March 25

This Day in History

Old West

Mar 25, 1879:

Cheyenne Chief Little Wolf surrenders

Little Wolf, often called "the greatest of the fighting Cheyenne," surrenders to his friend Lieutenant W. P. Clark.

Little Wolf was the chief of the Bowstring Soldiers, an elite Cheyenne military society. From early youth, Little Wolf had demonstrated rare bravery and a brilliant understanding of battle tactics. First in conflicts with other Indians like the Kiowa and then in disputes with the U.S. Army, Little Wolf led or assisted in dozens of important Cheyenne victories.

Historians believe Little Wolf was probably involved in the disastrous Fetterman Massacre of 1866, in which the Cheyenne cleverly lured a force of 80 American soldiers out of their Wyoming fort and wiped them out. After Cheyenne attacks had finally forced the U.S. military to abandon Fort Phil Kearney along the Bozeman Trail, Little Wolf is believed to have led the torching of the fort. He was also a leading participant in the greatest of the Plains Indian victories, the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

As with many of the other Plains Indian warriors, Little Wolf was finally forced to make peace during the army's major offensive following the massacre at Little Bighorn. In 1877, the government sent Little Wolf to a reservation in Indian Territory. Disgusted with the meager supplies and conditions on the reservation, in 1878 Little Wolf determined to leave the reservation and head north for the old Cheyenne territory in Wyoming and Montana. Chief Dull Knife and 300 of his followers went with him.

Though Little Wolf and Dull Knife announced that their intentions were peaceful, settlers in the territory they passed through feared attack. The government dispatched cavalry forces that assaulted the Indians, but Little Wolf's skillful defensive maneuvers kept Cheyenne casualties low. When the band neared Fort Robinson, Nebraska, Dull Knife and some of his followers stopped there. Little Wolf and the rest of the Cheyenne continued to march north to Montana.

In the spring of 1879, while still traveling north, Little Wolf and his followers were overtaken by a cavalry force under the leadership of Captain W.P. Clark, an old friend of Little Wolf's. The confrontation might easily have turned violent, but with his force of warriors diminished and his people tired, Little Wolf was reluctant to fight the more powerful American army. Clark's civilized and gracious treatment of Little Wolf helped convince the chief that further resistance was pointless, and he agreed to surrender.

After returning to the reservation, Little Wolf briefly served as a scout for General Nelson A. Miles. However, during this time he disgraced himself among his people by killing one of his tribesmen. The formerly celebrated Cheyenne warrior lived out the rest of his life on the reservation but had no official influence among his own people.

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