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Cheyenne Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Cheyenne Indian tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our Cheyenne language and culture pages for more in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Cheyenne pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.




   Cheyenne Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Cheyenne"? What does it mean?
Cheyenne is pronounced "Shy-ANN." It comes from the Dakota Sioux name for the Cheyennes, Šahiyenan, which may mean "relatives of the Cree." The name "Cheyenne" has been spelled many different ways, including Cheyanne, Chyenne, Sheyenne, Sheyanne, and Shyanne. But in their own language, the Cheyenne call themselves Tsitsistas, "the people."

The capital of Wyoming is named after the Cheyenne tribe, and so are the Cheyenne River (in Wyoming and South Dakota) and the Sheyenne River (in North Dakota.)

Where do the Cheyennes live?
The Cheyenne Indians were far-ranging people, especially once they acquired horses. By the time the Americans met them they were living on the Great Plains in what is now South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas. The US government forced the Cheyennes to move to Oklahoma during the 1800's, but some escaped and fled north into Montana. Today there are two Cheyenne tribes, one in Oklahoma and the other in Montana. Here is a map of Montana's reservations.

How is the Cheyenne Indian nation organized?
The Cheyenne nation was split in half by American relocation. The Northern Cheyenne tribe lives in Montana, and the Southern Cheyenne share a tribe with their allies the Southern Arapaho in Oklahoma. Like most Native American tribes, the Cheyenne tribes are autonomous. That means each tribe has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, only the Northern Cheyenne have their own reservation (land which belongs to them and is legally under their control.) The Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho live on trust lands or in Western Oklahoma towns.

In the past, the Cheyennes were led by a council of 44 chiefs, four from each band. The Cheyenne people really valued harmony, so every council member had to agree on a decision before action could be taken (this is called consensus.) Today, Cheyenne council members are popularly elected... but they still work by consensus.

What language do the Cheyennes speak?
Most Cheyenne people speak English today. Some of them, especially older people, also speak the Cheyenne language. Cheyenne is a musical language that has complicated verbs with many parts. Here is one website where you can hear Cheyenne being spoken and another with a Cheyenne photo glossary. Most Cheyenne words are very long and have vowels that are difficult for English speakers to pronounce, but one easy word that you might like to learn is "Epeva'e" (pronounced similar to "eh-peh-va,") which means "It is good!"

What was Cheyenne culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. On their site you can find information about the Southern Cheyenne people in the past and today.

How do Cheyenne Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Cheyenne children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian boys and girls had more chores and less time to play in their daily lives, just like colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys, and games to play. Here is a picture of a hoop game enjoyed by Cheyenne kids. Lacrosse was also a popular sport among teenagers. A Cheyenne mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradle board on her back--a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

What were Cheyenne men and women's roles?
Cheyenne women were in charge of the home. Besides cooking and cleaning, a Cheyenne woman built her family's house and dragged the heavy posts with her whenever the tribe moved. Houses belonged to the women in the Cheyenne tribe. Men were hunters and warriors, responsible for feeding and defending their families. A woman might occasionally become a hunter or warrior, but a Cheyenne chief was always male. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

What were Cheyenne homes like in the past?
Originally the Cheyennes lived in settled villages of earthen lodges and birchbark wigwams. As their life style became more nomadic, they began to use buffalo-hide houses called tipis (or teepees). Here are some teepee pictures. Since the Cheyenne tribe moved frequently to follow the buffalo herds, a tipi had to be carefully designed to set up and break down quickly, like a modern tent. An entire Cheyenne village could be packed up and ready to move on within an hour.

Today, Native Americans only put up a tepee for fun or to connect with their heritage, not for shelter. Most Cheyennes live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Cheyenne clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Cheyenne women wore long deerskin dresses, and men wore breechcloths with leather leggings. Later, Cheyenne men adopted the Plains war shirt worn by other Indians of this region. A Cheyenne lady's dress or warrior's shirt was fringed and often decorated with porcupine quills, shells, and elk teeth. Cheyenne men wore moccasins and women wore high fringed boots. Later, Cheyenne people adapted European costume such as cloth dresses and vests, which they decorated with quillwork and fancy beading. Here is a site about the symbolism of Plains Indian war shirts, and some photos and links about Indian clothing in general.

