The life of Dull Knife, the
Cheyenne, is a true hero tale. Simple, child-like
yet manful, and devoid of selfish aims, or love of gain, he is a pattern for
heroes of any race.
Dull Knife was a chief of the old school. Among all the
Indians of the plains, nothing counts save proven worth. A man's
caliber is measured by his courage, unselfishness and intelligence.
Many writers confuse history with fiction, but in Indian history
their women and old men and even children witness the main events,
and not being absorbed in daily papers and magazines, these events
are rehearsed over and over with few variations. Though orally
preserved, their accounts are therefore accurate. But they have
seldom been willing to give
|reliable information to strangers,
especially when asked and paid for.
Racial prejudice naturally enters into the account of a man's life by enemy
writers, while one is likely to favor his own race. I am conscious that many
readers may think that I have idealized the Indian. Therefore I will confess now
that we have too many weak and unprincipled men among us. When I speak of the
Indian hero, I do not forget the mongrel in spirit, false to the ideals of his
people. Our trustfulness has been our weakness, and when the vices of
civilization were added to our own, we fell heavily.
It is said that Dull Knife as a boy was resourceful and self-reliant. He was
only nine years old when his family was separated from the rest of the tribe
while on a buffalo hunt. His father was away and his mother busy, and he was
playing with his little sister on the banks of a stream, when a large herd of
buffalo swept down upon them on a stampede for water. His mother climbed a tree,
but the little boy led his sister into an old beaver house whose entrance was
above water, and here they remained in shelter until the buffalo passed and they
were found by their distracted parents.
Dull Knife was quite a youth when his tribe was caught one winter in a region
devoid of game, and threatened with starvation. The situation was made worse by
heavy storms, but he secured help and led a relief party a hundred and fifty
miles, carrying bales of dried buffalo meat on pack horses.
Another exploit that made him dear to his people occurred in battle, when his
brother-in-law was severely wounded and left lying where no one on either side
dared to approach him. As soon as Dull Knife heard of it he got on a fresh
horse, and made so daring a charge that others joined him; thus under cover of
their fire he rescued his brother-in-law, and in so doing was wounded twice.
The Sioux knew him as a man of high type, perhaps not so brilliant as
and Two Moon, but surpassing both in honesty and simplicity, as well as in his
war record. (Two Moon, in fact, was never a leader of his people, and became
distinguished only in wars with the whites during the period of revolt.) A story
is told of an ancestor of the same name that illustrates well the spirit of the
It was the custom in those days for the older men to walk ahead of the moving
caravan and decide upon all halts and camping places. One day the councilors
came to a grove of wild cherries covered with ripe fruit, and they stopped at
once. Suddenly a grizzly charged from the thicket. The men yelped and hooted,
but the bear was not to be bluffed. He knocked down the first warrior who dared
to face him and dragged his victim into the bushes.
The whole caravan was in the wildest excitement. Several of the swiftest-footed
warriors charged the bear, to bring him out into the open, while the women and
dogs made all the noise they could. The bear accepted the challenge, and as he
did so, the man whom they had supposed dead came running from the opposite end
of the thicket. The Indians were delighted, and especially so when in the midst
of their cheers, the man stopped running for his life and began to sing a Brave
Heart song as he approached the grove with his butcher knife in his hand. He
would dare his enemy again!
The grizzly met him with a tremendous rush, and they went down together.
Instantly the bear began to utter cries of distress, and at the same time the
knife flashed, and he rolled over dead. The warrior was too quick for the
animal; he first bit his sensitive nose to distract his attention, and then used
the knife to stab him to the heart. He fought many battles with knives
thereafter and claimed that the spirit of the bear gave him success. On one
occasion, however, the enemy had a strong buffalo-hide shield which the Cheyenne
bear fighter could not pierce through, and he was wounded; nevertheless he
managed to dispatch his foe. It was from this incident that he received the name
of Dull Knife, which was handed down to his descendant.
As is well known, the Northern
Cheyenne uncompromisingly supported the Sioux in
their desperate defense of the Black Hills and Big Horn country. Why not? It was
their last buffalo region their subsistence. It was what our wheat fields are
to a civilized nation.
About the year 1875, a propaganda was started for confining all the Indians upon
reservations, where they would be practically interned or imprisoned, regardless
of their possessions and rights. The men who were the strongest advocates of the
scheme generally wanted the Indians' property the one main cause back of all
Indian wars. From the warlike
Apache to the peaceful
Nez Percé, all the tribes
of the plains were hunted from place to place; then the government resorted to
peace negotiations, but always with an army at hand to coerce. Once disarmed and
helpless, they were to be taken under military guard to the Indian Territory.
A few resisted, and declared they would fight to the death rather than go. Among
these were the Sioux, but nearly all the smaller tribes were deported against
their wishes. Of course those Indians who came from a mountainous and cold
country suffered severely. The moist heat and malaria decimated the exiles.
Chief Joseph of the Nez
Percé and Chief Standing Bear of the
Ponca appealed to
the people of the United States, and finally succeeded in having their bands or
the remnant of them returned to their own part of the country. Dull Knife was
not successful in his plea, and the story of his flight is one of poignant
He was regarded by the authorities as a dangerous man, and with his depleted
band was taken to the Indian Territory without his consent in 1876. When he
realized that his people were dying like sheep, he was deeply moved. He called
them together. Every man and woman declared that they would rather die in their
own country than stay there longer, and they resolved to flee to their northern
Here again was displayed the genius of these people. From the Indian Territory
to Dakota is no short dash for freedom. They knew what they were facing. Their
line of flight lay through a settled country and they would be closely pursued
by the army. No sooner had they started than the telegraph wires sang one song:
"The panther of the Cheyenne is at large. Not a child or a woman in Kansas or
Nebraska is safe." Yet they evaded all the pursuing and intercepting troops and
reached their native soil. The strain was terrible, the hardship great, and Dull
Knife, like Joseph, was remarkable for his self-restraint in sparing those who
came within his power on the way.
But fate was against him, for there were those looking for blood money who
betrayed him when he thought he was among friends. His people were tired out and
famished when they were surrounded and taken to Fort Robinson. There the men
were put in prison, and their wives guarded in camp. They were allowed to visit
their men on certain days. Many of them had lost everything; there were but a
few who had even one child left. They were heartbroken.
These despairing women appealed to their husbands to die fighting: their liberty
was gone, their homes broken up, and only slavery and gradual extinction in
sight. At last Dull Knife listened. He said: "I have lived my life. I am ready."
The others agreed. "If our women are willing to die with us, who is there to say
no? If we are to do the deeds of men, it rests with you women to bring us our
As they had been allowed to carry moccasins and other things to the men, so they
contrived to take in some guns and knives under this disguise. The plan was to
kill the sentinels and run to the nearest natural trench, there to make their
last stand. The women and children were to join them. This arrangement was
carried out. Not every brave had a gun, but all had agreed to die together. They
fought till their small store of ammunition was exhausted, then exposed their
broad chests for a target, and the mothers even held up their little ones to be
shot. Thus died the fighting Cheyenne and their dauntless leader.
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