Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 2012


Great Plains Quarterly 32:2 (Spring 2012).


Copyright © 2012 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska.


Upon first glance, a specific act of violence seemed to fix the particular location of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. On December 12, 1880, the prominent Northern Cheyenne chief, Little Wolf, staggered into a white-owned trading store near Fort Keogh, Montana Territory, and, in a drunken stupor, shot and killed a fellow Cheyenne named Starving Elk. Enraged at Starving Elk for gambling with his daughter, Little Wolf committed the most atrocious act a Cheyenne could commit, the killing of another Cheyenne. Blood spilled within the tribe polluted the Mahuts, the four sacred arrows the Creator gave to the Cheyenne people to mark them as distinct from other mortals and forever bind them to him.1 As one of the four Old Man Chiefs of the tribe, Little Wolf understood that defiling the Mahuts disrupted the unity between the Cheyenne and their Creator, creating trouble for his people. Immediately sobered and embarrassed, and understanding that custom demanded retribution from Starving Elk's kin, Little Wolf dropped his rifle and reportedly declared, "I am going up on that hill by the bend of the creek. If anybody wants me I'll be there."2