Cheyenne (shīăn´, –ĕn´), indigenous people of North America whose language belongs to the Algonquian branch of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). The Cheyenne abandoned their settlements in Minnesota in the 17th cent., leaving the region to the hostile Sioux and Ojibwa. Gradually migrating W along the Cheyenne River and then south, they established earth-lodge villages and raised crops. After the introduction of the horse (c.1760) they eventually became nomadic buffalo hunters. The tribe split (c.1830) when a large group decided to settle on the upper Arkansas River and take advantage of the trade facilities offered by Bent's Fort. This group became known as the Southern Cheyenne. The Northern Cheyenne continued to live about the headwaters of the Platte River. For the next few years the Southern Cheyenne, allied with the Arapaho, were engaged in constant warfare against the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache. Peace was made c.1840, and the five tribes became allies.
The Cheyenne were generally friendly toward white settlers until the discovery of gold in Colorado (1858) brought a swarm of gold seekers into their lands. By a treaty signed in 1861 the Cheyenne agreed to live on a reservation in SE Colorado, but the U.S. government did not fulfill its obligations, and they were reduced to near starvation. Cheyenne raids resulted in punitive expeditions by the U.S. army. The indiscriminate massacre (1864) of warriors, women, and children at Sand Creek, Colo., was an unprovoked assault on a friendly group. The incident aroused the Cheyenne to fury, and a bitter war followed. Gen. George Custer destroyed (1868) Black Kettle's camp on the Washita River, and fighting between the whites and the Southern Cheyenne ended, except for an outbreak in 1874–75. The Northern Cheyenne joined with the Sioux and overwhelmed Custer and his 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. They finally surrendered in 1877 and were moved south and confined with the Southern Cheyenne in what is now Oklahoma. Plagued by disease and malnutrition, they made two desperate attempts to escape and return to the north. A separate reservation was eventually established for them in Montana. There were almost 12,000 Cheyenne in the United States in 1990.
See G. B. Grinnell, The Fighting Cheyennes (1915, repr. 1956) and The Cheyenne Indians (2 vol., 1923, repr. 1972); E. A. Hoebel, The Cheyennes (1960); D. J. Berthrong, The Southern Cheyennes (1963); J. Millard, The Cheyenne Wars (1964); John Stands in Timber and M. Liberty, Cheyenne Memories (1967); P. J. Powell, Sweet Medicine (2 vol., 1969); J. H. Moore, The Cheyenne Nation (1987).