Cheyenne Dog Soldiers: The controversial warriors

Cheyenne Dog Soldiers: The Controversial warriors

Hello all!

How are you all doing on this Sunday afternoon? Here, on the West Coast, clouds are looming

Cheyenne Dog Soldier by James Bama

Cheyenne Dog Soldier by James Bama

and it is thus the perfect afternoon to be writing on my site 🙂 Over the past months, I have come across some paintings, by artist James Bama among others. If you follow my Facebook page, you would have seen some of those paintings. I was intrigued by one of those paintings titled Cheyenne Dog Soldier  so I began researching the topic of Dog Soldiers. What I found was a story of warriors who came together to help their people. However, the story is not as black and white as that. Whereas some would consider them heroes, some would consider them a military group whose power got the best of them. Which one is it? Well let’s start from the beginning and look at the story of the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers.

The Cheyenne and their societies

The Cheyenne people, a Plains tribe, were known to hold their own against even the fiercest of opponents. They had the fight in them and stood their ground. As with other Plains tribes, they were organized into societies with their own rules, privileges and duties. Each had their own songs and dances that distinguished them. The Dog Soldiers society was one of six military societies of the Cheyenne Indians. Beginning in the early 1800’s, this society played an important role in Cheyenne resistance (as I said they had the fight in them) to American expansion in Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming, where the Cheyenne had settled in the early 19th Century.

The formation of the Dog Soldiers society

The Cheyenne Dog Soldiers society was a “military” society put in place to regulate the members of the tribe, to regulate social problems among the tribe such as theft and murder. The oral tradition says that Sweet Medicine, the Cheyenne’s cultural hero, wished to find a solution to those problems. Thus he went into Black Hills country (yes the same Black Hills that the US government wants to currently take over from the Indigenous people of the land) to find answers. He then encountered a group of older men and women who told him that to solve the Cheyenne’s problem, a “good government” needed to be put into place. And this good government had to be formed of a council of 44 chiefs. Further, military societies had to be formed to provide policing and protection. So eventually, six military societies were formed including the Dog Soldiers. The Dog Soldiers rose among their peers to a position of prominence and power. They aimed to train their members and preserve traditions.

Cheyenne Dog Soldier

Another version of the beginnings of the Dog Soldiers and how they came into their name is the following. A young man without any influence, but chosen by the Great Prophet, tried to rally some of his companions to form a society. As no one would listen to him in the camp circle, he became sad, prayed to the Great Prophet and began singing at sunset. As the people fell asleep in their lodges, the dogs, small and big, howled and whined as the man sang. As he left the camp circle, all the dogs followed him, as he sang four times before reaching his destination at sunrise. He then sat by a tree facing north and all the dogs immediately went in front of him in a semi-circle. As they laid their heads down, a lodge suddenly sprang up around the man. As the dogs entered the lodge, they became humans dressed like the Dog Soldiers. The young man listened and watched as the Dog Men began to sing and dance their own music. The Dog Men blessed the man promising him that his wishes would become reality. The next day as he asked again who wanted to form a society, hundreds joined and he directed them to sing and dance like the Dog Men. Both versions of the formation of the Dog Soldiers are encountered in the oral tradition. I think the main point of both versions is that the society was there to protect using their own traditions, duties and privileges. Let’s then look at what they were

The Dog Soldiers traditions

It is said that each society, the Dog Soldiers included, had their own symbols, dances, songs and traditions. In regard to their outfits, the Dog Soldiers wore not only a whistle made of bird (typically an eagle) bone but also a belt made of four skunk skins. They carried a bow and arrow and a rattle shaped like a snake to accompany their songs. Further, the four bravest leaders in battle wore a dog rope (sashes made of tanned skin) across their chest. The sash passed over the right shoulder and hung to the ground under the left arm and was decorated with porcupine quills and eagle feathers. Tradition says that to each dog rope was attached a picket-pin (the kind you would use to secure a horse to the ground). While in combat, the pin was put into the ground as a sign of perseverance and standing one’s ground. The soldier was then effectively staked to the ground and could not move. They would do that in battle to allow their brothers’ safe retreat. The Dog Soldiers had to remain there in place until every one reached safety or someone relieved them. Even if it meant death. The Cheyenne tall and proud.

Dog Men

Dog Men

Those men were there to not only keep peace but also to guide their companions. For example, in the battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, when the Cheyenne joined the Lakota Sioux against General Custer, it is said that the Dog Soldiers advised the rest of the troops to stand down until the white man attacked. They told the troops to stay put patrolling the grounds making sure no one took it upon themselves to go after the white man first. Why? For the welfare of the whole group, for the welfare of the people. So they stood united. And as we know the strategy worked as Custer decided to attack even though he was unprepared and outnumbered, thus fighting his last battle.

