Cheyenne and Arapaho Television: Tribal Elder Story: Cheyenne Peace Chief Lawrence Hart
Cheyenne Peace Chief travels on
Tuesday, March 22, 2022
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

The Cheyenne people, both Northern in Montana and Southern in Oklahoma, mourned the passing of a prominent and one of the last old-time “Peace” Chiefs, Lawrence Homer Hart, “Sky Chief” of Oklahoma. His like may not be soon seen again.

Traditionally, the Cheyenne Tribe had a high degree of social and governmental organization as directed by Sweet Medicine, a prophet who brought order and laws, social structure, and ceremony to the Tribe hundreds of years ago. Traditional Cheyenne still abide by these teachings.

There were ten bands of the Cheyenne, extended family groups, within the Tribe. Due to the limited resources of game, grass, and water it was not practicable for the entire Tribe to travel around and camp together, thus these bands were usually in separate geographic locations, gathering only periodically for occasions such as ceremony (Sun Dance, for example); treaty making and so forth.

Cheyenne Peace Chiefs
Cheyenne Peace Chiefs, from left: Lawrence Hart, Darryl Flyingman and Harvey Pratt at the Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival in Oklahoma in 2008. Photo: Red Earth Festival

Each of the ten bands had Chiefs. Those included four ‘old-man’ or peace chiefs, in charge of justice, resolving social disputes, deciding where to move camp, when to conduct buffalo hunts, organizing ceremony and other matters affecting the whole. Younger men also held the positions of “war chiefs,” who had other responsibilities: enforcing the dictates of the old man chiefs, organizing raids, protecting the people when under attack – essentially the warriors. Most of the old man chiefs had gone through that.

The four old-man or peace chiefs from each of the bands comprised the Council of Forty-Four, like the Supreme Court to the Cheyenne People. Life had to be orderly.

One thing among the Cheyenne is that in traditional manner nobody stands up and requests or is a self-proclaimed chief. Rather, they sit back. The people call upon them, looking for strong, resourceful men who take on the burden of personal obligation for the widows, orphans, and needy ones.

Thus, some decline, not wanting to take that burden. As the Cheyenne say, “only a successful man can be a Chief. All Chiefs die poor (from helping their people) but pass rich in love and regard.

“Sky Chief” answered the call. And thus, in his passing is held extremely high.

He was born at home on the banks of the Quartermaster Creek, north of Hammond, Oklahoma to Jennie Howling Water and Homer Hart in 1933, delivered by his Grandmother Corn Stalk, Anna Reynolds, mid-wife. His grandfather John Peak Heart was a Sundance priest, Native American church leader and Cheyenne chief.

Lawrence was raised by his grandparents, speaking only Cheyenne the first few years of his life. When starting school, English was difficult for him, thus held back in the first grade. Later, he attended Hammon high school, playing basketball, running track, and worked on the school newspaper, graduating in 1952.

Lawrence Hart
Lawrence Hart is seen at an “An Evening to Honor and Recognize Chief Lawrence Hart,” an event hosted by the National Park Service at the Washita Battlefield National Historic in Oklahoma in 2010. Photo: National Park Service

He attended Bethel College in Kansas, lettering in track. There he met Betty whom he married in 1957. They had three children, and later five grandchildren, now all successful.

In 1955, Lawrence left Bethel to realize his dream of flying jetter flight-planes in both the Navy and Marines. He was the first American Indian to become a U.S. Military Jet Pilot and Instructor. He was one MIG short of qualifying as an ACE when a truce with North Korea was declared.

Once he broke the sound barrier, flying over the Gulf Coast.

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Clara Caufield can be reached at acheyennevoice@gmail.com

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