Cheyenne Dog Soldiers

Though much has been written regarding Cheyenne battles, probably the most authentic accounts are those given by George Bird Grinnell, in The Fighting Cheyennes, 1916, and all who discuss the exploits of the Dog Soldiers must necessarily be indebted to him. It must not be supposed that the following brief account attempts to cover the exploits of the members of this organization. I wish only to enumerate the principal engagements in which the Dog Soldiers figured as an organization.

By 1840 the Dog Soldiers were so nervous and influential that the Cheyenne chiefs left it to them to decide whether or not peace should be made with the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache, following the very disastrous drawn battle with these tribes in 1838. The peace then made by the Dog Soldiers has never been broken. The disastrous fight with. the Pawnee in 1852 was a great misfortune to the Cheyenne, and in the following year those who had lost relatives brought presents to the Dog Soldiers, urging them to avenge the dead. Accordingly, the Dog Soldiers led a campaign against the Pawnee, but, finding them re-enforced by a number of Pottawatomie, equipped with firearms, were forced to withdraw.

The Dog Soldiers were thoroughly conservative, and inclined to follow the advice of their tribal culture hero, who had warned the people that intercourse with white men would be to their disadvantage. Accordingly, in 1860, they refused to sign the treaty submitted by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at Bent’s Fort on the upper Arkansas River, saying that they would never settle on a reservation. Members of the organization were active in raiding along the Platte river, following the disgraceful Sand Creek Massacre perpetrated by Colorado volunteers upon friendly and defenseless Indians.

Camp Weld Meeting

In 1865 the Dog Soldiers were prominent factors in the combination of the Southern Cheyenne and Northern Cheyenne with the Ogallala Sioux, whose objective was the raiding of the emigrant road near the Platte bridge. There a stockade had been erected, known as Camp Dodge. It is estimated that this war party numbered three thousand men.

The Dog Soldiers assumed police duties during this expedition and succeeded in preventing the troops from discovering the presence of the Indians until decoys had lured them out of the fort. The success of Indian strategy on this occasion has been credited to their most famous leader, Roman Nose. In 1865 another attempt was made to hold a council and make a treaty with the Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache. The Commission met the tribes on the Arkansas, and reservations were set aside in the region to the south. This treaty was accepted as binding by most of the Cheyenne, but the Dog Soldiers would have nothing to do with it, though two attempts were made to induce them to leave lands which they had never ceded to the government.

At this time the Dog Soldiers were friendly, but the tactlessness of General Hancock soon drove them to hostility. He apparently knew nothing of Indians, and insisted upon dealing only with Roman Nose, who, though a very prominent warrior, was not a chief at all. When General Hancock attacked, the Cheyenne succeeded in getting away with their usual ease, leaving their village to be burned, and the only Indians killed were six friendly ones, who had come up to the Dog Soldiers’ camp on a visit. During four months of active campaigning, General Hancock, with a force of fourteen hundred men, consisting of cavalry, artillery and infantry, succeeded in killing only two hostile Indians.

After the failure of General Custer’s summer campaign on the Republican and Smoky Hill rivers, the Cheyenne were induced to come in for the Medicine Lodge Treaty, but as Fort Reno, Fort Phil Kearny, and Fort Smith had been built along the Powder River road to Montana, through the last remaining hunting grounds of the tribe, the treaty came to nothing, for the Indians could not sit quietly by while their livelihood, the buffalo, was being destroyed.

The Beecher Island fight in 1868 has been much celebrated because of its spectacular features, and the prominence of the leaders on both sides. Here the Dog Soldiers formed the bulk of the Indian fighting force. Roman Nose, the most famous of the Northern Cheyenne, and a prominent Dog Soldier, led a charge, and was killed by one of the scouts hidden in the grass. The story of his death as narrated to me by the late George Bent of Colony, Oklahoma, has elements of tragic interest. It seems that Roman Nose depended for protection upon his war bonnet, and that the protective power of this war bonnet depended upon his observance of certain taboos. One of these was that he should never eat food which had been touched by an iron fork. Shortly before the battle, Roman Nose had eaten food served at a feast, and had afterwards learned that the food had been prepared with such a fork. He did not desire to enter the battle, believing that he would be killed because the protective power of his war bonnet had been destroyed. However, when he saw his warriors failing before the rifles of the white scouts, he mounted his horse and led the charge in which he fell. Of the six Cheyenne killed in this fight, five were Dog Soldiers.

After their defeat by the buffalo hunters at Adobe Walls in 1874 and the capture of the Southern Cheyenne village by Colonel R. S. McKenzie in 1875, White Horse, with the Dog Soldiers, came in and surrendered at Darlington, Oklahoma.

Cheyenne Warriors by Edward S. Curtis

Cheyenne Warriors by Edward S. Curtis

No doubt members of the Dog Soldiers’ Society were present at the Custer battle, and perhaps at the capture of Dull Knife’s village, but with this surrender at Darlington, the military life of the organization may be said to have come to an end.

However, there was trouble again when the government moved the Northern Cheyenne to the then Indian Territory in order to put the whole tribe on one reservation. The climate of Oklahoma did not agree with the Cheyenne from Montana. They died in large numbers. Medical supplies and rations were short, and within a year after their removal, the Northern Cheyenne were so dissatisfied that a number of them resolved to fight their way back to the north. The story of this wonderful retreat is well known, and is worthy of a place beside that of Xenephon or that of the equally great retreat of Chief Joseph. Tangle Hair, head chief of the Dog Soldiers, was one of those who fled to the north, but the real leader of the expedition was Little Wolf. The Indians were successful in reaching their destination, and remained there about a year before General Miles persuaded them to surrender.

Tangle Hair and a number of the Dog Soldiers had split off from the main party and followed Dull Knife. These Indians were imprisoned in Fort Robinson, and on their refusing to return to the south were starved by the officer in charge for eight days. At the end of that time they broke from their prison and attempted to make their escape over the moonlit snow. In this fight more than a third of the Indians, men, women and children, were killed, among them Tangle Hair, Chief of the Dog Soldiers. Before the outbreak he had been told that he and his family might leave the prison, but he as well as the other Dog Soldiers refused to consider such a step. He was killed attempting to stand off the soldiers while the women and children made their escape.

This brief summary of the exploits of the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers will perhaps give some idea of the important part played by this organization in the many victories and hard-fought battles of the most warlike of the Plains tribes. Only a much more detailed narration could give any proper idea of the splendid courage—often in the face of overwhelming odds—displayed by members of this organization, times without number, in battle, whether against United States troops, Mexicans, or other Indian tribes. But this brief enumeration of the principal engagements of the Dog Soldiers may help to explain how it was that the United States government in its campaigns against the Cheyenne spent a million dollars and lost twenty-four lives for every Cheyenne killed.


W.S. Campbell, 1921. Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated December 2019.

This tale, written by W.S. Campbell appeared in the Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume 1, No. 1, January 1921. The text as it appears here; however, is not verbatim as it has been edited for clarity and ease of the modern reader.

Also See:

Cheyenne – Warriors of the Great Plains

Dull Knife – Northern Cheyenne Chief

Little Wolf – Courageous Leader of the Cheyenne

Roman Nose – Cheyenne War Chief

Cheyenne Photo Print Gallery


1 thought on “Cheyenne Dog Soldiers”

  1. Thanks for telling the story of the Dog Soldiers of the Cheyenne.
    A tragic story of heroism and tragedy against betrayal and deceit by the US, and at the end, the Cheyenne, including women and children, being starved by the officer in charge at Ft. Robinson for 8 days.

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