The Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, formerly named the Tongue River Indian Reservation, is an Indian reservation that is home to the Northern Cheyenne tribe of the Native Americans. It is located around the small towns of Lame Deer and Ashland, Montana, in parts of Rosebud and Big Horn counties. This land is located approximately 40 miles east of the site of the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn, or “Battle of Greasy Grass”, as it is called by the Lakota. Small parcels of non-contiguous off-reservation trust lands are in Meade County, South Dakota, northeast of the city of Sturgis. The total land area is 706.976 square miles, and a population of 4,789 was reported in the 2010 census.
Approximately 91% of the population were Native Americans (full or part race), with 72.8% identifying as Cheyenne. Some Crow also live in this reservation. Slightly more than a quarter of the population 5 years or older spoke a language other than English.
The Northern Cheyenne were allies of the Lakota in the Black Hills War of 1876–77. Numerous Cheyenne work as foresters, fire fighters and Emergency medical services employees, to help save the land they have left. The special binding to the land, common to many Native American tribes, is especially visible in traditional communities, like Birney, and has been emphasized by the 2006 split vote on development coal and coalbed methane on the reservation.
A historical buffalo jump, burial sites of Indian chiefs, the site of Custer’s last camp before the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the Cheyenne Indian Museum, Ten Bears Gallery, St. Labre Indian School, and the Ashland Powwow are sites of special interest in the Ashland area. Lame Deer is tribal headquarters and home of the Northern Cheyenne Powwow.
The Northern Cheyenne are close relatives of the Southern Cheyenne, an AmerInd nation located in Oklahoma. Following the Black Hills War and earlier conflicts in Colorado (see Sand Creek Massacre and Washita Massacre), the Northern Cheyenne were sent to Oklahoma to join their southern relatives. Unacclimated to the hot conditions of western Oklahoma (Indian Territory at the time), the northerners began dying like flies. In desperation, a small band left the reservation and headed north in 1878, an odyssey that later inspired Mari Sandoz’s novel, Cheyenne Autumn.
The Northern Cheyenne briefly settled around Fort Keogh (Miles City, Montana). In the early 1880s, many families began to migrate south to the Tongue River watershed area and established homesteads in the northern edge of the Powder River Basin, which they considered their natural home. The United States established the Tongue River Indian Reservation, now named the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, of 371,200 acres by executive order of President Chester A. Arthur on November 16, 1884.
The boundaries excluded Cheyenne who had homesteaded further east near the Tongue River. Those people were served by the St. Labre Catholic Mission. The western boundary is the Crow Indian Reservation. On March 19, 1900, President William McKinley extended the reservation to the west bank of the Tongue River, for a total of 444,157 acres. Those Cheyenne who had homesteaded east of the Tongue River were relocated to reservation lands west of the river. The Reservation’s timbered ridges in southeastern Montana and northwestern South Dakota are also part of the Crow Reservation and Custer National Forest.