Form and Content
Cheyenne Autumn is an unflinching historical portrait of a people confronting physical extermination and cultural annihilation at the hands of duplicitous government forces. This work is a chronicle of a Cheyenne outbreak starting in Oklahoma and ending in the surrender of Little Wolf and his followers hundreds of miles and six months later in Montana. The northern Cheyennes of the Yellowstone region are promised land, food, and protection in treaties signed by the U.S. government. These agreements, however, are repeatedly and brutally broken by the government.
Hundreds of northern Cheyennes agree, under government coercion, to removal to Oklahoma on condition that they can later return north if they choose. Finding the Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma unacceptable, Little Wolf leads his people back to the Yellowstone region. In returning north, the Little Wolf Cheyennes face massive resistance and retaliation by the U.S. Army. The Cheyennes’ struggle to return home is a study in human contrasts: of loyalty and betrayal, resolve and hesitation, mutual cooperation and unthinkable brutality. Mari Sandoz describes a native culture placed under extreme and unpardonable duress by a dominant white society motivated by greed, fear, and the changing winds of popular opinion.
The central narrative details the difficult challenges encountered by Little Wolf: first, the need to elude U.S. troops while simultaneously securing horses, food, and temporary shelter for his followers during the bitter winter of 1878-1879; and, second, the need to control members of his...
(The entire section is 652 words.)