The Cheyenne

Plains: Comanche, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Caddo, Wichita, Pawnee

Recorded and Edited by Willard Rhodes
Folk Music Of The United States Issued from the Collections of the Archive of American Folk Song L39
One of the westernmost tribes of the Algonquian family, the Cheyenne lived prior to 1700 in what is now the State of Minnesota. There they followed a sedentary life and cultivated the soil. Later they trekked westward, establishing villages along the Missouri River, where they began to take on some of the nomadic habits of the Plains tribes.

As they moved on to the Black Hills, they seem to have abandoned the raising of corn and the making of pottery and to have become typical buffalo-hunting Plains Indians. Prior to moving out onto the plains, the Cheyenne derived an important part of their food supply from the corn, beans, and squash which they cultivated. Fish and small animals such as rabbits and skunks added variety to their diet. Though the seasonal migrations of the buffalo made agriculture more difficult after they became buffalo hunters, it seems that they never completely abandoned the planting of crops except in years of war. Until 1876 they kept up their Corn Dance, in which a sacred ear of corn attached to a stick was carried by the woman leader of the dance.

After the building of Bent's Fort on the upper Arkansas in 1832, one group established itself near the fort, while the remainder continued to roam about the headwaters of the North Platte and the Yellowstone. By the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851, this separation in the tribe was made permanent, the two bands being known respectively as the Southern Cheyenne and the Northern Cheyenne. Some years later the Northern Cheyenne were assigned a reservation established for them on the Tongue River in Montana where their descendants live today. In 1867 the Southern Cheyenne, with their allies the Arapaho, were assigned a reservation in Indian Territory, but it was not until after the general surrender of 1875 that they were induced to remain on their reservation. In 1901-1902 the Southern Cheyenne were allotted their land in severalty, and the surplus reservation land (3,500,562 acres) was opened to white settlement on April 19, 1892.

In summing up his study of the Cheyenne, Dr. E. Adamson Hoebel wrote, "The Cheyenne stand out among the nomadic Indians of the Plains for their dignity, chastity, steadfast courage, and tightly structured, yet flexible, social organization-never a large tribe, they have held
their own with outstanding success. They have come to terms with their environment and themselves. "

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Native Words



Cheyenne War Dance Song Chief Red Bird The "Cheyenne War Dance Song," sung by Chief Red Bird, was recorded in Anadarko, Oklahoma, August 11, 1951, at which time the singer was seventy-five years old. Like the "Cheyenne Wolf song" that follows, sung by Prairie Flower (Mrs. Red Bird), it is limited to the singing of vocables. Cheyenne
Cheyenne Wolf Song Prairie Flower (Mrs. Red Bird) Wolf songs, said to have been learned from the wolves, are traveling songs and were formerly sung by scouts or young men when out looking for enemies. They were also sung by men when they were out on the prairie, alone, discouraged, and in a downhearted state. Many of the songs are love songs with references to the singer's sweetheart, and there are some supposedly sung by a girl, with words addressed to her lover. One wolf song invoked the protection of the Great Spirit with the following text: "Wherever I may go, it is good, for the Great Spirit is with me." The category of wolf songs is a broad one and admits considerable variety of content and function. Often they were sung by young men sitting on the hills near their village for no reason other than the beauty of the song and the aesthetic pleasure of singing. Cheyenne
Cheyenne Lullaby Mrs. Mary Inkinish This tender little lullaby, even though it invokes the bogeyman to induce the child to go to sleep, is suggestive of the affection with which Cheyenne parents regarded their children. With a tonal vocabulary of only four tones-E D C A-and a rhythm of childish simplicity, this song achieves a balance and completeness of form that is aesthetically satisfying.

The song is sung by Mrs. Mary Inkinish, a Cheyenne grandmother of seventy-five years when the song was recorded in Andarko, Oklahoma, August 1951. Though living a well-adjusted life in a culture and society that is distinctly white, Mrs. Inkinish recalls with fondness, nostalgia, and excited enthusiasm the days of her childhood when Cheyenne culture still functioned. The old songs, which Mrs. Inkinish recalls with sensitive feeling, for their beauty and significance, recreate for her a world that has passed away and that can only be revived in the memory. After singing the "Cheyenne Wolf Song," she said with deep emotion, "When I sing that song anywhere I just feel the spirit in me." (The "Cheyenne Wolf Song" may be heard on this record in the preceding selection, A6, sung by Mrs. Red Bird.)

The lullaby she sings was learned from her grandfather, who as a young man wanted to become a medicine man. He disciplined himself by fasting, rising early in the morning, and walking. One day he heard someone singing softly in a bush. It was a little bird singing this song which he received. He became a great doctor for children. Mrs. Inkinish said, "It belongs to us and his children."
Little child, go so sleep
Bogeyman is coming.
He is going to catch you
If you don't go to sleep.

In this brief recollection of childhood, Mrs. Inkinish reveals one of the Cheyenne techniques of child training. Though the method might be subject to criticism by contemporary educators and child psychologists, one can hardly fail to be impressed with the Cheyenne results, "They Mind."
Cheyenne Story Of The Bogeyman "When there's a gathering together at ceremonials, you know, getting so many parents
and the children, they try to keep the children inside. So the bogeyman he goes along all over the camp so he keep them in. Every tipi he stops and he sings this song to them-and they all line up standing and hold their hands for making horns, and the bogeyman, he was singing-
Mista Komena
Bogeyman is coming
Mista Komena
Bogeyman is coming
Mista Komena
Bogeyman is coming
Mista Komena
Bogeyman is coming

That's the way they use to, you know, they don't have to whip them or anything. They
Cheyenne Women's Social Dance Song Among the Cheyenne, women exercised a strong influence. Grinell states, "They discuss matters freely with their husbands, argue over points, persuade, cajole, and usually have their way about tribal matters. They are, in fact, the final authority in the camp." This description of the woman's position by a recognized authority counters the popular misunderstanding that regarded the Indian woman a drudge, a beast of burden, and the property of her husband. Such false notions have been superficially gained and perpetuated too long by travelers who have observed only the externals of a culture without being able to understand and share through active participation the inner life of a people. Like the men, the women had their societies which were highly respected and open only to those women
who could qualify.

The Women's Social Dance was one in which the woman had an opportunity to choose a male partner. With short gliding steps, they would approach the man of their choice and touch his foot with theirs. Words were unnecessary. This was an invitation to accompany the woman onto the dance ground.

I was unable to obtain a detailed description of this dance. it appears that this dance is much like Grinell's description of the fourth dance of the Scalp Dance, "the slippery dance," in which the young men were held by their sweethearts until the men's sisters had presented to the sweethearts a ring or a bracelet. This process was called "setting them free."