NORTHERN CHEYENNE COURAGE LIVES ON . . .
. . . IN THE DESCENDANTS of those who braved rifle fire and subzero weather in a tragic attempt to escape captivity more than a century ago. The Fourth Annual Fort Robinson Memorial Breakout Run, January 5th through 8th, commemorated the 120th anniversary of the slaughter of Chief Dull Knifes followers in Nebraska. Running in relays, participants traced the 400 miles from Ft. Robinson to the Northern Cheyenne homeland in Montana.
The event honors a tragic chapter in Northern Cheyenne history. Forced into containment in Oklahoma, the Northern Cheyennes suffered sickness, starvation, and burning desire to return to their homeland.
In 1879, 300 Cheyenne fled Fort Reno, OK in a race toward Montanas Tongue River country with the U.S. cavalry in hot pursuit. In Nebraska, Cheyenne leaders split the exodus in two. Little Wolf pressed northward with most of the Cheyenne warriors. Dull Knife led 150 people, mostly women and children, to Fort Robinson, NE. Soldiers disarmed Dull Knifes followers, confining them to an unheated army barracks. They would be deprived of heat, water and food until they agreed to return to Fort Reno.
After five days, the prisoners resolved to resist. Dull Knife agreed to lead a desperate escape attempt. At 10 am, Jan 9th, the captives spilled from the wooden barracks into the subzero cold and a hail of bullets. Within minutes, rifle slugs cut down all but a handful of Dull Knifes people who slipped through the deadly fire to hide in the hills. Mounted soldiers overtook the refugees at dawn, slaying all 26 at point blank range. The bodies were burned in the depression where the unarmed Cheyenne had sought to cover.
Cheyenne Dog Soldiers and tribal officials claimed the remains of 18 of the breakouts victims in 1993. The funeral procession stopped at Fort Robinson to assure these ancestors they would be taken home.
In 1996, the First Annual Fort Robinson Memorial Breakout Run honored the sacrifice of 1879. Nine of the captives descendants ran a 76-mile course linking all Northern Cheyenne villages. This year, short of cash, short of food, facing bitter cold and mile after mile of ice-coated roads, 30 Northern Cheyenne runners completed a 400-mile trek from Fort Robinson, NE to the Memorial Gravesite in Busby, MT.