Morning Star (Dull Knife) - Eastman's Biography


Joshua J. Mark
published on 16 May 2024
Chief Morning Star (Dull Knife) of the Northern Cheyenne (by Unknown Photographer, Public Domain)
Chief Morning Star (Dull Knife) of the Northern Cheyenne
Unknown Photographer (Public Domain)

Morning Star (Vooheheve, l. c. 1810-1883, better known as Dull Knife) was a Northern Cheyenne chief who led his people in resistance to the US government's policies of genocidal westward expansion. He participated in Red Cloud's War (1866-1868), various engagements between 1868-1876, and was defeated at the Battle on the Red Fork (the Dull Knife Fight) in 1876.

Afterwards, he and his people were forced from their homelands in the Dakota territories onto the reservation in modern-day Oklahoma. The conditions there were terrible and many died of disease and starvation. In 1878, Morning Star and Chief Little Wolf (also known as Little Coyote, l. c. 1820-1904) led their people out of the reservation in what has come to be known as the Northern Cheyenne Exodus, hoping to reach and reclaim their homelands in the region of modern-day Montana.

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Little Wolf's band separated from the group, heading toward the Powder River territory, while Morning Star's band continued on, hoping to reach the Sioux chief Red Cloud (l. 1822-1909) and safety at the Red Cloud Agency (later the Pine Ridge Reservation). They were apprehended in October 1878 by the US Cavalry and brought to Fort Robinson where they were imprisoned and told they would have to return south to the reservation. Morning Star told the authorities:

All we ask is to be allowed to live, and live in peace…We bowed to the will of the Great Father [US President] and went south. There we found a Cheyenne cannot live. So we came home. Better it was, we thought, to die fighting than to perish of sickness…You may kill me here, but you cannot make me go back. We will not go. The only way to get us there is to come in here with clubs and knock us on the head and drag us out and take us down there dead. (Brown, 332)

Negotiations between Morning Star and authorities went nowhere, and, in early January 1879, it was decided food, water, and firewood rations would be withheld from the prisoners to force their compliance in returning south. The Cheyenne instead broke out, using weapons they had hidden in blankets and clothing, in an event later known as the Fort Robinson Breakout and Fort Robinson Massacre (9 January 1879). 60 Cheyenne were killed, 70 captured and returned to the fort, while Morning Star and a few others escaped and fled to the Red Cloud Agency where they were protected by Red Cloud.

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Morning Star was then able to negotiate terms, which resulted in the establishment of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana in 1884, although he would not live to see that, dying in 1883.

Eastman's Biography & Omissions

The Sioux physician, lecturer, and author Charles A. Eastman (also known as Ohiyesa, l. 1858-1939), includes Morning Star in his Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains (1916) by his Sioux name "Dull Knife" (which he is better known by, largely due to Eastman's work). Almost nothing is known of Morning Star's life prior to his participation in Red Cloud's War, and Eastman's biography reflects that.

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Morning Star was among the chiefs present at the signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.

The work includes anecdotes of the chief's younger years but focuses on his life after 1875 and, especially, the Northern Cheyenne Exodus and Fort Robinson Massacre. For unknown reasons, considering the usual accuracy of Eastman's biographies, he claims that Morning Star (Dull Knife) was killed at Fort Robinson in 1879 when it is known he lived until 1883, dying of natural causes. No explanation for this is available. The rest of the work is considered accurate, however, especially regarding Cheyenne support for the Great Sioux War (1876-1877) and the Northern Cheyenne Exodus.

Many details are omitted, however, including how Morning Star was among the chiefs present at the signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, which ended Red Cloud's War and promised the Sioux their ancestral lands in the region of modern-day South Dakota, part of North Dakota, and Nebraska. This treaty was not honored by the US government, leading to further hostilities and, eventually, the Great Sioux War.

Morning Star was not present at the Battle of the Little Bighorn (Battle of the Greasy Grass, 25-26 June 1876) but was inspired by the victory of Sitting Bull (l. c. 1837-1890), Crazy Horse (l. c. 1840-1877), and Sioux war chief Gall (l. c. 1840-1894) to again take up arms against the US military. He and Little Wolf were defeated by troops under the command of Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie (l. 1840-1889) and his Pawnee allies at the Battle on the Red Fork (the Dull Knife Fight) on 25 November 1876.

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Little Coyote (Little Wolf) and Morning Star (Dull Knife) Chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne
Little Coyote (Little Wolf) and Morning Star (Dull Knife) Chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne
William Henry Jackson (Public Domain)

It was this defeat that led to the Northern Cheyenne being forcibly removed to the Southern Cheyenne Reservation in "Indian Territory" of modern-day Oklahoma in April 1877. The terrible conditions there then resulted in the Northern Cheyenne Exodus of 1878.


