Tag Archives: Battle of Little Bighorn

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



Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull and General Custer

Chief Sitting Bull and General Armstrong Custer

Hello everyone

General Custer

General Custer

Today, I wish to share a bit of Native American history with you, as I believe it is important to know where we are from to know where we are going. Lots of great chiefs fought to keep their land, so that the land of their people would remain theirs. They fought as best as they could for the right to live, to practice their traditions and to fish and hunt on their land. One major opponent to the Native Americans was General Custer.

General Custer (1839-1876)

One name that is somewhat well-known in Native history is General Custer, a military commander who led the Battle of Little BigHorn, which is known as Custer’s Last Stand. Custer was born in Monroe, Michigan in 1839. Even if he struggled throughout his schooling (he finished last in his class at West Point Academy) and presented with a rebellious streak, Custer excelled during the Civil War in 1861. He presented with good luck throughout the war, avoiding injury, in a gift he came to call “Custer’s luck”.

His excellence at directing cavalry and troops during his first battle, Battle of Bull Run, earned him recognition. He was known as the young general who wore red neckties on the battlefield and he seemed destined for a great destiny. The “Boy General” is said to have played a part in the end of the Civil War in 1865. General Custer and his wife Libbie, seemed destined for a successful life.

Years following the Civil War and Battle of Little Bighorn

Following the Civil War, General Custer became known for his battles against the Native General CusterAmericans. One of the objectives then became to defeat the Cheyenne and Lakota Indians to possess more land. In 1876, the US government ordered an attack on the Lakota, an attack involving three separate forces, one of them led by General Custer. Unfortunately, the force led by Custer arrived early. However, in a brazen move, General Custer ordered his men to go ahead and invade a large Indian village on June 25. General Custer further ordered his troop of men to divide in three units. Against the rush of Lakota, Arapaho and Cheyenne warriors, they did not stand a chance. Custer and his men were killed, the battle being thus known as Custer’s Last Stand.

Native mistress?



Although it was never fully proven, the legend has it that General Custer had a sexual relationship with a young Cheyenne woman named Monahseetah in 1868. At the age of 17, she was taken captive by Custer’s men in a battle known as the Battle of Washita River. Her father, Chief Little Rock, was killed in that same battle. Further, according to the Cheyenne oral history, Monahseetah had a son in January of 1869 and gave birth to a second son fathered by Custer later in the same year. Pictures of Monahseetah are hard to find, but you can see her on the right.

Custer’s opponent: Chief Sitting Bull (1831-1890)

Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull

Chief Sitting Bull was sitting on the other side of the attack during the Battle of Little Bighorn. Indeed, Sitting Bull, a Teton Dakota Indian chief, was Custer’s opponent. Ironically, he was hoping for peace to come out of the battle.

Sitting Bull, born in 1831 in what is now known as South Dakota, is one of the most well known Indian chiefs in history. However, early on, he did not show his father’s (Returns-Again) skills for warfare. He was then called “slow” as a result. Nonetheless, at age 10, he killed his first buffalo, and then four years later demonstrated some skills while fighting a rival clan. Over time, he became known as a defender of his people, fighting against the United Stated for the first time in 1863. His skills as a warrior and the respect he had earned, led him to become chief of the Lakota nation in 1868.

In the mid 1870’s, confrontation was inevitable when Sitting Bull refused to hand over his land to the American government. He defended his land to preserve his culture and also out of fate he believed awaited his people. Known as a Sundancer, Sitting Bull related a vision he had had when dancing. A vision in which the Natives defeated the American army. In 1876, he famously led thousand of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors to defeat General Custer and his men.

Sitting Bull after the Battle of Little Bighorn

The defeat in the Battle of Little Bighorn was an embarrassment for the American government. To escape the wrath of the government, Sitting Bull and his people, escaped to Canada, where they stayed for 4 years. At his return to the Dakota territory, Sitting Bull was held prisoner until 1883. Once free again, he lived his life in the traditional way, honoring his people’s way of life. He famously said: “I would rather die an Indian than live a white man”. He died in 1890 when authorities came to arrest him (the government fearing his influence). Gunshots were fired and Sitting Bull was shot in the head and killed. His remains were laid to rest in Fort Yates, North Dakota and were moved in 1953 to Mobridge, South Dakota.

sitting bull death

Chief Sitting Bull got his wish and died as an Indian, defending his people’s way of life until the end. A’Ho