Thursday, March 12, 2015

Cheyenne Odyssey and the commemorative Northern Cheyenne Fort Robinson Breakout Run

At the recent IEFA Best Practices Conference in Bozeman, I had a chance to preview the PBS Game Cheyenne Odyssey.

Created in consulation with Chief Dull Knife College President Dr. Richard Littlebear and other members of the Northern Cheyenne, the game focuses on the transformation of Northern Cheyenne life on the Great Plains from 1866 to 1876. The game is divided into five parts, plus a prologue that offers historical background, and an epilogue that extends the story into the twenty-first century.

Mission 3 is the third in the series of interactive games PBS is creating to make history more engaging. Mission 1, for Crown or Colony, starts in 1770. Mission 2, Flight for Freedom, has students taking on the role of Lucy King, a 14 year old slave in Kentucky who tries to escape across the Mason-Dixon line. Mission 4 begins in 1907 in New York City and covers the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. I believe the not-yet-released Mission 5 will be set in the Great Depression. You can find all of the games here.

In Mission 3, students playing the game assume the role of Little Fox, a twelve-year-old Northern Cheyenne boy. As the game opens, Little Fox is growing up with his band around the Powder River Basin (in present-day southeastern Montana and northeastern Wyoming). Little Fox’s daily life is determined by the needs and traditions of his family and community.  His everyday life, however, is soon impacted by the encroachment of United States military expeditions, railroad builders, and white settlers. As Little Fox grows older, the Northern Cheyenne way of life changes dramatically, as the tribe adapts to the United States’ expansion into the West.  (Excerpted from About Mission 3: Cheyenne Odyssey.)

I thought the game was fun and educational--and there are a tremendous number of teaching resources developed to support its use in the classroom. I recommend you check them out along with the game itself.

At the session I met Belgrade high school teacher Deb McLaughlin, who said that when she teaches about the Northern Cheyenne and their flight from exile in Oklahoma back to Montana, she shows this powerful short (14:41 minute) film about the Fort Robinson Breakout Spiritual Run. Northern Cheyenne students have participated each year since 1996 in this 400 mile commemorative relay to remember Chief Dull Knife and his people's dramatic escape from Fort Robinson, the massacre that ensued, and the survivors' determination to make it home. (Find a short primer on the breakout in Montana: Stories of the Land, pp. 141-43.) Deb mentioned that she's looking into figuring out a way to connect her students in Belgrade with some of the runners by Skype--which sounds like an amazing extension.


  1. FYI: the Veoh site DOES have inappropriate content (on the sidebars) for students, but you can access the same Fort Robinson run video as it was posted on YouTube. (It is in two parts.) Or you can pre-download it if watching from Veoh, which requires downloading their video-viewer. Here are the YouTube links:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tflsSA6JKA is Part 1
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZQl_eV2_5A is Part 2

  2. A Rapelje teacher emailed me: "“thought I'd let you know that I've used these games in my class. The students were totally involved with the one on the Cheyennes. They thought the other games were very good. They learned a great deal and said that the games gave them a different perspective. I knew the games were a success when the students came in and told me that they had played them at their homes and in study halls. They would definitely recommend them.”