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Fort Robinson Breakout Spiritual Run Honors Cheyenne History
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South Dakota: The young Northern Cheyennes woke before dawn to run in subzero temperatures in the Black Hills. 
They ran through wind and snow, retracing a 400-mile trek their ancestors took 126 years ago after breaking out of the barracks at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, en route to Montana.


Rebuilt barracks that housed the 130 Cheyenne of all ages who attempted to escape in 1879

The ninth annual Fort Robinson Break Out Spiritual Run enables Northern Cheyenne youth to better understand history and themselves.

"It's reintroducing them to their identity, their culture," said Phillip Whiteman Jr., a founder and coordinator of the run. "The transformation they go through in four days - the pride, the self-esteem - it's magic."

This year, 90 students from Lame Deer, Busby, Ashland, Colstrip and elsewhere participated in the 4-day relay run. 
The journey took them through Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. This year's runners ranged in age from 3 -17. At any one time, one to four of them ran in the relay.


Little Wolf and Dull Knife, Chiefs of the Northern Cheyennes

"They're learning everyday values like teamwork, unity, learning to recognize opportunities and overcoming adversity," Whiteman said.

The run retraces an important moment in the Northern Cheyenne story.  In 1878, Chiefs Dull Knife and Little Wolf decided to lead their people from Oklahoma, where they were dying, to their ancestral land in Montana.

Tribal member who remained behind are known as the Southern Cheyenne. The others, about 300, made it to  Nebraska where they split into two bands. Little Wolf would lead the healthy to Montana, while Dull Knife led the sick and weak to seek help from the Lakota tribe.

The U.S. Cavalry, though, caught Dull Knife's band and took them to Fort Robinson in western Nebraska.

That winter, troops locked the Cheyenne in the barracks without food, water or heat. After five days, the Cheyenne decided to break out.

About 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 9, 1879,  the band fled the barracks, and a bloody gun battle ensued. Most were killed within minutes. Many were later killed by U.S. soldiers. But Dull Knife and a few survivors managed a long, difficult journey -- once having to eat their shoes -- to the north.

Whiteman organized the first Memorial Breakout Run on the Northern Cheyenne reservation ten years ago. Four years later, the run expanded to a 400-mile relay from Nebraska to Montana.

During the run, youth follow their ancestors' path to Montana and the Tongue River, where they live today. Runners must also battle the elements. Caught in storms and plunging temperatures, they are forced to persevere and test themselves, Whiteman said. While safety is a high priority, the runners learn skills of survival and working together.

"It's spiritual, it's powerful," Whiteman said. "It's important that they better understand and value their culture, their traditions, and one's self," he said.

 

 


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