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It is not possible to precisely compare native American status with the ranks of a modern army, because not only did each tribal group have different grades of chief, but the grade systems were far more complex than military ranks.

Among the Cheyenne, to take just one example, each of the 10 Cheyenne bands provided four "peace" chiefs to the tribal council; there were 4 additional advisers, giving a total of 44 council chiefs. Alongside these there were the war chiefs of the many warrior societies (a man could not be both a council chief and a war chief), plus the Keeper of the Sacred Arrows who was a kind of figurehead for the whole tribe (but not a supreme chief). The council of 44 were seen as equal in rank and perhaps senior to the war chiefs, but in some situations the war chiefs had supreme authority (such as when moving camp or policing buffalo hunts).

Among the Crows, a warrior would hope to progress through many different stages in order to become a "chief", but there were many different levels of chief. The stages were:

  • war party helper (carries water, cares for the horses and other tasks)
  • war party scout or "wolf"
  • leader of scouts
  • pipeholder ("One Who Owns the War Party"), a war chief
  • chief
  • head chief

In order to qualify as a pipeholder, a Crow man must first complete four specific war feats such as stealing an enemy horse from inside an enemy camp; he must also (crucially) have received a sacred vision and have a personal "medicine" or protective amulet. Above this level there were band chiefs, camp chiefs and chiefs of the main Crow tribal divisions.

None of these levels of Crow chiefs can be easily equated with "rank"; the warrior Two Leggings reached the level of a Pipeholder and he led many successful war parties, but because he never had an accepted medicine vision he was treated as insignificant by most other Crows. Furthermore, the exact types of war feats (coups) a man collected would be viewed as having different value, so even if two warriors had the same number of coups, one might be viewed as senior to the other because he had performed more valued acts of bravery.

Different systems applied among other tribes - there was never a single system of chieftainship.

Among the Shoshone in the 1860s and 1870s, chief Washakie set himself up as a kind of dictator (an extremely unusual situation among native groups). He had a council of chiefs below him, but they served simply to agree with his decisions and played no part in making policy. Washakie was judge, jury and executioner to his tribe and went so far as to shoot dead a man named Six Feathers for beating his wife. Nobody dared oppose him.

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11y ago
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14y ago

the strongest were called Luns and the weakest were called Lungoos

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Q: How were the Western Indian tribes organized by rank?
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