Margot Liberty & Thomas B. Marquis,
A Northern Cheyenne Album
(University of Oklahoma Press, 2006)

A Northern Cheyenne Album is a collection of black-and-white photographs that touch the depths of your soul and prompt every emotion within you to surface. If you have any interest in Cheyennes, Native American reservation life or the Battle of Little Bighorn, you need this book. It is of special importance to Custer scholars and buffs.

The photographs were taken by reservation physician and professional photographer Thomas B. Marquis between 1926 and 1935. Marquis had come to the reservation in 1922 and became so attached to the people that he never left. His photographs serve as a historical record of the generation of Northern Cheyennes who fought for the freedom to live in their homeland.

The story behind this book is one of dogged determination to achieve a goal and should as inspiration to each of us. They were collected by Hap Gilliland of the Council for Indian Education to be developed into an educational volume during the 1960s. Cheyenne Chief John Woodelegs and others interviewed tribal elders and researched the subjects in the photographs, then added captions. The bulk of these captions are from Chief Woodenlegs. However, despite all their efforts, the book remained unpublished until Margot Liberty added captions and sent it to the University of Oklahoma in 1998. The editors there saw merit in the narrative style of the captions and decided to publish it.

The story of the Northern Cheyenne should serve as an inspiration. These people had been sent to the Cheyenne-Arapaho Agency in Oklahoma in 1877, but they houdinied the place and headed for home in 1878. They managed to avoid apprehension until the Northern Cheyenne Reservation was officially designated in 1884. Still, it was 1891 before all of the Northern Cheyenne were reunited.

Many of the persons involved in the three decades of major turmoil with the U.S. government are shown here and several were involved in the Battle of Little Bighorn. Fourteen of the men have never had their pictures published. Five of the women shown were at the battle, including the only woman known to have been on the actual battlefield and one that was wounded in the village. You will see the bullet scar on her chest.

Some of these photographs will shock you, such as the 92-year-old woman chopping firewood with an axe or the 96 year-old man (a warrior in the Custer fight) on his horse at the Lame Deer Fair. They run the entire spectrum from heartwarming to heart-rending.

The captions provide an intense look at the culture, lifestyle and history of the Northern Cheyenne and provide spellbinding reading. The introduction, with a brief historical overview of the Cheyenne and a short section for Custer scholars, is fascinating.

Margot Liberty is the co-author of Cheyenne Memories. She is a cultural anthropologist specializing in American Indian cultures and the American West. John Woodenlegs was president of the Northern Cheyenne tribe from 1955 to 1968 and founder of Chief Dull Knife Memorial College.

A Northern Cheyenne Album is the photographic and written record of a changing culture -- one of few in existence. It should be of extreme importance to anyone interested in that area. It is well worth the purchase price for any Native American buff.

book review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

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