaty of 18516. The Cheyenne joined many other Plains tribes in signing the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. The Indians who signed the treaty guaranteed safe passage for settlers on the Oregon Trail in return for promises of an annuity in the amount of fifty thousand dollars for fifty years, which was later changed to ten years33. The treaty held true for peace until the United States failed to prevent the mass emigration of settlers and miners during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush.
· In 1856 the peace changed, peaceful Cheyenne approached a wagon on the Oregon Trail and there were fired on. The Cheyenne fired back for protection and in revenge; soldiers from Fort Kearney, Nebraska attacked and destroyed a Cheyenne camp. In this revenge, they killed eight Cheyenne people.
· In 1864, the Sand Creek Massacre took place in Colorado2.
· In 1868 the U.S. Army attacked the Cheyenne along the Washita River
· In 1876, Cheyenne warriors fought in the Battle of Little Bighorn.
· In 1877, the Northern and Southern Cheyenne are moved to Indian lands in present-day Oklahoma.
· In 1884, the Northern Cheyenne Reservation is set up in Montana.
· In 1924, the U.S. Congress passes a law making all Native Americans U.S. citizens.
· In the 1960s, coal is discovered on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.
· In the early 2000s The Cheyenne – Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma begin to operate casinos in Clinton and Conch, Oklahoma31.
Today, the Cheyenne population has grown from what were only about a hundred survivors, into one tribe including nearly five thousand members, and owning two reservations. The Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho currently live in Oklahoma, while the Northern Cheyenne live on the Tongue River Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana18.
The flags of the Cheyenne Nation today are:
Figure 1 – The flag of the Northern Cheyenne – The symbol in the center is that of the morning star, which was the emblem of Chief Morning Star, better known as Dull Knife, the Cheyenne chief who led his people to their new home after they had been defeated in the War of the Plains. The morning star glyph was also used during the Sun Dance, the warriors would paint it on their chests for the ceremony. The ancient version of this flag was not blue but a deep reddish brown, with the morning star glyph painted in black8. There are now around 8,000 Cheyenne that live on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana1.
Figure 2 – The flag of the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho. The flag has an outline of Oklahoma, and a lance adorned with fourteen eagle feathers that represent the original member of the tribal council. Crossing the spear are two other symbols, the arrow for war and a calumet. The arrow is facing down which means that the two tribes are at peace and the calumet is a peace pipe. At the center of the flag is the seal of the two tribes, which features a tipi surrounded by three white crosses. The border of the seal features fourteen stars, which again represent the original tribal council members. The eight white stars across the top of the map outline represent the new tribal council members8. There are now around 5,000 Southern Cheyenne that live in Oklahoma, mostly on or near the Concho Reservation. They share this reservation with the Southern Arapaho tribe1.