Image source: Wikimedia Commons
The remarkable story of Buffalo Calf Road Woman, a young Cheyenne warrior woman in her early twenties, weaves Native American culture with iconic women’s history. Buffalo Calf Road Woman, or Brave Woman (circa 1850’s – 1879), was a Northern Cheyenne woman who saved her wounded warrior brother, Chief Comes in Sight, in the Battle of the Rosebud in 1876. She fought next to her husband in the Battle of Little Bighorn that same year. It is not known how Buffalo Calf Road Woman acquired her skill with a gun, but she first rose to prominence among her people at the Battle of the Rosebud.
The Cheyenne were caught in the westward expansion of pioneers, miners and the army, all determined to colonize the land on the great plains occupied by native peoples. The Cheyenne and other native tribes endured attacks, massacres and forced removals to reservations. Since General Crook and his men were seen advancing toward their village, warriors prepared to ride out to stop them. Determined to help save her people, Buffalo Calf Road decided to ride with the warriors despite some opposition to a woman doing so.
General George Armstrong Custer led his troops against an encampment of Cheyenne, Lakota and other tribes camped along the Little Bighorn River. Buffalo Calf Road Woman again joined the warriors and fought bravely for her people, the only woman to do so. During the battle, she rescued a young warrior who lost his horse. Again victorious, the tribes regrouped, each going their own way.
Five months later, the Cheyenne village was viciously attacked again by soldiers in the early morning hours. When it was over, more than 40 Cheyenne lay dead, many wounded, and the village burned to the ground. Forced to flee again, this time without blankets, adequate clothing or food, Buffalo Calf Road Woman and her people made their way through a freezing, blinding snowstorm that descended on them. That first night in the icy cold, eleven babies froze to death.
The Indians were relentlessly pursued. Slowly, most of the Cheyenne surrendered. But despite being pregnant, Buffalo Calf Road Woman refused to surrender, holding out with a small group of about 30 Cheyenne “hostiles,” including some children. During this difficult period of extreme hardship, she had a second child. Eventually, with deteriorating conditions and the army’s promise of land of their own, the small band surrendered, only to learn they would be sent south to what is now Oklahoma.
For the Native Americans of the Northern Plains, the Battle of Little Bighorn was a glorious victory against U.S. government forces intent on claiming their land. Fought on June 25, 1876, in Montana Territory, the battle saw Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors quickly overwhelm and kill some 260 U.S. troops. George Armstrong Custer, the Civil War hero sent to remove the Native Americans to their reservations, was among them.
Remembering the bravery of Buffalo Calf Road Woman during National Women’s History Month!