Billings Gazette reporter Lorna Thackeray takes readers on a journey into the past with her story on a special group of kids who recently retraced the steps of their Northern Cheyenne ancestors, a group that marched a terrible march in 1879 after they escaped from military confinement and rushed to their homeland in southeastern Montana.
It is the 17th time the youth have run the same route in honor of the escapees, Thareray writes.
“Today we want to start the shift and stop recycling the effects of oppression and trauma,” Phillip Whiteman Jr. said Monday as children — descendants of those survivors — ran the last leg of a 400-mile journey following the footsteps of the Fort Robinson survivors.
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Whiteman and the late LaForce Lee Lonebear organized the original run as tribute to their ancestors and as a way to heal new generations of Cheyenne. The run also honors Lonebear, who died last year.
The children’s trek through history began in Nebraska at 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 9 — about the same time 133 desperate and starving members of Dull Knife’s band tried to escape brutal confinement in a barrack at Fort Robinson. Most were women, children and old men.
“It was 20 below and they didn’t have more than a blanket or two,” said Wilbur Spang, who accompanied the children to Nebraska and back again. He is the head of maintenance for Lame Deer schools.
After the victory at Little Bighorn the Northern Cheyenne were pursued across Montana. Chief Dull Knife eventually led a few escapees to the Pine Ridge Reservation where they were allowed to stay.
Sierra Simpson, 12, decided to take on the run after her father told her about it.
“It helped me learn more about my people,” the Colstrip Middle School seventh-grader said.
She is a descendant of Dull Knife, and she thoroughly enjoyed the six-day history lesson.
“It was fun,” she said after arriving in Busby. “I’d do it again.”