In the beginning, according to Arapaho accounts, the First Pipe Keeper floated on a limitless body of water with the Flat Pipe. He fasted and prayed to the Creator, who inspired him to send the duck to search beneath the water's surface. The duck emerged with a little bit of dirt, which the First Pipe Keeper put on the Pipe. Then he sent the turtle to the bottom, and it too returned with dirt. The First Pipe Keeper put this dirt on the Pipe and blew it off toward the four directions. In doing so, he created the earth. He then made the sun and moon, man and woman, vegetable and animal life, followed by day and night and the four seasons. He then taught the first people the religious rites they would need. The duck and the turtle were placed with the pipe into a bundle. The Arapaho - descendants of that first man and woman - have been responsible for them ever since, symbols of the creation and their custody of a sacred trust.

The Arapaho accounts of their past credit heros for showing the People how to thrive in the world. These heros, with supernatural powers aid, made important discoveries and extraordinary deeds. Among the things these heros taught the Arapaho, were how to make an enclosure near a cliff to trap buffalo - to catch and train horses - make and use bone tools, the first arrowhead (from the rib of a buffalo), and the first bow, the technological advances that made hunting easier - and how to use stone to shape a knife from the buffalo's shoulder blade. Another invented a more efficient way to start a fire by striking flint, rather than using a drill.

The Arapaho believed that humans were endowed by the Creator with the ability ot think and that thought itself could cause things to happen. All Arapaho traveled thru four stages, or "hills of life", childhood, youth, adulthood and old age. The duties, responsibilities, and privileges changed at each stage. The Arapaho equated the life stages with the movement of the sun, the four cardinal directions and the progress of the seasons. They also believed in re-incarnation, that a person could be reborn after death.

It is not certain where the Arapaho began. Archeologists and anthropologists have not found anything early artifacts to locate them. Since the Arapaho language belongs to the Algonquin family, it seems likely they may have first lived somewhere between the Atlantic coast and the Great Lakes before moving west onto the Northern Plains, west of the Missouri River, before the 18th century. No records of explorers or traders meeting them east of the Missouri exist, so they must have already moved west by the time the Europeans arrived in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Until about 1730, the Arapaho apparently used dogs to help transport their belongings as they migrated with the buffalo herds, which they hunted on foot. A travois, (an A shaped platform, whose wider back end dragged as it was pulled) was harnessed to the dogs, on which was placed their belongings. The Arapaho would drive the buffalo over a cliff or into enclosures, where they killed them with bow and arrow and spear with stone tips. About 1730, they acquired horses, either through trading or raiding tribes to the south. With horses, they could race alongside the buffalo, killing mor efficiently. They also expanded the Arapaho's ability to trade with other tribes.

They had active trade relationships with the farming villages of the Arikara, Mandan, and Hidatsu on the Missouri, trading them excess meat and hides for corn squash and beans. The Arikara called them "Colored Stone Village (People)" possibly because gemstones from the Southwest were among the trade items. The Hidatsu called them "Bison-Path People".

Northern bands of Arapaho, known as Atsina or Gros Ventre, met English traders in the mid 18th century in the upper Saskatchewan River area of Canada. They had been pushed farther south by other tribes, and by late 18th century were in what is now southeastern Montana eastern Wyoming. The first written account of the Arapaho was by explorer, Jean Baptiste Trudeau. In 1795, bands from the central and southern plains Arapaho met with other Indians and non-Indian traders in the Black Hills of now South Dakota. Pressed by the hostile Sioux and Cheyenne, they began to move Southwest, and by the early 1800's they controlled the area of west central Colorado and were at war with the Ute to the west, the Crow north of the Platte River, and the Pawnee to the east. They were also making more frequent raids on the Kiowa and Comanche to increase their horse herds.

About 1820, the Arapaho began to form an alliance with the Cheyenne to fight the Souix north of the Platt, and the Kiowa and Comanche to the south. The allies pushed the Kiowa and Comanche south of the Arkansas River and gradually dominated the area between the Platte and the Arkansas.

