CUSTER, S.D. -- The road from Fort Robinson in Nebraska to the Northern
Cheyenne reservation in Montana is 400 miles, yet runners as young as 7
made the run to honor ancestors who lost their lives at the fort while
attempting to return home.
The annual Fort Robinson Outbreak Spiritual Run is primarily a ceremonial
run to honor the ancestors. It also brings youth and adults together,
teaches history and culture and creates a bond between family, youth and
Now in its eighth year, the run continues to draw more runners and
supporters each year. Chaperones, van drivers and organizers are all
More than 120 runners -- with an average age of about 15 -- participated in
the commemorative run that also encourages continued healing among the
Northern Cheyenne. The majority of those runners were female, said Philip
Whiteman Jr., organizer of the commemorative event.
"Females are the foundation of our tribe: they are sacred. We learn
traditional and sacred ways on this run from the teachings," he said.
The young men carry a prayer staff that leads all the runners and the
female runners follow in support.
The Oglala Lakota, close allies of the Cheyenne, joined the runners this
year. On the first night of the run, the Oglala tribal council honored
Oglala runners with a special ceremony and feast which was also attended by
six members of the Northern Cheyenne council and current Tribal President
Eugene Little Coyote.
This year, the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council became more active than in
previous years. The council will promote more cultural learning and
activities, a tribal spokesman said.
Kaysha Two Two, 13, Northern Cheyenne from Billings, Mont., ran with the
group for the second time.
"We learn a lot of history and we learn the culture and about family ties,"
Steven Horn, 18, has participated in every run. Horn is from Lame Deer,
Mont. He said this year was a good run and the runners were lucky to have
good weather. Last year, frigid temperatures and wind made for a difficult
"The biggest changes that I have seen are when we started there were 25
runners; now we have more than 100," Horn said.
In 1876, the Cheyenne had been rounded up and sent to Oklahoma Indian
territory where many of them died from overexposure to humidity and heat.
The decision to return was made by the council of the Cheyenne. The people
were split into two groups: one led by Chief Little Wolf, the other by
Chief Dull Knife.
With the military in pursuit, they traveled through territory already
partially inhabited by non-Indian settlers. Little Wolf managed to return
to the homeland through evasive tactics; Dull Knife finally surrendered to
the military, and he and his people were taken to Fort Robinson.
Men and women were separated. They were not given adequate food or water,
and lived without heat for five days as preparations were made to return
them to Oklahoma. But the group, not willing to return to Oklahoma,
convinced Dull Knife to lead them and head for their homeland.
On Jan. 9, 1879, Dull Knife and his people, mostly women and children,
attempted the escape. Most were killed at the fort. Twenty-six managed to
flee into the hills, only to be hunted down and executed; a few others were
given shelter by Red Cloud's people, who were camped at the Red Cloud
Agency near Fort Robinson.
Dull Knife was protected by his Oglala friends and given sanctuary at the
Pine Ridge Agency.
The 26 were buried where they were killed. That location is now referred to
as The Last Hole. It was not until October 1993 that the remains of 18 of
the Cheyenne were repatriated to the Northern Cheyenne reservation by the
It is in honor of those who died at the fort and those repatriated to the
Northern Cheyenne reservation that the Fort Robinson Outbreak Run takes
place. The run ends at the gravesite of those 18 souls in Busby, Mont.
The first run to commemorate the Fort Robinson breakout involved nine
descendants who ran a 76-mile loop around the Northern Cheyenne
reservation. In 1999 it was decided to make the full 400-mile run from Fort
Robinson through the Black Hills to the reservation in Montana.
One of the adults participating in this year's run was Lee Lone Bear, a
descendant of Strong Left Hand, who lost his life at Fort Robinson. Strong
Left Hand sacrificed his life to save Dull Knife, Lone Bear said.
This year's run may have received a special blessing, many participants
say. While on the run through Wind Cave National Park, a runner dropped the
sacred prayer staff. When Whiteman picked up the staff he saw a whole
buffalo carcass and, above it, two eagles.
He said he didn't know the significance, but that the incident did have a
Whiteman picked up the prayer staff and cleansed it before the run could
"It is like our nation. We pick ourselves up, cleanse ourselves and move
forward. That is what the people are feeling today: we pick ourselves up,"