Who Do I Honor?

Diana Tanksley, Guest Writer



“William, I don’t know how much longer our tribe can survive here. This continual diminution of buffalo continues to destroy our tribe.” As I said the words, the true meaning of them, once again, reminded me of the gravity of this situation. We continued to speak in hushed tones as we watched the railroad surveyors and workers, mainly Buffalo Bill, begin to set up camp below us.

“I don’t understand,” William countered, “in ‘69 when the Railroad finished, and the buffalo herds began to diminish, you survived; why does Dancing Feather want to leave now—especially so close to your wedding? The Cheyenne have lived through the worst of it, why leave the reservation now? Not to mention when the army is at its strongest.”

“But what if ‘69’s killing wasn’t the worst? We could put our tribe in more danger staying than moving and hoping for a brighter future in the Black Hills.”

As William processed what I said, my thoughts became divided: as one of the head leaders of my tribe I should concern myself with our tribe’s livelihood and survival here in Colorado Springs, but I couldn’t help wonder what Graceful Doe’s and my future held—considering what brewed below us.  

William interrupted my thoughts as he pointed to Buffalo Bill and his wagons, “Look, he seems to have brought extra ammunition and guns this time. Maybe now is not the best time for Dancing Feather to speak with him about conserving the buffalo . . . Oh, look, General Custer. It looks like the US Army has moved their camp nearer to the railroad men’s camp.”

“If Dancing Feather does still want to meet with him, it will be more dangerous than we previously expected . . . Let’s go, William, I must report to my father of what we have seen. Maybe he will value his life and not speak with Buffalo Bill.”




“I must speak with him.”

“But you will die, father. Even if you get as far as the campsite, they will kill you before you can even utter a greeting of ‘ha-hoe’.”

“I am chief. You have no say in my decision. We will go at daybreak.” As Dancing Feather said the words, I could see that he was adamant in his decision. “I will not require you to come with the peace party, but you know where we will be.” With that, my father exited the teepee, as if our conversation were simple small-talk.




As William’s Ma exited the cabin, with Becky close behind, she began putting her things in the wagon when she noticed us riding up to the cabin, “Mighty Wind! Oh Mighty Wind! So good to see you!”

“Same to you Missus McRoy,” I paused and nodded at Becky, “and you too, Becky.” I averted my attention back to Mrs. McRoy, “Is William still inside?”

“Yes, yes, please go in; there are some leftover eggs and potatoes on the stove which you are more than welcome to. I’m so sorry to run off like this, but Becky and I must run into town to open shop for Mr. McRoy. If you can, come by for supper, please do, we would love to catch up!”

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll do my best.” As they departed on the wagon, I found William finishing the dishes in the cabin with a book in his hand. “What ‘cha got there?”

A quick, sharp breath escaped William as he turned to see where my voice came from, “Oh, Mighty Wind, I didn’t notice you come in! This?” He pointed to the book, “This book has me completely enthralled! It’s called The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin—you know, that scientist I’ve told you about in England. It just came out, and Pa had an extra one from the store. This Darwin guy theorizes that we all came from apes; it sounds quite odd when you say it aloud, but it’s surprisingly intriguing.”

As William continued to explain his ‘new’ theory, I couldn’t help but interrupt his claims with my thoughts: Why is he so captivated by this ‘new’ theory? The Cheyenne have believed in a similar animal to human connection for generations and generations—this isn’t new information . . .

Snapping the book shut, William turned to me and continued to wipe the last dish, “It’s good to see you again—so soon though. Is everything okay on the reservation? What did Dancing Feather say about the armed men and ammunition wagons?”

“That’s why I’m here . . .” We began walking across the porch to my horse while I continued, “Dancing Feather and his peace posse left at daybreak to seek peace, but their absence worries me. I am on my way with the Dog Soldiers,” I jerked my head toward the war-painted men and horses waiting for me to join them. “I want to see if my father is in any danger. I came to say goodbye . . . this visit could end with our lives. If I die, tell Graceful Doe I left this world doing my tribe justice.” I couldn’t choke out the words to finish my sentiments, but William seemed to understand.