They frequently came into contact with fur traders in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and the headwaters of the Platte and Arkansas. The traders referred to them by the Crow name "Alappaho'" which meant "People with many tattoos". The Arapaho had tattooed small circles on their bodies. The traders' pronunciation of Alappaho' soon led to the wide spread use of the name Arapaho.

The Arapaho raided Spanish Caravans, but traded peaceably with several Americans, including brothers William and Charles Bent who built several posts in their territory. In the winter the bands divided into smaller groups and headed for their favorite wintering area. In the spring, they would come together again. Smaller groups were easier to feed.

In the 1840's immigrants from the eastern United States began traveling west on their way to Oregon Territory. At first they followed the Oregon Trail through Wyoming, but in 1848, the United States successfully concluded a two year war with Mexico and expanded the southwest area. With the discovery of gold in California, the Santa Fe route was filled with people heading for the gold fields in California. As more people streamed west, the normal migration paths of the buffalo were cut off. They moved away to areas more isolated.

As the buffalo became more scarce, the Arapaho had less to hunt and father to go. At times the people were hungary. But, even with these provocations, they did not attack the wagon trains. The domain of the Arapaho was shrinking as the white settlers moved west. Denver and other towns grew up, despite the treaty of 1851, which allowed passage through, but no permanent settlements. The federal government made no effort to stop the growth of the towns, as they needed the gold from them for the growth of the economy.

The spread of towns split the Tribe into two sections, North and South. Gold was discovered at Pike's Peak in 1858 and the incursion of the homesteaders and miners drove the North ranging Arapaho farther north while the southern bands tried to stay south of Denver. Both groups made allies in the North and South. By the 1860's settlers outnumbered the Southern Arapaho 10 to 1. In 1861, the Northern Arapaho numbered about 750 and wanted to stay on the lands they had found. The Southern Arapaho numbered about 1,500, found primarily south of Denver. Both divisions had suffered severe population losses due to epidemics of smallpox, cholera and hungar.

By 1855, the two divisions were politically self contained and independent of each other each having it's own Indian agent assigned by the federal government. The separation was gradual but eventually brought about differing identities for the two divisions. The Northern Arapaho formed an alliance with the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne and were able to hunt in the sparsely populated area that is now Montana and Wyoming. The Southern Arapaho in Colorado and Kansas had more interest in accommodating the new settlers.

February 18, 1861, Southern Arapaho Indian Agent, Albert Boone, grandson of the famous Daniel Boone, held a council attended by some of the Southern bands and a few Cheyenne. He reported he had gotten consent for the cession of their land in exchange for a small reservation on Colorado's Sand creek. It is not clear whether they understood the terms or not, as their chief interpreter, Left Hand was not there. Hunting buffalo from Sand Creek would be very hard as they ranged east and north of the reservation. At Sand Creek, the Cheyenne were to have the eastern half and the Arapaho the western. The Northern Arapaho did not consent to the cession.

Lack of food, due to the loss of the buffalo by distance and at the hands of professional hunters plagued the Tribe. Although there were no attacks on the settlers, Little Raven and other leaders could not keep their people from stealing the settlers' stock. The Southern Arapaho worked to convince the Cheyenne to join them in peace with the whites, but a conflict still erupted in 1864. In Spring of that year Colorado troops destroyed a Cheyenne village suspected of cattle rustling, killing women and children and in another instance, shot two friendly chiefs. The Cheyenne replied by attacking Colorado settlements, thus making officials determined to drive all Indians away from the settlements and trade routes or exterminate them. The Army began to relentlessly attack the Cheyenne villages, even the ones that remained at peace.

These attacks brought retaliation from the Cheyenne and eventually involved the Arapaho. Little Raven, with Left Hand's help tried desperately to avoid hostilities. In September, a large number of Arapaho and some Cheyenne under Black Kettle were ordered to camp near Ft. Lyon on Sand Creek, where they were guaranteed protection. All had pledged peace and had delivered up captives, arms and booty. There were about 500 Indians - about 100 tipis of Cheyenne led by Black Kettle and 8 tipis of Arapaho led by Left Hand - already there. On November 29, 1864, Colonel John Chivington led a group of Colorado militia in a surprise attack on the camp. At least 130 people, mostly women and children were killed. Left hand was among them.

