They are few and far between, but Maheo’o (The Creator) often sends people of special ability, talent and heart when the people most need them. One such for the Northern Cheyenne was Buffalo Calf Road Woman (also Brave Woman) born in 1850, just about when the Cheyenne people were in great need of heroes capable of remarkable and selfless deeds – in this case it was a heroine.
In 1876, already married to Black Coyote and mother of two children, Buffalo Calf Robe Woman traveled with the Northern Cheyenne and Sioux to the Little Big Horn. There in a remote valley they were engaged with the US Military in what is now called the Battle of the Rosebud. During the fight, her brother Comes In Sight had his horse shot from underneath and was left on the valley floor under deadly enemy fire. Buffalo Calf Road Woman who had already been on the warrior trail, did not hesitate. Leaping onto a war horse, she raced down into deadly fuselage, swung her brother up behind, carrying him to safety. The Battle of the Rosebud, largely counted as a draw encouraged the tribal people and they continued on to the Little Big Horn, victory in their hearts, greatly inspired by Buffalo Calf Road Woman.
There is a tradition, though rare, within the Cheyenne Tribe of “warrior women”, that is, those who literally opt to follow the warrior trail, fighting alongside brothers, husbands and others. Though they were often relegated to being camp tenders (making camps, caring for extra horses, hauling word, hunting and preparing food), this role too was essential for successful war parties, These rare women voluntarily put themselves into harms way, willing and able to defend themselves and others when necessary. Buffalo Calf Road Woman decided at a young age to walk this road.
About a week after the Rosebud Battle, Buffalo Calf Road Woman found herself in another fight – the Little Big Horn. There she fought as fiercely as any man, it being said that a calvary soldier would rather face several warriors than deal with this fierce woman. Historical speculation has it that she may have been the one to inflict final fatal wounds upon Custer, but as few actual Indian battle participants would speak of their roles in the Battle, that has not been conclusively documented.
Buffalo Calf Road Woman lived many years after that, going to Oklahoma and helping fight the way back to Montana, only to become ill and die in 1880 near Miles City, four short years before the Northern Cheyenne reservation was created.
She is famous now, the subject of a book and a likeness of her graces the main part of the Visitor’ Center at the Little Big Horn Battlefield, largely due to pain-staking research conducted by Sharon Small who is married into the Cheyenne Tribe.
Yet, the most important thing is to keep her memory and legacy alive in our hearts. She was an extraordinary woman, adapting to her time and the crises faced – as a warrior.
That is why it is so wonderful that the White River Cheyenne Days (Busby) annual pow wow, horse races and other festivities are dedicated to her: The Girl who Saved Her Brother. You’d be hard pressed to find a young Cheyenne pow wow person who does not know about her. Sadly, due to the CoVid, this year’s celebration has been canceled.
One the other hand, in my opinion there are still many strong Cheyenne women of her ilk – busy saving brothers right and left. (And I would say that includes many Cheyenne men). Perhaps not with the same drama, but strongly dedicated nonetheless.
The Cheyenne have a saying “It will not be over until the hearts of the women are lying on the ground.” Sometimes, our hearts might take a downward tilt, but by golly, in the spirit of Buffalo Calf Road Woman, they are not on the ground yet.
(Clara Caufield can be reached email@example.com)