Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center

Oral Histories of Northern Cheyenne Descendants of the Battle of Little Bighorn, 1985-1987

Scope and Content Note

The Custer Battlefield National Monument Oral History Program was led by OSU Forestry professor Royal Jackson from 1985-1987. The project was funded by a grant provided by the University of Wyoming's National Park Service Research Center. The stated goal of the program was "to examine and document the Battle of Little Bighorn and its place in the Northern Cheyenne memory and tribal past, as it has been transmitted through the oral tradition to the present generation. The early reservation era and Cheyenne history and culture were secondary subthemes also explored in these conversations." Examination of the collection's materials likewise indicates that the contemporary self-image of the Northern Cheyenne was a major theme for Jackson and his twenty interviewees, with alcoholism, the erosion of traditional values and the future of the tribe, among other subjects of the day, appearing as frequent topics of conversation.

Jackson conducted all of his interviews in September and October 1985, and September 1986. Interviews were recorded at several locations throughout the state of Montana including Ashland, Birney, Busby, Lame Deer (headquarters of the Tongue River Reservation) and Muddy Creek. In addition to the topics mentioned above, interviews often touched upon the federal policy of land allotment, education and forced assimilation, the "long walk" from Oklahoma, natural resource use, strip mining, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Of his interview subjects, Jackson wrote: "The oldest informant was 79 years old; the youngest was 56. The average age of the 20 interviewees was about 65....All were born in Montana and for most of them their place of birth was on the reservation. A few left for a short period of military service, education, or to work elsewhere, but all of them have lived the largest part of their lives on the reservation....In almost all cases there was a strong and well-defined family linkage between the informant and a participant in the Battle of Little Bighorn." All interviews but one were conducted in English; in the case of the lone exception (Charlie White Dirt), the interview was conducted with the assistance of an interpreter conversant in the native tongue of the Northern Cheyenne.

The collection's interviews are contained on 28 audiocassettes. Copies of these cassettes were deposited with the Superintendent of the Custer Battlefield National Monument, Crow Agency, Montana and with the library at Dull Knife Memorial College in Lame Deer, Montana. An additional set of audiocassettes was donated to the Horner Museum at Oregon State University and subsequently transferred to the OSU Archives upon the museum's closure in 1996.

In addition to the audiocassettes, the collection consists of four published volumes - a final report and three volumes of transcripts. Jackson's final report contains an introduction to the project, a discussion of project methodology, a summary of project findings - grouped under the headings "Early Reservation Era," "Cheyenne History and Culture," and "The Battle of Little Bighorn and Associated Mythology" - reproductions of signed release forms, a sample informant letter and indices to all three volumes of transcripts.

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