Dull Knife was born on the Rosebud River (present-day Montana) in about 1810. He was a principal chief of the Northern Cheyenne. His people called him Wahiev, which means Morning Star; however, the Lakota (Sioux) called him Tamela Pashme, which means Dull Knife. He acquired the name in battle with a Lakota warrior; his knife could not pierce the opponent’s tough buffalo-hide shield.
With his people’s safety in mind and hopes of gaining peace, Dull Knife was one of his tribe's representatives who signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, which promised peace between the area's Indians and the federal government. It was not to be.
Dull Knife and his Northern Cheyenne warriors fought in numerous campaigns, including the Colorado Cheyenne-Arapaho War(1864-65), and the War for the Black Hills, which included the Battle of the Rosebud (1876), and the Battle of the Little Big Horn (1876).
Following the masscre of Lt. Colonel George A. Custer and his men at the Little Big Horn, the U.S. Army responded by increasing their presence in Indian territory and staging punitive expeditions. At daybreak on a November day in 1876, soldiers commanded by Colonel Ranald Mackenzie attacked Dull Knife’s camp on the Red Fork of the Powder River in Wyoming.
Most of his tribe escaped, but with heavy losses. The army also destroyed 173 lodges, all their garments, blankets, and stores of food, and confiscated 500 ponies. The survivors made a desperate attempt to reach Crazy Horse’s camp. Eleven children died on the trail. With his people succumbing from starvation and exposure, Dull Knife finally surrendered in the spring of 1877. The government forced his Cheyenne onto a reservation in Oklahoma with the Southern Cheyenne.
A death camp
The Darlington Reservation land was worthless, the buffalo were gone, and those sent to the reservation previously had hunted smaller animals to virtual extinction. Conditions were so unhealthy that a sickness, most likely cholera,* infected more than half of the weary and malnourished Cheyenne. Some succumbed to the fever while others starved to death.
A Cheyenne trail of tears
Fearing for his people, Dull Knife and other imprisoned Northern Cheyenne leaders repeatedly implored the Indian Agents for their own reservation in Montana, but the request was denied. In September 1878, Dull Knife and Little Wolf led a party of more than 300 individuals — 89 warriors, and 246 women and children — on a 1,500-mile journey from their imprisonment with the Southern Cheyenne in Oklahoma, north to their homeland.
With the army in pursuit, the desperate refugees traveled hundreds of miles while fighting off or eluding cavalry troops that caught up with them. After crossing the South Platte River of Nebraska, Dull Knife and his people headed for the Red Cloud Agency.
Surrender and incarceration
Upon their arrival on October 23, 1878 — finding the Red Cloud Agency closed — Dull Knife and his people surrendered to the army. To their misfortune, they were incarcerated at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. Although they had surrendered peaceably, and resigned themselves to life on a reservation, they refused to return to Oklahoma.
To force the Cheyenne to submit, the army herded them into an unheated building without food, water, or heat, for several days. Unwilling to give in to either the army or the harsh conditions, some Indians managed to escape.
Little Shield, a leader of the Dog Soldier Society, led the breakout. Of those who attempted the break for freedom, 64 were killed, and 78, most of them wounded, were recaptured. A handful of Dull Knife's people got away, including the chief, his wife, and son.
The Pine Ridge Reservation and a new home
They trudged for 18 days to the Pine Ridge Reservation, eating whatever they could scavenge. Dull Knife’s small band was allowed to stay at Pine Ridge until 1884, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs was forced by public opinion to establish a reservation for the northern Cheyenne on the Tongue and Rosebud rivers — the Tongue River Reservation in Montana.
Dull Knife died in 1883, the year before the Cheyenne finally received a reservation, and was buried in a cemetery on a high butte near his home in Montana. Little Wolf is buried beside Dull Knife.
*An acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of contaminated water or food.
See Indian Wars Time Table .