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Cheyenne (from the Sioux name Sha-hi'yena, Shai-ena, or (Teton) Shai-ela, 'people of alien speech,' from sha'ia, 'to speak a strange language'). An important Plains tribe of the great Algonquian family. They call themselves Dzǐ'tsǐǐstäs, apparently nearly equivalent to 'people alike,' i.e. 'our people' from ǐtsǐstau. 'alike' or 'like this' (animate); (ehǐstă, 'he is from, or of, the same kind'); by a slight change of accent it might also mean 'gashed ones', or possibly 'tall people.' The tribal form as here given is the third person plural.
The popular name has no connection with the French chien, 'dog,' as has sometimes erroneously been supposed. In the sign language they are indicated by a gesture which has often been interpreted to mean 'cut arms' or 'cut fingers' being made by drawing the right index finger several times rapidly across the left, but which appears really to indicate 'striped arrows,' by which name they are known to the Hidatsa, Shoshoni, Comanche, Caddo, and probably other tribes, in allusion to their old-time preference for turkey feathers for winging arrows.
The earliest authenticated habitat of the Cheyenne, before the year 1700, seems to have been that part of Minnesota bounded roughly by the Mississippi, Minnesota, and upper Red rivers. The Sioux, living at that period more immediately on the Mississippi, to the east and southeast, came in contact with the French as early as 1667, but the Cheyenne are first mentioned in 1680, under the name of Chaa, when a party of that tribe, described as living on the head of the great river, i. e., the Mississippi, visited La Salle's fort on Illinois river to invite the French to come to their country, which they represented as abounding in beaver and other fur animals. The veteran Sioux missionary, Williamson, says that according to concurrent and reliable Sioux tradition the Cheyenne preceded the Sioux in the occupancy of the upper Mississippi region, and were found by them already established on the Minnesota.
In 1851 they were still to some extent a distinct people, but exist now only as one of the component divisions of the (Southern) Cheyenne tribe, in no respect different from the others. Under the name Staitan (a contraction of Sŭtai-hitän, pl. Sŭtai-hitänio, 'Sŭtai men') they are mentioned by Lewis and Clark in 1804 as a small and savage tribe roving west of the Black Hills.
There is some doubt as to when or where the Cheyenne first met the Arapaho, with whom they have long been confederated; neither do they appear to have any clear idea as to the (late of the alliance between the two tribes, which continues unbroken to the present day. Their connection with the Arapaho is a simple alliance, without assimilation, while the Sutaio have been incorporated bodily.