Albion Monitor /News

Sacred Pipe Returning to N Cheyenne After 120 Years

by Bill Johnson

(AR) The new year should be a good one for the Northern Cheyenne, perhaps the best year the Indian tribe has had since the 1870s: their sacred pipe is going home.

The pipe was part of the Medicine Hat Bundle, the most sacred possession of the Northern Cheyenne. The pipe and a buffalo horn that were part of the Medicine Hat Bundle disappeared in the 1870s.

Some Cheyenne traditionalists believe the loss of those objects were responsible for many of the tribe's troubles, including defeats by the U.S. Army on the Plains.

Black Wolf "said he could feel something with the pipe as soon as he laid eyes on it"
Blake Wade, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, said the pipe has been part of the society's collection since 1911, when it was donated by Hattie Golt of Poteau, Okla. Wade said society officials had no idea of the pipe's significance.

It was Terry Wilson, a Southern Cheyenne, who recognized the pipe for what it was. Wilson told society officials it resembled one he had seen the Northern Cheyenne use.

That's when society officials invited Northern Cheyenne traditional leaders to Oklahoma to view the pipe. Among those who came last month was James Black Wolf, 75, the current Keeper of the Sacred Medicine Hat Bundle.

Black Wolf, who speaks only Cheyenne, "said he could feel something with the pipe as soon as he laid eyes on it," said Clifford Long Sioux, a descendant of the famous Cheyenne leader, Dull Knife. "He said in Cheyenne, 'This pipe is strong,' and he immediately blessed himself with the pipe."

Black Wolf was adamant that he return the pipe immediately to Lame Deer, Mont. But the federal government doesn't allow things like that to happen so easily.

Provisions of the Native American Graves Protection and Restoration Act requires that an intent to repatriate items must be published in the Federal Register for a month. If no one else claims the item, it can be returned.

Jeff Briley, the society's registrar, said the wording of the intent notice has to be worked out with the National Park Service, and that has yet to be done.

Once the publication requirements are met, the pipe can be returned "unless there is a conflict on ownership," Briley said. He added that he thought a rival claim was highly unlikely.

"But because of the time consumed by the process, it undoubtedly will be early next year before the pipe can be returned," Briley said.

The pipe had a deep religious meaning to the Northern Cheyenne
The society had little information on the pipe's origins, other than the fact it came from Hattie Gott, and that she got it from a Southern Cheyenne named Burnt All Over.

According to Northern Cheyenne oral tradition, it was sometime in the 1870s that tribal leaders became disillusioned with Broken Dish, who at that time was the Keeper of the Sacred Medicine Hat Bundle.

Broken Dish was forced to give up the Sacred Hat, which was described as a bundle made from the skin of a buffalo head. His wife, Standing Woman, was so angry at the action that she desecrated the Sacred Hat and its contents.

According to the tradition, a ceremonial pipe and a buffalo horn were lost, which was bad medicine for the tribe. Some say that is why Standing Woman later was gored by a bull.

A Cheyenne named Three Fingers gave the buffalo horn back to the tribe in 1908, said John Sipe, a Southern Cheyenne historian.

Briley said six members of the Northern Cheyenne came to Oklahoma to view the pipe and decide whether it was the one missing for so long.

"All of them had affiliations with the various societies within the Cheyenne tribe," Briley said.

Sipe said the pipe had a deep religious meaning to the Northern Cheyenne.

"This is like knowing the Ark was somewhere and people have been looking for it and looking for it," he said.

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Albion Monitor December 23, 1997 (

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