A Short Story of the Cheyenne History and Culture

The Cheyenne people are a native American nation belonging to the numerous Algonkian lingustic group. Their name used in English was derived from the French "Cheyenne," a transcription of Dakota šahíyena or "Little Cree" (Parks 2001: 880). In their native language, the Cheyenne people name themselves Tsétsėhéstȧhese (Tsitsistas) mostly. An approximate meaning is "those who are like us" or "those who are like this" (Fisher et al.; Straus 1978: 5). Some emphasize their Só'taeo'o (Sutaio) origin.
European explorers estimated there were 3,500 Cheyennes in 1780 and they gained in numbers up to cholera epidemy of 1849. It was followed with the Cheyenne-American conflict. A commissioner of the Indian Affairs mentioned 3,137 Cheyenne only in his annual report of 1890. The Cheyenne population diminished up to 1930’s due to unsatisfactory life conditions in reservations (2,695 in 1930). Afterward, a rapid upturn occured. Statistics showed about 15,500 enrolled Southern or Northern Cheyennes in 2000 (Moore et al. 2001: 880; Moore 1996: 145).

Ancient and Recent History

Ancient Indian communities surrounding the Hudson Bay adapted to local environment and we can specify them as Algonkian groups’ ancestors about 5000 B.C. The generally accepted view suggests Cheyennes’ ancestors moved slowly from this old Algonkian homeland to the west and southwest and their migration accelerated as late as about 1700. However, there is a controversial but interesting theory based on archaeology and Cheyenne oral tradition (Schlesier 1987, 1994).
According to it, ancient ancestors of Tsitsistas (not So'taeo'o) lived in northern Canada but a climatic change and Inuit newcomers dislodged them to the south. They reached North Dakota about 500-300 B.C., performed the first Mȧsėháome Ceremony there, and united themselves as an ethnic group. They hunted between Missouri River and Black Hills for following thousand years. After 500 A.D., some other groups penetrated to the region, Tsitsistas migrated slowly to the northeast, up to Minnesota, and accepted the woodland material culture.
The first Europeans who Tsistsistas met were Frenchmen. The Louis Jolliet’s expedition explored the upper and middle Mississippi in 1673 and Jean-Baptiste Louis Franquelin made maps based on its findings. A name "Chaiena" appeared in the maps (Dresner 1987: 311–4, 326; Parks 2001: 880; Stelle 2005) but it seems Jolliet’s expedition didn’t encounter Tsitsistas personally. The first confirmed contact occured 24th February 1680 when some Tsitsistas visited de La Salle’s station in Illinois (Moore 1987: 132; 1996: 14–5; Parks 2001: 881).