Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
 THE life of Dull Knife, the Cheyenne, is a true hero tale. Simple, child-like yet manful, and devoid
of selfish aims, or love of gain, he is a pattern for heroes of any race.
Dull Knife was a chief of the old school. Among all the Indians of the plains, nothing counts save
proven worth. A man's caliber is measured by his courage, unselfishness and intelligence. Many
writers confuse history with fiction, but in Indian history their women and old men and even
children witness the main events, and not being absorbed in daily papers and magazines, these events
are rehearsed over and over with few variations. Though orally preserved, their accounts are
therefore accurate. But they have seldom been willing to give reliable
 information to strangers, especially when asked and paid for.
Racial prejudice naturally enters into the account of a man's life by enemy writers, while one is
likely to favor his own race. I am conscious that many readers may think that I have idealized the
Indian. Therefore I will confess now that we have too many weak and unprincipled men among us. When
I speak of the Indian hero, I do not forget the mongrel in spirit, false to the ideals of his
people. Our trustfulness has been our weakness, and when the vices of civilization were added to our
own, we fell heavily.
It is said that Dull Knife as a boy was resourceful and self-reliant. He was only nine years old
when his family was separated from the rest of the tribe while on a buffalo hunt. His father was
away and his mother busy, and he was playing with his little sister on the banks of a stream, when a
large herd of buffalo swept down upon them on a stampede for water. His
 mother climbed a tree, but the little boy led his sister into an old beaver house whose entrance was
above water, and here they remained in shelter until the buffalo passed and they were found by their
Dull Knife was quite a youth when his tribe was caught one winter in a region devoid of game, and
threatened with starvation. The situation was made worse by heavy storms, but he secured help and
led a relief party a hundred and fifty miles, carrying bales of dried buffalo meat on pack horses.
Another exploit that made him dear to his people occurred in battle, when his brother-in-law was
severely wounded and left lying where no one on either side dared to approach him. As soon as Dull
Knife heard of it he got on a fresh horse, and made so daring a charge that others joined him; thus
under cover of their fire he rescued his brother-in-law, and in so doing was wounded twice.
 The Sioux knew him as a man of high type, perhaps not so brilliant as Roman Nose and Two Moon, but
surpassing both in honesty and simplicity, as well as in his war record. (Two Moon, in fact, was
never a leader of his people, and became distinguished only in wars with the whites during the
period of revolt.) A story is told of an ancestor of the same name that illustrates well the spirit
of the age.
It was the custom in those days for the older men to walk ahead of the moving caravan and decide
upon all halts and camping places. One day the councilors came to a grove of wild cherries covered
with ripe fruit, and they stopped at once. Suddenly a grizzly charged from the thicket. The men
yelped and hooted, but the bear was not to be bluffed. He knocked down the first warrior who dared
to face him and dragged his victim into the bushes.
The whole caravan was in the wildest excitement. Several of the swiftest-footed
 warriors charged the bear, to bring him out into the open, while the women and dogs made all the
noise they could. The bear accepted the challenge, and as he did so, the man whom they had supposed
dead came running from the opposite end of the thicket. The Indians were delighted, and especially
so when in the midst of their cheers, the man stopped running for his life and began to sing a Brave
Heart song as he approached the grove with his butcher knife in his hand. He would dare his enemy
The grizzly met him with a tremendous rush, and they went down together. Instantly the bear began to
utter cries of distress, and at the same time the knife flashed, and he rolled over dead. The
warrior was too quick for the animal; he first bit his sensitive nose to distract his attention, and
then used the knife to stab him to the heart. He fought many battles with knives thereafter and
claimed that the spirit of the bear gave him
suc-  cess. On one occasion, however, the enemy had a strong buffalo-hide shield which the Cheyenne bear
fighter could not pierce through, and he was wounded; nevertheless he managed to dispatch his foe.
It was from this incident that he received the name of Dull Knife, which was handed down to his
As is well known, the Northern Cheyennes uncompromisingly supported the Sioux in their desperate
defense of the Black Hills and Big Horn country. Why not? It was their last buffalo
region—their subsistence. It was what our wheat fields are to a civilized nation.
About the year 1875, a propaganda was started for confining all the Indians upon reservations, where
they would be practically interned or imprisoned, regardless of their possessions and rights. The
men who were the strongest advocates of the scheme generally wanted the Indians' property—the
one main cause back of all Indian wars. From the warlike Apaches
 to the peaceful Nez Perces, all the tribes of the plains were hunted from place to place; then the
government resorted to peace negotiations, but always with an army at hand to coerce. Once disarmed
and helpless, they were to be taken under military guard to the Indian Territory.
A few resisted, and declared they would fight to the death rather than go. Among these were the
Sioux, but nearly all the smaller tribes were deported against their wishes. Of course those Indians
who came from a mountainous and cold country suffered severely. The moist heat and malaria decimated
the exiles. Chief Joseph of the Nez Perces and Chief Standing Bear of the Poncas appealed to the
people of the United States, and finally succeeded in having their bands or the remnant of them
returned to their own part of the country. Dull Knife was not successful in his plea, and the story
of his flight is one of poignant interest.
He was regarded by the authorities as
 a dangerous man, and with his depleted band was taken to the Indian Territory without his consent in
1876. When he realized that his people were dying like sheep, he was deeply moved. He called them
together. Every man and woman declared that they would rather die in their own country than stay
there longer, and they resolved to flee to their northern homes.
Here again was displayed the genius of these people. From the Indian Territory to Dakota is no short
dash for freedom. They knew what they were facing. Their line of flight lay through a settled
country and they would be closely pursued by the army. No sooner had they started than the telegraph
wires sang one song: "The panther of the Cheyennes is at large. Not a child or a woman in Kansas or
Nebraska is safe." Yet they evaded all the pursuing and intercepting troops and reached their native
soil. The strain was terrible, the hardship great, and Dull
 Knife, like Joseph, was remarkable for his self-restraint in sparing those who came within his power
on the way.
But fate was against him, for there were those looking for blood money who betrayed him when he
thought he was among friends. His people were tired out and famished when they were surrounded and
taken to Fort Robinson. There the men were put in prison, and their wives guarded in camp. They were
allowed to visit their men on certain days. Many of them had lost everything; there were but a few
who had even one child left. They were heartbroken.
These despairing women appealed to their husbands to die fighting: their liberty was gone, their
homes broken up, and only slavery and gradual extinction in sight. At last Dull Knife listened. He
said: "I have lived my life. I am ready." The others agreed. "If our women are willing to die with
us, who is there to say no? If we are to do the deeds of men, it
 rests with you women to bring us our weapons.
As they had been allowed to carry moccasins and other things to the men, so they contrived to take
in some guns and knives under this disguise. The plan was to kill the sentinels and run to the
nearest natural trench, there to make their last stand. The women and children were to join them.
This arrangement was carried out. Not every brave had a gun, but all had agreed to die together.
They fought till their small store of ammunition was exhausted, then exposed their broad chests for
a target, and the mothers even held up their little ones to be shot. Thus died the fighting
Cheyennes and their dauntless leader.