However, power can get to one’s head…..

However, probably like in any other military societies, power got the best of some of the Dog Soldiers. Although individual punishment was not approved or sanctioned, some soldiers took it upon themselves to enforce rules furiously. Due some of their actions, and at times, what seemed like abuse of power, some of the Dog Soldiers (who had been led by Porcupine Bear, were ostracized from their village and tribe. They then became governed by their own band chiefs and lived outside of the main camp. The Dog Soldiers camp became independent from the main camp and new recruits understood they would have to move from the main camp. Seen as more extremists than before, the Dog Soldiers began attracting the more militant of the warriors fighting for the land and their boundaries.

By the 1860’s, Cheyenne Dog Soldiers and some of the Lakota warriors had joined forces Dog Soldier(working together in the Battle of Little Bighorn as previously stated). Together, they became more persistent and defiant. Some warriors also decided to go against the majority of the Cheyennes by opposing the civil chiefs who wished for peace. The Dog Soldiers had prestige and strength and often chose war over peace. The rest of the tribe often following suit. This led to many conflicts among their own people, with the Cheyenne people who wished for peace. Tribes were divided and the Dog Soldiers somewhat lost sight of their original mission: to think of the welfare of the whole group. 

The legacy of the Dog Soldiers

Nonetheless, the Dog Soldiers remain figures that one looks up to in the oral tradition. They remain a form of heroes, even though they became separate from the Cheyenne. They remain respected and revered.

Indeed, though the Dog Soldiers never approached the political and military power they once had, they remained revered by other Cheyenne. Respect is given to the society still today. Young Cheyenne are still recruited into this soldier clan. During the twentieth century, Dog Soldiers also served with the United States military in World War I and II and in the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf region. The image of the brave Dog Soldier carries on.

White Horse-1895

White Horse, Southern Cheyenne Dog Soldier leader-1895

So in the end, the Dog Soldiers had the right intentions: to keep the peace and to attend to the welfare of the whole group. They were brave men who stood their ground, and were not afraid to fight for what they had (or to keep what they had). However, power can be attractive (it is said to be an acquired need) and the story of the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers is an example. Nonetheless, a group that still commands respect for their bravery. I leave you with a short video showing the beauty of the Cheyenne people. Enjoy!

Had you heard of the Dog Soldiers? What are your thoughts on them? Comment below and I will answer 🙂

All my Relations

 

 

45 thoughts on “Cheyenne Dog Soldiers: The controversial warriors

  1. Marilyn

    Hi Emily, Your post is enlightening. I have never heard abut the Dog Soldiers before. However I am glad you wrote the story so I could find out about them. I applaud their tenacity to fight for their life and heritage. I have a small portion of Indian heritage. But I am Cherokee from the south east. Regardless of the tribe, I have always sought to learn more about the Native American. Thanks for sharing.
    Marilyn

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Marilyn!
      You are carrying the blood of the ancestors, no matter which tribe they came from. The memories, the stories, the knowledge.

      Reply
  2. Camille

    What a great story! I have never heard of the Dog Soldiers before only of the Cheyenne. What a great example of all cultures needing a group for protection and to ensure that their beliefs, land and people thrive. The story is also a great example of the Cheyenne people who wished for peace working side by side with Dog Soldiers when they did not attack first and waited for General Custer to pursue them too early and as a result making it his last stand. I like the way you broke down the story and included how the Dog Soldiers are still helping to this day! I will be sure to check back for new material that I can share with my family!

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      thanks for your kind comment Camille!
      The Dog Soldiers had a wonderful mission, to keep the people united and peaceful. They got sidetracked at some point (well some of them) but their intentions were honorable.

      Reply
  3. Tara

    I just want to say I enjoy reading your posts I’ve always had interest in Native American heritage . Up until visiting this post I had never heard about the dog soldiers. My opinion on them is that they only human some people have the tendency to go over board when the power gets to them.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Tara
      yes they were human beings trying the best that they could. They had a valid cause but sometimes power does get to one’s head.

      Reply
  4. Weston Brown

    Hey, nice story about the Cheyenne Indians and Dog Soldiers! It’s very informative, Native American culture is always interesting. They have so many mystical and magical beliefs/powers that many aren’t aware. What an interesting group of people. You have a nice site by the way! I like your background image.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Weston
      There are numerous beliefs within the Native culture, that might sound or look “mystical or magical” in today’s western society. But it really was not about magic. It was about believing that we are all related, animate and inanimate objects alike. We all have a wisdom to share.

