Plains Native Americans - Cheyenne Illustration

The Cheyenne
Native Americans
in Olden Times for Kids

The Cheyenne once lived all over the Great Plains region. The Cheyenne had a central council. The council was make up of 44 chiefs, one from each Cheyenne band. When something important was decided, there had to be 100% agreement before an action could be taken. That meant every council member had to agree. When the Cheyenne did something, they did it together as one people.

In olden times, Cheyenne mothers carried their young children in cradleboards on their backs. The girls helped their mothers with the weaving and cooking and care of the family. The boys went hunting with their fathers. But there was always time for play in the Cheyenne world. Kids played with dolls and hoops. They played lacrosse.

Their clothing was beautiful. The women wore long deerskin dresses and high leather fringed boots. They men wore breechcloths, leather leggings, and moccasins. Everything was designed with quill work. Both men and women wore their hair braided. Sometimes the women would let their hair hang loose. They painted their faces, but only for special occasions. They used different patterns for war and holidays.

The Cheyenne were very generous with the position of women in the tribe. Only men could be chiefs, but both men and women could be storytellers, artists, musicians, and medicine givers.

Cheyenne religion is centered around two objects - the sacred hat and the sacred arrow. Their religion was very complicated.

The Cheyenne followed the buffalo. When the buffalo moved, so did they. Everything in their lives was designed to be able to quickly move. An entire village could be packed up and moved in just a few hours. The women were in charge of hauling the heavy posts and huge buffalo hides that used to create the teepees. The men guarded the women and children, and hunted for food on the trip to a new home for the night or the week.

Unlike other tribes, some women took part in the buffalo hunts. The women would drive the buffalo towards the men with shouts, while waving their arms and pieces of brightly colored fabric, to scare the buffalo into a specific direction. The men were waiting with longbows for the buffalo to run their way.

At first, Cheyenne chiefs and other leaders wore tall feather headdresses, but they switched over to the long war bonnets that most Plains Native Americans used.

The Cheyenne used dogs to drag sleds filled with their belongings. They were great traders. They did not plant crops. Rather, they traded skins for corn and tobacco and other items with other Plains tribes.

The Cheyenne were warriors, not farmers. They had many warrior societies. The most famous is probably the Cheyenne Dog Men. These warriors would not run away. They defended to the death.

One of their war customs for all warriors was called counting coup. Coup was a point system that gave individual warriors points for touching an enemy (or an opponent if they were playing war games) in battle without harming them. There were points for stealing an enemy's horse or forcing an enemy to retreat. There were points for just about everything that had to do with their enemy and their personal actions in battle.

Counting coup was very typical of the Cheyenne. They loved games. To the Cheyenne, the activity of war was fun. The Cheyenne would fight easily. They were always looking for more "coup". They fought other tribes all the time. One day the Sioux would be friends, and the next day, enemies. And so it went with all the Plains tribes. But the Cheyenne were always ready to make peace with someone when they were done fighting. Although people died in battle, it was still, to the Cheyenne, a game.

The Cheyenne also loved storytelling and music and dance. One of the most important, if the not the most important, Cheyenne dance is the Sundance. The Sundance was believed to have the power to take troubles away.

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