A long, long time ago
the Cheyenne people had among them a prophet and teacher called
Sweet Medicine was wise.
Sweet Medicine was good.
He himself did not want to
be made their leader. "You should not have a leader more
powerful than all the others," he said. He organized the
tribe in such a way that there were forty-four chiefs who represented
the tribe in all things and who were their leaders.
"A chief must not seek
profit for himself," said Sweet Medicine. "He must
help the people, live for the people, and, if need be, die for
Warriors were greatly admired
by the Cheyenne, but Sweet Medicine taught that when a man was
chosen to be a chief, he must renounce his warrior ways and walk
in the way of peace. A man could not be a soldier and a chief
at the same time.
In case of war, the soldier societies did the fighting. They
also carried out the punishment decided on by the Council of
Chiefs for wrongdoing in the tribe. Always, however, the emphasis
was on restitution, rehabilitation, and forgiveness.
How were the teachings of Sweet Medicine carried out in the lives
of the Cheyenne? Did the teaching of Sweet Medicine make a difference
in the way the people treated those who did wrong? Here is what
One day in spring, at the beginning of the hunt, two young Cheyenne
boys rode out to hunt buffalo by themselves, without waiting
for the others. They wanted a head start. This was, of course,
very selfish. It was also against the rules of communal hunting.
The Shield Society, whose duty it was to enforce rules, saw the
two and immediately swept down on them. As punishment they beat
the boys and killed their horses. The boys' father came and lectured
them about their selfish behavior.
Now the members of the Shield Society, who stood around, saw
that the boys were very ashamed of themselves. They had obviously
learned their lesson. Two of the soldiers stepped forward and
gave the boys horses. Two other soldiers gave them guns. The
punishment of the culprits, their change of heart, and their
rehabilitation took place within minutes. The matter was settled.
This is the way the Cheyenne handled their own internal problems.
In 1825 something new happened in the life of the Cheyenne. The
United States government sent an officer to ask them to come
to Fort Teton to have a council meeting with them. The chiefs
assembled, discussed this request, and decided to accept the
At the meeting the representatives of the United States said,"Our
people would like to travel through the country from east to
west. May we have permission to build a road though your territory
and use water and the trees to help do this? We will only travel
on the road and not trespass on any other land."
After the chiefs came home they held a tribal council about this.
"We have no ill will toward the white people," said
"Sweet Medicine taught that we should treat strangers as
friends, make them welcome, and treat them as members of the
tribe," said another chief.
"White people are loud and uncultured," said one of
the chiefs slowly.
After a long silence another chief said,"True, but there
is only a handful of them,and it can do a little harm to let
them cross our land,"
"Yes, let them build the road," they finally all agreed.
"By allowing them to do it, we will show our hospitality."
The Cheyenne kept their part of the treaty, but the white people
did not. The handful of whites became a great stream moving from
east to west. Instead of using only the road, they spread all
across the country, and brought with them whiskey, sickness,
The Cheyenne people became very angry. They wanted to fight back.
What would the chiefs do now? Would they remember the teachings
of Sweet Medicine? It became more and more difficult.
One year the Cheyenne were almost starving, because they could
not find any game. Suddenly they came upon six white hunters
and beside them the carcasses of eighteen buffalo. they saw that
the hunters had cut out only the tongues of the buffalo and were
leaving the rest to rot!
The Cheyenne were furious. Slowly they surrounded the white hunters.
The hunters knew that the Cheyenne were going to kill them.
But at that moment Chief Little Wolf, who was dedicated to the
way of peace and to the teachings, intervened. He smoked a pipe.
He talked to the Cheyenne solders. Finally he turned to the hunters
and in his powerful way he said, "Go!"
The hunters ran. They ran as fast as they could and never knew
why their lives were spared! But something even worse was about
to happen. Chief Lean Bear was one of the chiefs who was greatly
distressed over the turn of events. He wanted his people to live
in peace with the white people. For this reason he and several
other chiefs went to Washington in 1862 to speak with the president.
Lean Bear was very happy when he came home. The president himself
had spoken to them and assured them of the government's good
will. Lean Bear brought back a peace medal the president had
given him. He thought now they would all be able to live in peace.
Soon afterwards Lean Bear saw a column of white soldiers marching
toward his camp. His people were frightened, but Lean Bear comforted
"Do not be afraid," he said. "The president himself
has promised that no harm will come to us. See, I have hung his
peace medal around my neck. And here are the papers he gave me."
Lean Bear and several of his men confidently rode out to meet
the soldiers to tell them that this was a friendly camp. But
the soldiers fired on Lean Bear before he could say anything.
They killed him.
Now surely the Cheyenne would fight! Yes, in their fury, they
started to fight the government soldiers. But another chief,
Black Kettle, rode among them. He reasoned with them. He persuaded
them once more to follow the teachings of Sweet Medicine and
to keep the peace.
And so it was that long, long after Sweet Medicine had died,
his teachings were still followed by the Cheyenne. This affected
the lives of all the Cheyenne, and with them, the lives of all
the white people. Sweet Medicine had truly been a great man.
From Peace Be With You
by Cornelia Lehn, Faith and Life Press, 1980.Used by permission
of the publisher. Peace Be With You, a collection of true
stories about peacemakers throughout history, is available from
Herald Press and Faith & Life Press.To order, or for information
on current prices, call Herald Press at
1-800-245-7894 or Faith & Life Press at 1-800-743-2484.
Art by Bruno Nez, Goshen, Indiana