      Reply
  5. DaisyB

    The stories of the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers is very intriguing. I have always been strongly drawn to the stories of the Cheyenne people. They are part of an amazing culture and heritage. Thanks so much for sharing your historic knowledge. It is much appreciated.

    Reply
  6. renelyn

    I like the history of Cheyenne dog soldiers. Are they still exist in this generation? I want to watch the movie if you have some link on it.
    I love their fashions style. I think that still exists in this generation they bring in this world the style of the accessories. That remind them, by their Tribe.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Renelyn
      Glad you enjoyed the story of the Dog Soldiers. They do still exist, maybe less so than before but they are there. Their fashion style was not really a style however. It was a way to keep the traditions alive and everything they wore had a meaning.

      Reply
      1. Ed

        Hi ya from Oz
        My own great grandfather and his wife were Bunjalung from the far north coast of New South Wales Australia and I am struck by the cultural similarities and fates shared by all indigenous peoples having the misfortune of their homelands being invaded by Europeans. The faces of those beautiful souls in your film brought tears to my eyes and I wonder what the world might be like if whites had been willing to share instead of take, to learn to love the land and the sky the rivers and trees as those who were already coexisting with nature could have shown them but I guess it’s hard to hear the voice of reason above the fury of gun fire.

        Reply
        1. Emily Post author

          hi Ed
          so nice to hear from you 🙂 You are very right, there are so many similarities between all the Indigenous people of the land. So much displacement, so much losses and so much pain and trauma. I also wonder sometimes what the world would be like if none of that had happened. It makes me sad

          Reply
  7. Kristie

    Hi Emily,
    I had never heard of the Cheyenne dog soldiers before today. What a very informative posts. Native Americans definitely had a bad deal when it came to American expansion. They Had to fight for every piece of land they had. It is a travesty. I love how they started their own governmental society. It seemed very fair and just. I love the artwork you included. I will have to check out more of his work.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Kristie!
      for sure lots of land was lost due to wars and the government not honoring treaties. And James Bama is a fantastic artist. I want all of his paintings!

      Reply
  8. Howie

    Such a cool story! Learned a ton of new things that I never knew and makes me want to know more. Brings that much more meaning to the accessories and clothing that people make and wear. I love things with meaning, passion and drive behind them. Such a great read!

    Reply
  9. Josh

    Awesome post, love the history. I had never heard of Dog Soldiers before, however it brings back memories when I lived on the Great Plains.

    Reply
  10. Johnathan Tarter

    This is a very enlightening and insightful post about this faction of warriors in the Native American culture! I have never heard of this group before but I am glad you have written about them in great detail since they are very interesting! I love learning about different types of groups and factions in every culture so thank you for sharing this information with all of us! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      thanks for visiting Johnathan!
      I am glad you enjoyed the info. The Dog Soldiers still exist today, although not as formally. It is definitively an interesting culture and group!

      Reply
  11. Carolyn

    Like everyone else who commented here, I didn’t know about the dog soldiers. This story commands respect of the natives legacy. Courageous and proud to defend their people and not attacking first for the good of all. Another great post that I enjoyed reading!

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Carolyn!
      yes they were there to think of the good of all people. To act as a group. It went sideways for a while but they were warriors to be respected.

      Reply
  12. Laura

    This story is really interesting! I had read of dog soldiers and that they protected the tribe. However, I never knew how they were formed or that their power went to their heads. I think there are many people in our government today that could learn a lesson or two from this story!

    Reply
  13. Tina

    Hi Emily. Like many readers, I have never heard of Dog Soldiers. I didn’t even know tribes have “military society. That sounds like law enforcement. Perhaps it’s because of television shows and movies that I thought all tribes live in peace among themselves. But fight or go to wars when their tribes are being threatened by outsiders.

    You have come up with detailed article after doing a thorough research. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      thanks Tina!
      The Dog Soldiers were used in the past to keep order and make sure that the well-being of all was preserved. There were fights and wars between tribes, usually over land. But mostly, the wars were with the white man and the government. With good cause.

      Reply
  14. Matthew

    What an interesting name, Dog Soldiers. Knowing little about native Americans before I hadn’t even heard of them. It is good they formed a society to protect their own culture though sad the human nature of greed for power took the better of them leading to warring.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Matthew!
      The name is for sure an interesting one. Their intentions were good and honorable and their work was also for the most part. But yes power can affect one’s judgment….

