LAME DEER, Mont. - Elders and youth alike on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana still honor the bravery of their 19th century chief Dull Knife.
A college is named after him and he is remembered in schools and ceremonies because he fought and died to avoid imprisonment and removal to the south.
The annual Cheyenne Run honors this ancestor and others. This year the run started on Jan. 5 and finished on Jan. 8 in Lame Deer.
Runners are anywhere from eight to 30 years old. They run as a relay team carrying a small feathered staff that leads them.
"We run to honor our ancestors and for the people that are still in mourning over the slaughter of our people," said Daniel Black Wolf, one of 60 people involved in the Dull Knife run from Fort Robinson in Nebraska to Lame Deer, Mon. some 400 miles distant.
"We run for the elders, youth and for diabetes," Black Wolf continued.
The run, now in its ninth year, was organized by Philip Whiteman, a Northern Cheyenne from Lame Deer. He said that he and a few of his relatives decided to start it after some of the remains of his ancestors were repatriated 11 years ago. At first it was confined to the reservation.
After four years it was decided to start the run at Fort Robinson where many Cheyenne were killed after an escape attempt by Dull Knife and his followers was foiled. It ends at the Montana burial site of many of the repatriated remains.
"This run grew from six runners to 60 this year and most are young people," Whiteman said.
But the runners are not just commemorating the events of the past, Whiteman said. They are also honoring and praying for the children and grandchildren and others on the reservation living under oppressed conditions.
"It's about mental wellness. There is alcohol and drug abuse and all types of destructive behavior. This is to help our people look at themselves and move on," Whiteman said.
In 1875 the U.S. Government put out an edict that all northern Plains Indians were to report to reservations where they would take up new homes and live under the watch of the U.S. Military to allow settlement of the region by the non-Indian community.
Many resisted, and when the Northern Cheyenne were taken to Oklahoma, or Indian territory, they were not suited for the harsh, humid and hot climate. Dull Knife and Little Wolf led their people on a walk back to their lands. Little Wolf completed the walk, but Dull Knife and his followers were captured and locked up at Fort Robinson. The conditions were harsh with no running water and no heat for five days and Dull Knife and the elders saw many of their people die.
As escape was organized and as many left the barracks and prison, they were shot at the door. Those who survived ran into the ravines of the area and were either hunted down and shot or were captured and returned. Most of the Cheyenne women, children, elders and some warriors were either killed or captured in January 1879.
Dull Knife lost his life over the incident and many young warriors, without ammunition or weapons offered their bare chests as targets, because it was decided that to die was a better outcome than to be imprisoned at Fort Robinson.
"I wanted to participate and running helps me think," said George Kellum of Lame Deer. "I am running in mourning for the people that were killed. I am proud to be a Cheyenne and am honored and proud to be part of this run. I hope to make it home safely," Kellum said.