Charles Little Coyote, 86, a traditional Cheyenne chief who passed February 9 in Wichita, Kansas, is remembered as a modest man with an abiding sense of humor who believed it was important to teach the Cheyenne language and culture to young people.
He was a great-great-grandson of Black Kettle, the renowned Cheyenne peace chief who survived the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, signed the peace Treaty of Medicine Lodge in 1867, and then was killed by the Army the next year in the Washita Massacre.
A century later, Little Coyote, in full regalia, depicted Black Kettle in a triennial pageant held at Medicine Lodge, Kansas memorializing the treaty that was to have provided safety for settlers headed westward and that was signed by the U.S. and the Kiowa, Comanche, Kiowa-Apache, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal nations.
Little Coyote was, according to Jeff Campbell, who interviewed him in 2008, “honest and truly unassuming, this descendent of chiefs” and “a humble man.” Little Coyote was a chief in the Cheyenne Council of Forty-four, he recalled.
Campbell, a non-Native retired lawman and independent historian, spent two days with Little Coyote in 2008, and found that “not once was he boastful and arrogant, maybe not what one might expect from a man so honored and asked to take the place as a venerable traditional leader.”
Others who talked with, worked with, fought alongside, or rode with Little Coyote in a Wild West show are gone, but the achievements of his life remain.
After enlisting in the Navy at age 15 (with his father’s permission), he fought in World War II and later enlisted in the Marine Corps, serving in the Korean Conflict. Campbell recalled that Little Coyote made light of his second enlistment, saying that he and a friend got a meal pass from the Marines in Oklahoma City—which must have constituted a commitment—and “I ended up in the Marine Corps for quite awhile, for one meal.”
He rode for a time with a Wild West show, worked in the gypsum mines and mills near Medicine Lodge, Kansas and later had a job in the oil fields.
But perhaps his proudest accomplishment was working with youth, teaching them about the traditional Cheyenne ways that marked his early childhood. He was born in a tipi in rural Oklahoma and, according to custom, spoke Cheyenne and was raised by his grandparents before he attended boarding school.
It may be that words spoken to Campbell during an interview sum up Little Coyote’s desire to teach young people and to pass on values that were central to his life: “What would you tell the Cheyenne kids?” Campbell asked, recalling that Little Coyote hoped his knowledge of the Cheyenne ways of old would be taken up by the people. “I would tell them they’re still Indian,” Little Coyote replied.