The main body of the Arapaho were several miles away from Sand Creek, in a large camp With Little Raven. When they heard, this group escaped south and took refuge in Kiowa - Comanche country. Most Arapaho men, hearing of the massacre, joined the Cheyenne in an all-out war against the whites that lasted through spring, 1865. Despite the Arapaho's peaceful disposition,"The massacre, " said Little Raven, "was too bad to stand."

Observers at the Sand Creek Massacre reported to newspapers in the eastern cities that the militia had savagely mutilated men, women and children, shot unarmed people trying to surrender, and committed other atrocities. In response to public outcry, in order to avoid a costly and prolonged Indian war, President Andrew Johnson authorized peace commission, despite the Army's objections. A treaty council was held at Medicine Lodge Creek in the fall of 1867.

Little Raven and others wanted land in Colorado, but eventually agreed to accept a reservation between the Arkansas and Cimarron Rivers in Kansas. They were dissatisfied with this land and over the next two years tried to persuade officials to grant them a reservation on the North Canadian. They knew they would not be safe on the Arkansas as the army and the Cheyenne were still fighting and the army persisted on attacking peaceful Indians. Most of the Southern Arapaho fled to the Wichita Mountains where they would be safe.

In the winter of 1869, Little Raven went to Ft. Sill and, insisting his people had always kept the peace, "surrendered" to the Army, thus placing his people under the protection of the government. Officials at Ft. sill, convinced that the Arapaho leaders could control the young warriors, sent Little Raven's group to Camp Supply, where they could still hunt.

President Grant's executive order granted the Arapaho and Cheyenne a reservation together in Oklahoma Territory on the Canadian River.

By this time, the Northern Arapaho had formed alliances with the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne and were living north of the North Platte River. Gold was discovered in 1862 in Montana and military posts and settlements followed. The result, aggravated by the Sand Creek Massacre, was a war that lasted from 1865 to 1868, when President Grant's peace commission met with the Northern Arapaho and their allies. Battered by their losses, the Arapaho agreed to settle on a reservation with either the Sioux in the north or the Southern Arapaho. The government agreed to close their posts and bar travel through their hunting grounds.

The two most important men in the Northern Arapaho were Medicine Man and Black Bear. They wanted a reservation for the Arapaho in Wyoming. They sent for Friday, an accomplished interpreter and esteemed member of the tribe to help them develop good relations with the army. After 1868, The Northern Arapaho started serving regularly as scouts for the army. They also established relations with their long time enemy the Shoshone, (who had accepted a reservation in Wyoming in 1868) and army officers made arrangements to help the Arapaho live on the Shoshone Reservation. There were clashes with trespassing settlers and miners along the Sweetwater and Popoagie Rivers, and after Black Bear was ambushed and killed by a mob of settlers, Medicine Man led his people back to Ft. Fetterman and resumed efforts to obtain a reservation solely for the Arapaho.

Medicine Man died in 1871 and was succeeded by Black Coal. He and other leaders developed a strategy to get a reservation. Virtually all the warriors signed on as scouts, assisting the army in 1876-77, in defeating the Cheyenne and Sioux that refused to go on the reservations. Their reputations grew, as well as respect from the army and eventually the strategy paid off. Black Coal and Sharp Nose became the leading chiefs. In 1877, the Northern Arapaho sent a delegation to Washington, D. C. To meet with President Rutherford hays. Black Coal, Friday, and Sharp Nose went, accompanied by Army officers. With the Army's help, the three succeeded in getting permission for their people to settle on the Shoshone Reservation in Wyoming. In March, 1878, Black Coal and Sharp Nose arrived at the Shoshone Reservation with their people.

In August, 1861. at the outbreak of the War Between The States, Albert Pike, traveled to Fort Wichita and signed Treaties between the Confederate States of America and the Plains Tribes. Read about these treaties between them.

Information for the Arapaho came from the book "Arapaho", by Loretta Fowler, Chelsea House Publishers, New York.

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Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma

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April 15, 2003
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