Necklace of Human Fingers. Cheyenne Medicine Man.

Cheyenne, Medicine, Man, Necklace, Human, Fingers,
Necklace of human fingers.

Cheyenne Medicine Man. Necklace of Human Fingers.

Chippewa Montana and Wyoming c. 1876.


The necklace of human fingers, an illustration of which accompanies this text (PI. IV), belonged to the foremost of the medicine-men of a brave tribe the Cheyenne of Montana and Wyoming. They were the backbone of the hostility to the whites, and during the long and arduous campaign conducted against them by the late Maj. Gen. George Crook, which terminated so successfully in the surrender of 4,500 of the allied Sioux and Cheyenne, at Red Cloud and Spotted Tail agencies, in the early spring of 1877, it was a noted fact that wherever a band of the Cheyenne was to be found there the fighting was most desperate. It is a matter now well established that the Cheyenne are an offshoot of the Aigouquian family (Algonquins), speaking a dialect closely resembling that of the Cree, of British America.

It may interest some readers to listen to a few words descriptive of the manner in which such a ghastly relic of savagery came into my possession. On the morning of the 25th of November. 1876, the cavalry and Indian scouts (Sioux, Shoshoni, Arapaho, Pawnee, and a few of the Cheyenne themselves), of Gen. Crook’s command, under the leadership of the late Brig. Gen. Ranald S. Mackenzie, then colonel of the Fourth Cavalry, surprised and destroyed the main village of the Cheyenne, on the headwaters of the Powder River, in the Big Horn Mountains, Wyoming. The onslaught was irresistible, the destruction complete, and the discomfited savages were forced to flee from their beds, half naked and with nothing save their arms and ammunition.

More than half of the great herd of ponies belonging to the savages were killed, captured, or so badly wounded as to be of no use to the owners. The cold became so intense that on the night after the fight eleven papooses froze to death in their mothers’ arms, and the succeeding night, three others. This blow, the most grievous ever inflicted upon the plains tribes, resulted in the surrender, first of the Cheyenne, and later on of the principal chief of the Sioux, the renowned Crazy Horse; after which the Sioux troubles were minimized into the hunt for scattered bands.

Undoubtedly, among the bitterest losses of valuable property suffered by the Cheyenne on this occasion were the two necklaces of human fingers which came into my possession, together with the small buckskin bag filled with the right hands of papooses belonging to the tribe of their deadly enemies, the Shoshoni. These were found in the village by one of our scouts Baptiste Pourrier, who, with Mr. Frank Gruard, was holding an important and responsible position in connection with the care of the great body of Indian scouts already spoken of. From these two gentlemen I afterwards obtained all the information that is here to be found regarding the Cheyenne necklace.

Source: The medicine-men of the Apache by John Gregory Bourke. Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American Ethnology. Annual report, ninth. Washington 1892. Lithographed by Sackett & Wilhelms. Printed in New York: c. 1897.

The Pittsburgh Press – 14. Apr. 1902:

During General Crook`s campaign agains the Sioux and Cheyennes, in 1876, the Fourth Cavalry and a detachment of Indian scouts, under Colonel R.C. Mackenzie, surprised and stormed the chief town and principal stronghold of the Cheyennes.

During, or rather after, this engagement one of he Indian Scouts, Baptiste Pouvier, better known as Big Bat, entered the lodge of the chief medicine man of the desired village, and, among other things that the medicine man had overlooked in his hurried flight from he town, the scout found this curious necklace. Big Bat gave it to Colonel Burke, whom he knew as a student of Indian religions and superstitions, and he in turn, prisoned it to the National Museum. The necklace is very old, and was looked upon by the Cheyennes as a hinge endowed with miraculous powers. The Cheyennes tried hard to ge it back, offering a large sum of money and a grew many horses for its return, but this was refused.

The fingers were those of famous enemies, noted for their superior courage and bravery, whom the Cheyennes had killed in battle during their various wars, while the human skin of which the medicine bags were made, was also taken from the bodies of enemies slain in battle.


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