      Reply
  15. Peter

    What a great historical post on the Dog Soldiers. I think I saw a movie about them years ago. Up until that time I had never heard of them. They were fierce warriors and well respected within the Cheyenne Nation. Thanks for educating me through this post, I’m a better person today for reading it. Well done Emily!

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      thank you Peter for your comment! There is a movie about them indeed. I believe it is called Dog Men. They are revered and respected within the Cheyenne people. Rightfully so.

      Reply
    2. KAYALETU NCULA

      Hi Peter.Plz give me the name of the movie you watched on Dog Soldiers.I’d love to watch it too.Thanks.

      Reply
  16. Vince

    Hey Emily, this is very interesting I like how strong the dog soldiers are and how they form there own government. I also like how they try to keep the peace even through all the harsh times, I like the part where it says the dogs go into a lodge and turn into men. Really cool article Emily and Dog Soldiers just sounds cool.

    Reply
  17. Garen

    Hey Emily,

    I have heard of the dog soldiers before, but how would they deal with thieves or murderers? The dog soldiers were just one of the military societies of the Cheyenne. Do you know any of the other societies? I’ve been searching around the internet and can’t seem to find any of the other societies.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Garen
      I do believe I mentioned a few others in the article. Here are some: Kit-Fox Men (Woksihitaneo); Red Shields (Mahohivas); Crazy Dogs (Hotamimasaw); Crooked Lance Society (Himoiyoqis) to name a few.

      Reply
  18. RedElk

    Hi Emily, My Native name is RedElk. I am a direct descendant of a leader from the Dog men tribe. I know his name and it dates back to the early 1800’s My bloodline predates the RCMP here in Canada. My family is actually far bigger then the what you have researched. Glad to see there is so much known about the Dog men and Dog Soldier Society. Many people surely have much to learn from the Dog Men and the Dog Soldiers. We were the pinnacle of Aboriginal Society here in First Nations Country. I come from the Capital of the Red Peoples Country. There is a very huge Pow wow here every year. The Dog men are very alive and strong still our Traditions thrive and they are growing stronger everyday. We continue to run our Nation and its not apart of the Cheyenne Branch of my family, Mine is the main bloodline. Two Worlds, One Society, One People, One Nation. We are big. We have our own schools that teach our language, we have songs, we have art, we have food, we have buildings, medicines, weapons, and as you have found a very rich history and culture, The natives have never finished fighting for North America and we are still fighting very hard today, thankfully we have stopped killing to take our land back ha ha ha we are growing peacefully taking back what was once all of ours. I thought I would share that little update on my family because there has not been a single comment from my Nation or the Cheyenne Nation. Have you watched any of our dances yet? or met with any of our leaders? Congrats on the article, would love to hear back from you.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi RedElk
      thank you taking the time to read my article and comment from personal experience. Where are you located in Canada? You have such a rich family heritage. It is true that the battles might be less physical now but the battles are there nonetheless. The battles for the land, the rights, our lifegivers. By dances, do you mean Dog Soldiers dances specifically? If so, no I have not had the honor to see one. All my Relations

      Reply
  19. Darcy

    Adding confusion to the Dog Soldier Society , where and when did this originally begin? I am Cree from Canada and have been told it originated here and then it was taken south to the Cheyenne .. lots of confusion as I have been looked up to and have directed many in this … also have been questioned of the Dog Soldier … so with little help and how does one get initiated into thsi group …as I have been looked uo to and have been asked many times how does one join and i have no answers for this …is there still such a society and if not why? there should be one as there is a grassdance society … you can find me on facebook and the group i made is called Dogsoldier Brothers.. ..

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Darcy
      I think I have explained how the society was formed. As far as I know it originates from the Cheyenne people. I am unsure if the society still exists in our modern day society. At least if it is still active. If so, I would think it is underground.

      Reply
  20. Bryan Gilson

    An excellent story, I just read. Yes, I have heard of the Cheyenne Dog Soilders and I have followed every article in reference to them the last 30 years. They were a amazing group of people who stood their ground unfortunately they lost to the white people.. Which makes me sad.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Bryan
      thank you so much for reading my article. The Dog Soldiers were an amazing group of warriors for a good cause: the well being of their people. It is sad that they are in existence anymore.

      Reply
  21. Kit

    The term for dog soldiers were given to them by those that they opposed. They were actually called Dog Men. A great movie to watch is The Last of the Dog Men.
    Very few photos exist of the original Dog Men. A truly interesting society. Thank you for the history on them.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Kit
      thanks for stopping by. You are absolutely right that they were called the Dog Men. I will look up the movie as they were a great society.

      Reply

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