Northern Cheyenne Exodus
Following the Battle of the Little Bighorn, attempts by the U.S. Army to capture the Cheyenne intensified. A group of 972 Cheyenne was escorted to Indian Territory in Oklahoma in 1877. The government intended to re-unite the Northern and Southern Cheyenne into one nation. There the conditions were dire; the Northern Cheyenne were not used to the climate and soon many became ill with malaria. In addition, the food rations were insufficient and of poor quality. In 1878, the two principal Chiefs, Little Wolf and Morning Star (Dull Knife) pressed for the release of the Cheyenne so they could travel back north. However, they were denied permission, so that same year the two men led a group of 353 Northern Cheyenne who left Indian Territory to travel back north. The Army and other civilian volunteers were in hot pursuit of the Cheyenne as they traveled north. It is estimated that a total of 13,000 Army soldiers and volunteers were sent to pursue the Cheyenne over the whole course of their journey north.
After crossing into Nebraska, the group split into two. One group was led by Little Wolf, and the other by Dull Knife. Little Wolf and his band made it back to Montana. Dull Knife and his band were captured and escorted to Fort Robinson, Nebraska and sequestered. They were ordered to return to Oklahoma but they refused. Conditions at the fort grew tense through the end of 1878 and soon the Cheyenne were confined to barracks with no food, water, or heat. In January 1879, Dull Knife and his group broke out of Ft. Robinson. Much of the group was gunned down as they ran away from the fort, and others were discovered near the fort during the following days and ordered to surrender but most of the escapees chose to fight because they would rather be killed than taken back into custody. It is estimated that only 50 survived the breakout, including Dull Knife. Several of the escapees later had to stand trial for the murders that had been committed in Kansas. The remains of those killed were repatriated in 1994.
Ultimately, the military gave up attempting to relocate the Northern Cheyenne in Oklahoma. The persistence of the Northern Cheyenne resulted in the creation of the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana.
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