Cheyenne Indian leaders originally wore tall feather headdresses like the Blackfeet, but they soon began wearing the long warbonnets that Plains Indians are famous for. Here are some pictures of these Indian headdress styles. Cheyenne men wore their long hair in braids with a topknot or pompadour, and women wore their hair either loose or braided. Here is a website with pictures of these Indian hairstyles. The Cheyennes also painted their faces for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration.

Today, some Cheyenne people still have moccasins or a beaded dress, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear traditional regalia on special occasions like a wedding or a dance.

What was Cheyenne transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Cheyenne Indians weren't coastal people, and when they traveled by river, they usually built rafts. Originally the Cheyennes would use dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. Here is an article with dog travois pictures. Once Europeans introduced horses to North America, the Cheyennes could travel quicker and further, and began to migrate frequently to follow the buffalo herds.

What was Cheyenne food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Cheyennes were originally farming people, with the women harvesting corn, squash, and beans while the men hunted deer and buffalo. Once they acquired horses, the Cheyenne lifestyle became more migratory. They mostly gave up farming, and followed the buffalo herds as they moved across the plains. Unlike most Plains tribes, Cheyenne women took part in buffalo hunts along with men. They drove the buffalos towards the men, who shot them with their longbows. Here is a website with more information about North American Indian food.

Besides buffalo meat, Cheyenne Indians also liked to eat fish, fruit and berries, and corn that they bought from other tribes.

What were Cheyenne weapons and tools like in the past?
Cheyenne warriors used powerful bows and arrows, war clubs, spears, and hide shields. Here is a website with pictures and more information about American Indian weapons.

Who were the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers?
The Dog Soldiers were the most famous of the Cheyenne warrior societies. They were also known as the Dog Warriors or Dog Men. They had this name because of a Cheyenne legend about dogs who turned into fierce warriors. Cheyenne Dog Soldiers were especially brave and honorable. When he was defending a Cheyenne village, a Dog Soldier would stake his long belt to the ground, to show that he would not run away but would defend his people to the death.

What other Native Americans did the Cheyenne tribe interact with?
The Cheyennes traded regularly with other tribes of the Great Plains. Once they stopped farming, they especially liked to trade buffalo hides for tobacco and corn. The Cheyennes usually communicated with other Plains Indian tribes using the Plains Sign Language. Their closest allies were the Arapaho, with whom they often shared territory.

The Cheyenne also fought wars with other tribes. Plains Indian tribes treated war differently than European countries did. They didn't fight over territory but instead to prove their courage, and so Plains Indian war parties rarely fought to the death or destroyed each other's villages. Instead, their war customs included counting coup (touch an opponent in battle without harming him), stealing an enemy's weapon or horse, or forcing the other tribe's warriors to retreat. So the Cheyenne sometimes were enemies of neighboring tribes like the Sioux, Comanches, and Kiowas, and other times they were allies. The Europeans who first met them were surprised by how often the Cheyenne tribe fought with their neighbors, yet how easily they made peace with each other when they were done fighting.

What are Cheyenne arts and crafts like?
Cheyenne artists are famous for their fine quill embroidery, native beading, pipestone carving, and pottery. Here is a museum website with photographs of different Cheyenne art forms.

What kinds of stories do the Cheyennes tell?
There are lots of traditional Cheyenne legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Cheyenne Indian culture. Here is one story about a race among the animals.

What about Cheyenne religion?
Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about the Cheyenne sweat lodge or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
If you like historical novels, we recommend Cheyenne Autumn, a compelling story about the Northern Cheyenne people's flight to Montana. Younger kids may like the story Cheyenne Again, about a Cheyenne child's experiences at boarding school, or Death of the Iron Horse, the true story of Cheyenne warriors' fight with a train. If you want to know more about Cheyenne history and culture, a good source is The Cheyenne and Arapaho Ordeal, but because the Cheyennes were the victims of a terrible massacre in 1864, this and other books covering the 1800's may be too intense for younger kids. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American books in general.

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2013.

Thanks for your interest in the Cheyenne Indian people and their language!

Learn More About The Cheyennes

Chyenne Indian Tribe
An overview of the Cheyenne people, their language and history.

Cheyannes Language Resources
Cheyanne language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Cheyannes Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Cheyannes past and present.

Cheyenne Words
Cheyenne Indian vocabulary lists.



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