dog soldiers were the elite military organizations in the tribe. They
were the last line of defense for the people. And so they were greatly
esteemed. The warriors in the society were outfitted with a particular
sash, which trailed the ground. And each
member carried a sacred arrow. And in time of battle, the dog soldier
would impale the sash to the ground and stand the ground to the death.
They had a song which only the members could sing, and only in the face
of death. So you can imagine, that children, when they saw a dog soldier
go by, must have just -- Ahhh, wow! Look at that guy, he's a dog soldier!"
According to Cheyenne tradition, there was once a prophet named Sweet Medicine who taught his people how to conduct themselves. He set up a council of 44 chiefs to speak for all the Cheyenne, and presented them with four Sacred Arrows, two to subdue their human enemies, two to make the buffalo fall before them.
And he brought them a warning: strangers called "Earth Men" would one day appear among them, light-skinned, speaking an unknown tongue. And with them would come a strange animal that would change the Cheyenne way of life -- and that of every other Indian people -- forever.
It was the horse.
Apache and Navajo raiders got them first, but when the Spanish were driven out of New Mexico, the thousands of horses they left behind spread across the West. By the 1690s, the horse was being used by tribes of the Southern plains. By 1700, it had transformed the lives of the Kiowa and Comanche, along the eastern foothills of the Rockies. At the same time, the horse reached the Shoshone and Bannocks in what is now Idaho. The Nez PercÚ stole some from them, and soon had herds that numbered in the thousands in the lush Wallowa Valley of the Pacific Northwest.
must have been the realization of an ancient dream to be elevated, to
be severed from the earth, cut free. What a sense of life that must have
been, different from anything they'd ever known. With the horse, their
ancient nomadism was realized to the fullest extent, and they had conquered
their oldest enemy, which was distance."
The Great Plains now became a crowded meeting ground for some thirty tribes drawn from every direction, and the horse became the most precious symbol of wealth and prestige -- a valuable prize to steal from your enemies and a faster way to reach them. A man's bravery was measured by the size of his horse herd and by the number of times he had physically touched an enemy in battle -- called "counting coup."
the horse, life must have been hard. A person would have to give virtually
every hour of his waking time to solving the simple problem of survival.
But with the horse, a hunter could acquire enough food in one day to last
him months. He was suddenly given a margin of freedom that he could never
have imagined. And so what he did with it, of course, was to celebrate
it in terms of the warrior ideal: "Now I have leisure. I can go and hunt,
and I can -- I can visit my enemies and count coup. I can be brave and
I can attain glory."
man could not even court a girl unless he had proved his courage. That
was one reason so many were anxious to win good war records.... They were
all afraid of what people, and especially the women, would say if they
were cowardly. The women even had a song they would sing about a man whose
courage had failed him: "If you are afraid when you charge, turn back.
The Desert Women will eat you." ...It was hard to go into a fight, and
they were often afraid, but it was worse to turn back and face the women.
as the Lakota woman four generations ago, would have cut off the arms
and the legs and heads of the enemies that my husband killed, and I would
have put them on a stick, and I would have paraded them in the scalp dance
that evening when we honored our men."
the horses get together they make a lot of dust, and when they 'd see
this, why they knew that they were coming back from a hunt or a fight....
Then they danced, all jolly and happy after they fed their warriors, and
everybody spruced up and got out, and they had a big victory dance. That's
when women all get in a line and dance around."
On the southern Plains, the Comanches began driving the Apaches out of the grasslands and into the deserts and mountains of New Mexico. In the north, the Lakota -- or the Sioux, as some of their enemies would later call them -- pressed westward, pushing the Cheyenne ahead of them and displacing other tribes as they expanded across the Missouri. "There was always fighting going on somewhere," said one Crow woman. "We sometimes tried to keep our men from going to war, but this was like talking to winter-winds."
And with this increased contact among tribes came a wave of epidemics. Smallpox, cholera, tuberculosis, measles, diptheria -- European diseases against which they had no immunity -- now raced from people to people.
was a total holocaust. And it wasn't the cavalry. It was a series of pandemics
that wiped out most Indian people before Europeans ever encountered them."
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