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Cool Things - War Lance

Cheyenne war  lanceThings are not always as they appear and museum records are not always accurate—particularly those from the distant past. One case in point is this war lance whose recorded history is implausible.

The Kansas Historical Society received this war lance, said to have belonged to Cloud Chief of the Cheyenne Tribe, in 1886. According to the society's records, Cloud Chief carried the lance during the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.

There are a few problems with this history. Cloud Chief came to the Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation in present-day Oklahoma in 1867, while Little Big Horn occurred in 1876. It is unlikely that Cloud Chief would have been in Montana for that battle.

Either the lance belonged to another warrior who was in the area and did fight in the Battle of the Little Big Horn, or the lance belonged to Cloud Chief but was never carried into this battle. Cloud Chief, though, may have fought Lt. Col. George Custer's men when they attacked Black Kettle's village along the Washita River in Oklahoma in 1868. Cloud Chief also was documented as being involved in the Battle of Beecher Island in eastern Colorado that same year; he would have been about 18 years old.

Cloud Chief

A Cheyenne leader of some repute, Cloud Chief was born on the Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation in Colorado in 1850 and moved to Oklahoma in 1867. There he was an important figure in the negotiations to dissolve the Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation and help convince fellow Cheyenne to accept 160 acres each. This paved the way for the U. S. government to buy the remaining reservation land and open it to white settlement. Cloud Chief led the charge to secure land allotments for all Cheyenne and, for his own efforts in 1891, was awarded (along with his wife and two children) the first four land allotments; he settled his family in west central Oklahoma in Washita County, where the county seat, Cloud Chief, was named after him. The remainder of the reservation was opened up to white settlers in 1892.

Counting Coup

A war lance is used to count coup. The bravest Cheyenne went into battle without firearms, but rather with a lance or club. Shooting the enemy at a distance with a rifle was not considered an act of bravery. A courageous warrior touched or struck his enemy without killing him, and then returned to his comrades. A single enemy soldier or civilian could be touched—or have coup counted on him—three times. After battle, Cheyenne men gathered in camp to recount their stories of counting coup; lying about the number of coups one counted was considered shameful.

Close-up of war lanceThis war lance consists of a straight wooden shaft covered with three distinct lengths of red wool blanketing. The blanket ends are joined and stitched together. Several tail feathers are attached to the central shaft through the red material. Several feather ends have been stripped and curled.

The war lance was donated to the Kansas Historical Society by George Bowhay of Topeka.

Entry: Cool Things - War Lance

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: January 2002

Date Modified: August 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.