The following text is taken from Eastman's Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains, the 1939 edition, republished in 2016. The narrative includes a reference to Roman Nose (Cheyenne warrior) and Two Moons (Cheyenne war chief), both famous for their resistance to US westward expansion. Two Moons (l. c. 1847-1917) led the Cheyenne at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, but by that time, Roman Nose was dead, killed at the Battle of Beecher Island in 1868.

Cheyenne War Chief Two Moons
Cheyenne War Chief Two Moons
Edward S. Curtis (Public Domain)

Eastman also mentions Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce (l. 1840-1904), who, like Morning Star (Dull Knife), led his people off the reservation in Idaho in 1877 in an attempt to reach Canada and join with Sitting Bull, who had taken refuge there after the Battle of the Little Bighorn. As with Morning Star, Chief Joseph and his people were also apprehended by the US military, suffering many casualties, and their ancestral lands were taken.

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The life of Dull Knife, the Cheyenne, is a true hero tale. Simple, child-like yet manful, and devoid of selfish aims, or love of gain, he is a pattern for heroes of any race.

Dull Knife was a chief of the old school. Among all the Indians of the plains, nothing counts save proven worth. A man's caliber is measured by his courage, unselfishness, and intelligence. Many writers confuse history with fiction, but in Indian history their women and old men and even children witness the main events, and not being absorbed in daily papers and magazines, these events are rehearsed over and over with few variations. Though orally preserved, their accounts are therefore accurate. But they have seldom been willing to give reliable information to strangers, especially when asked and paid for.

Racial prejudice naturally enters into the account of a man's life by enemy writers, while one is likely to favor his own race. I am conscious that many readers may think that I have idealized the Indian. Therefore, I will confess now that we have too many weak and unprincipled men among us. When I speak of the Indian hero, I do not forget the mongrel in spirit, false to the ideals of his people. Our trustfulness has been our weakness, and when the vices of civilization were added to our own, we fell heavily.

It is said that Dull Knife as a boy was resourceful and self-reliant. He was only nine years old when his family was separated from the rest of the tribe while on a buffalo hunt. His father was away and his mother busy, and he was playing with his little sister on the banks of a stream, when a large herd of buffalo swept down upon them on a stampede for water. His mother climbed a tree, but the little boy led his sister into an old beaver house whose entrance was above water, and here they remained in shelter until the buffalo passed and they were found by their distracted parents.

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Dull Knife was quite a youth when his tribe was caught one winter in a region devoid of game and threatened with starvation. The situation was made worse by heavy storms, but he secured help and led a relief party a hundred and fifty miles, carrying bales of dried buffalo meat on pack horses.

Another exploit that made him dear to his people occurred in battle when his brother-in-law was severely wounded and left lying where no one on either side dared to approach him. As soon as Dull Knife heard of it, he got on a fresh horse, and made so daring a charge that others joined him; thus, under cover of their fire, he rescued his brother-in-law, and in so doing was wounded twice.

The Sioux knew him as a man of high type, perhaps not so brilliant as Roman Nose and Two Moon, but surpassing both in honesty and simplicity, as well as in his war record. (Two Moon, in fact, was never a leader of his people, and became distinguished only in wars with the whites during the period of revolt.) A story is told of an ancestor of the same name that illustrates well the spirit of the age.

It was the custom in those days for the older men to walk ahead of the moving caravan and decide upon all halts and camping places. One day the councilors came to a grove of wild cherries covered with ripe fruit, and they stopped at once. Suddenly a grizzly charged from the thicket. The men yelped and hooted, but the bear was not to be bluffed. He knocked down the first warrior who dared to face him and dragged his victim into the bushes.

The whole caravan was in the wildest excitement. Several of the swiftest-footed warriors charged the bear, to bring him out into the open, while the women and dogs made all the noise they could. The bear accepted the challenge, and as he did so, the man whom they had supposed dead came running from the opposite end of the thicket. The Indians were delighted, and especially so when in the midst of their cheers, the man stopped running for his life and began to sing a Brave Heart song as he approached the grove with his butcher knife in his hand. He would dare his enemy again!

The grizzly met him with a tremendous rush, and they went down together. Instantly the bear began to utter cries of distress, and at the same time the knife flashed, and he rolled over dead. The warrior was too quick for the animal; he first bit his sensitive nose to distract his attention, and then used the knife to stab him to the heart. He fought many battles with knives thereafter and claimed that the spirit of the bear gave him success. On one occasion, however, the enemy had a strong buffalo-hide shield which the Cheyenne bear fighter could not pierce through, and he was wounded; nevertheless, he managed to dispatch his foe. It was from this incident that he received the name of Dull Knife, which was handed down to his descendant.