“Yes, of course, but I’m sure she already knows . . . ha-hoe.”

Holding back tears, I mounted my horse and waved, “Ha-hoe.”

As we departed, I could only hope I had been exaggerating and that no lives would be lost today. As I later found out, I was wrong. Very wrong.


APRIL 17, 1871, NOON


The Dog Soldiers and I continued to race against time. Once we reached the top of the ridge, the sound of battle cries and gunfire filled my ears. My nightmare came true: we are too late.




“As your newly appointed chief, I have decided at the first light of dawn, we will depart for the Black Hills.”

A hum of voices, both of approval and disappointment, ran through the tribe, though Sleeping Fern, my brother, ignored it all as he retreated back to his teepee.

A full moon had already passed since our father Dancing Feather and a majority of his peacemaking group had been killed—butchered by the US Army. The mourning period now over, we are free to go about our lives; and thanks to Sleeping Fern, that meant leaving. Leaving the land we know. Leaving the land our assessors died to preserve for us. And for me, leaving the burial ground of my mother, ancestors, and now father. And to add to the misery, leaving my heart song: Graceful Doe.

My brother took up his new Chief leadership duties and privileges immediately after our father’s death—he now indulged in many wives and riches. Without my brother’s remorse for our Chief, a death of such regard and importance, the spirits must punish him.


MAY 18, 1871, DAWN


“Mighty Wind! Don’t leave . . . Mighty Wind!” As she yelled my name in broken sobs, I wished only to comfort her and promise a brighter tomorrow, but I rode on. My tribe was leaving, and I with it; I had no choice. Due to their disapproval of the Cheyenne moving to the Black Hills, the Arapaho rescinded their blessing of marriage. I had two options: I could either abandon my place for next-in-line to become Chief and stay as a nomad on the shrinking US-Government-given reservation, become Arapaho by marriage, or stay with my tribe and pray to the spirits to bring Graceful Doe to me in the Dakota territory.




My prediction held true, my brother would pay for his gluttony and disobedience to the spirits; defying the spirits only brings tragedy.

The raid killed twenty-four highly appointed leaders, thirty-six women and children, and half the Dog Soldiers that traveled with us, as well as severely wounding Sleeping Fern. Unbeknownst to Sleeping Fern or myself, bad blood existed between the Northern Cheyenne and the Southern Cheyenne. The conflict was between Victorious Mist, the Northern Cheyenne chief and Dancing Feather, our deceased Southern Cheyenne chief; this feud went back to childhood, and when Victorious Mist found out Sleeping Fern descended from Dancing Feather, Victorious Mist wanted Dancing Feather to pay for our father’s poor decisions. The Arapaho had been right about the dangers of mixing with other regions of our tribe, but now that Sleeping Fern ascended into the afterlife, any tribal debt was paid-in-full, and this land would now be ours to share.

Before Sleeping Fern crossed into the afterlife, he summoned me to his death bed. He instructed me to follow in the ways of my ancestors and in the ways the spirits directed me. After numerous prayer and chants, I became my tribe’s new Chief. Sleeping Fern left us for the afterlife only minutes after he told me to “govern our tribe with courage”.


AUGUST 29, 1871


The hope for an increase of buffalo in the Black Hills was a reality for a few only months; now, the railroad north of our reservation has begun construction. The death toll of the buffalo number more than in Colorado Springs, and our fate is sealed. As chief, I need to decide whether it is in our best interest to move more west to the new Indian Reservation in Yellowstone, bring my tribe home to Colorado Springs, or choose to be with Graceful Doe and go to Colorado without the tribe, forfeiting my power as Chief.

With the tear-stricken face of Graceful Doe etched in my mind and the longing to have a future with her in my heart, I knew what my decision was. I have a duty—a duty to my tribe and my people. I am chief; I will stay.



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