Native History: Chief Little Wolf Surrenders, Establishes Reservation
The band longed to return home. In the book, Sweet Medicine, author Peter Powell reported, “An old northern woman, dying of malaria, whispered, ‘Up north the pines make a rustling sound in the wind, and the trees smell good.’ Then she fell back and died.”
By September 1878, many could no longer endure the situation, and of the 284 people who chose to leave, almost 200 were women and children, with less than 90 warriors. While Little Wolf would carry the Sweet Medicine bundle, many of the other important medicine people chose to remain, leaving those who would go with many concerns for their safety, Powell wrote.
Little Wolf was described in The Fighting Cheyennes by George Bird Grinnell, as “the military architect of the Cheyenne Exodus,” but he was also the carrier of the sacred Sweet Medicine bundle, so it was also important that he strive to maintain peaceful relations.
Powell wrote, “Among medicine chiefs, it was the Sweet Medicine Chief whose position was the most sacred. His seat represented the heart of the world. Among some Cheyennes his office was considered to be the holiest in the tribe, carrying the root that represented Sweet Medicine himself.”
Two days after the Northern Cheyenne left Indian Territory, an Arapaho scout arrived, preceding an attack by cavalry troops, calling Little Wolf to come back to Indian Territory. The scout promised the safety and well being of his people, but Little Wolf said he would not fight, but that they would be returning to their homelands in Montana.
Over the remainder of the trip, the Northern Cheyenne suffered attacks by soldiers, and themselves made raids upon horses and cattle to provide food for the trip. Little Wolf told his warriors to fight the soldiers, but not to attack first or attack civilians.
In one instance Powell wrote that soldiers attacked in force, but “Little Wolf was said to have calmly sat smoking his pipe, his medicine bundle under his arm.” He told his warriors, “Do not get excited. Keep cool and listen to what I say to you.”
Tangle Hair, a dog soldier said about the incident, “Little Wolf did not seem like a human being. … He seemed without fear.” Later that night, Little Wolf again urged the people to avoid fighting as much as possible, “Or we may all be killed. We must all go faster,” he is quoted in the book, Sweet Medicine.
Keeping the young men of the tribe in line was not easy. Eager to count coup, and angry at their situation, they were less interested in peace and killed settlers along the way, taking horses, guns, cattle, blankets, and other goods. Little Wolf was unhappy but was unable to stop them, Powell wrote.
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