As is well known, the Northern Cheyenne uncompromisingly supported the Sioux in their desperate defense of the Black Hills and Big Horn country. Why not? It was their last buffalo region—their subsistence. It was what our wheat fields are to a civilized nation.

About the year 1875, a propaganda was started for confining all the Indians upon reservations, where they would be practically interned or imprisoned, regardless of their possessions and rights. The men who were the strongest advocates of the scheme generally wanted the Indians' property—the one main cause back of all Indian wars. From the warlike Apaches to the peaceful Nez Perces, all the tribes of the plains were hunted from place to place; then the government resorted to peace negotiations, but always with an army at hand to coerce. Once disarmed and helpless, they were to be taken under military guard to the Indian Territory.

A few resisted and declared they would fight to the death rather than go. Among these were the Sioux, but nearly all the smaller tribes were deported against their wishes. Of course, those Indians who came from a mountainous and cold country suffered severely. The moist heat and malaria decimated the exiles. Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce and Chief Standing Bear of the Poncas appealed to the people of the United States, and finally succeeded in having their bands or the remnant of them returned to their own part of the country. Dull Knife was not successful in his plea, and the story of his flight is one of poignant interest.

He was regarded by the authorities as a dangerous man and, with his depleted band, was taken to the Indian Territory without his consent in 1876. When he realized that his people were dying like sheep, he was deeply moved. He called them together. Every man and woman declared that they would rather die in their own country than stay there longer, and they resolved to flee to their northern homes.

Here again was displayed the genius of these people. From the Indian Territory [modern Oklahoma] to Dakota is no short dash for freedom. They knew what they were facing. Their line of flight lay through a settled country, and they would be closely pursued by the army. No sooner had they started than the telegraph wires sang one song: "The panther of the Cheyenne is at large. Not a child or a woman in Kansas or Nebraska is safe." Yet they evaded all the pursuing and intercepting troops and reached their native soil. The strain was terrible, the hardship great, and Dull Knife, like Chief Joseph, was remarkable for his self-restraint in sparing those who came within his power on the way.

But fate was against him, for there were those looking for blood money who betrayed him when he thought he was among friends. His people were tired out and famished when they were surrounded and taken to Fort Robinson. There the men were put in prison, and their wives guarded in camp. They were allowed to visit their men on certain days. Many of them had lost everything; there were but a few who had even one child left. They were heartbroken.

These despairing women appealed to their husbands to die fighting: their liberty was gone, their homes broken up, and only slavery and gradual extinction in sight. At last Dull Knife listened. He said: "I have lived my life. I am ready." The others agreed. "If our women are willing to die with us, who is there to say no? If we are to do the deeds of men, it rests with you women to bring us our weapons."

As they had been allowed to carry moccasins and other things to the men, so they contrived to take in some guns and knives under this disguise. The plan was to kill the sentinels and run to the nearest natural trench, there to make their last stand. The women and children were to join them. This arrangement was carried out. Not every brave had a gun, but all had agreed to die together. They fought till their small store of ammunition was exhausted, then exposed their broad chests for a target, and the mothers even held up their little ones to be shot. Thus died the fighting Cheyenne and their dauntless leader.

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About the Author

Joshua J. Mark
Joshua J. Mark is World History Encyclopedia's co-founder and Content Director. He was previously a professor at Marist College (NY) where he taught history, philosophy, literature, and writing. He has traveled extensively and lived in Greece and Germany.


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Questions & Answers

Who was Morning Star (Dull Knife)?

Morning Star (l. c. 1810-1883) was a chief of the Northern Cheyenne, better known by his Sioux name, Dull Knife. He is best known for his leadership during the Northern Cheyenne Exodus from the reservation in Oklahoma to Cheyenne lands in modern-day Montana.

Why is Morning Star known as Dull Knife?

According to Sioux author Charles A. Eastman, the name Dull Knife was passed down in the family to honor an ancestor who killed a bear with a dull knife.

Was Morning Star (Dull Knife) at the Battle of the Little Bighorn?

No, but he was inspired by the Sioux-Cheyenne victory at the Little Bighorn to renew his armed resistance against the US military. He was defeated in November 1876 at the Battle on the Red Fork (the Dull Knife Fight).

How did Morning Star (Dull Knife) die?

Contrary to Eastman's claim, Morning Star did not die in the Fort Robinson Massacre of 1879. He died of natural causes on the reservation in 1883.

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APA Style

Mark, J. J. (2024, May 16). Morning Star (Dull Knife) - Eastman's Biography. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

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Mark, Joshua J.. "Morning Star (Dull Knife) - Eastman's Biography." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified May 16, 2024.

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Mark, Joshua J.. "Morning Star (Dull Knife) - Eastman's Biography." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 16 May 2024. Web. 13 Jun 2024.