His brother had always teased him about the sharpness of his hunting knife, and before long the nickname was how he came to be remembered. Morning Star (Wo*he hip in Cheyenne) was his real Cheyenne name. Though he was a member of the Dog Soldiers, a Cheyenne warrior society, Morning Star was honored and trusted more for his wisdom in counsel than for his abilities as a fighter. He was born in the 1820s and died in Montana Territory in 1883. That was five years after he was involved in the bloody breakout from Fort Robinson that came on the heels of the Northern Cheyennes’ long odyssey from Indian Territory (Oklahoma) back to their homeland.
During research for my book, Stoneheart’s Woman, I learned much of the history of the Beautiful people of the Northern Cheyenne, especially with Morning Star and Little Wolf, who led the people from Oklahoma back to their homeland. It was a ghastly trip, on foot, men, women and children, while soldiers pursued picking off whoever strayed from the group. Keep in mind that in November, 1876, about 200 of these people had survived an attack led by Ronald S. Mackenzie leading 1300 soldiers and several hundred Pawnee and Bannock Indian auxiliaries. One of Dull Knife’s sons, Young Bird, was said to be the first person killed when he tried to warn the sleeping village.
In September, 1878 about 300 Northern Cheyenne, led by
, left Indian Territory when illness struck there. They were trying to avoid soldiers and make it home.
Once in Nebraska, they split into two groups. Some of them, led by Little Wolf, made it to Montana—an amazing 1,500- mile journey from Indian Territory. Others, nearly 150 women and children, were led by Dull Knife to what he thought was still the Red Cloud Agency and Camp Robinson. He hoped to get help from his friend Sioux Chief Red Cloud. Unbeknownst to Dull Knife, the government had moved the Red Cloud Agency farther north into Dakota Territory. Instead of finding protection with the Sioux, Dull Knife’s band found soldiers.
In late October, Dull Knife and friends were taken as prisoners to the newly renamed Fort Robinson. Initially they were treated well. They had shelter in the barracks and enough food to eat. But then disturbing orders came from Washington. The prisoners were to be returned to Indian Territory. It didn’t matter that one of the coldest, snowiest winters on record had slammed down on the Sandhills. Move ’em now, the orders read.
The Cheyenne refused to go. The commander at Fort Robinson, Captain Henry Wessells, then issued inhumane orders. Until they agreed to return south men, women and children would be held captives in the barracks without heat, food and water, or facilities. Starving and unarmed, these people chose their way. They would rather be killed trying to go home than to return to the hated Indian Territory.
The breakout in January, of 1879 resulted in Wessells ordering the mindless slaughter of men, women and children. Some men killed their families rather than let them be captured and returned down south. They fought with handmade knives and clubs. All they wanted was to go home to the land of the Yellowstone. And despite the hardships of battle and weather, some of them made it. Their descendants live today on a reservation in Montana.
If you want a good look at the Northern Cheyenne, read Craig Johnson’s Longmire series. Set in that area, he has a deep understanding of the Beautiful People and weaves their stories and beliefs throughout his tales of a sheriff who keeps Absaroka county lawful.