The ARAPAHO (Also ARRAPAHOE; ARAPAHOE) are a tribe of Native Americans historically living on the plains of Colorado and Wyoming. They were close allies of the Cheyenne Indians and loosely aligned with the Lakota and Dakota. The Arapaho language (Heenetiit), is an Algonquian language closely related to the Gros Ventre language (Ahe/A’ananin), whose people are seen as an early offshoot of the Arapaho.
By the 1850s, the Arapaho bands formed two tribes: the Northern Arapaho and Southern Arapaho. Since 1878 the Northern Arapaho have lived with the Eastern Shoshone on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming and are federally recognized as the Arapahoe Tribe of the Wind River Reservation. The Southern Arapaho live with the Southern Cheyenne in Oklahoma. Together their members are enrolled as the federally recognized Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.
Together with the early Cheyenne people (Hitesiino’) the Arapaho were pushed westward onto the eastern Great Plains by the Ojibwe, who were numerous and obtained guns earlier from their French allies. The ancestors of the Arapaho people entered the Great Plains from the western Great Lakes region sometime before 1700.
The Arapaho were nomadic buffalo hunters, whose lifestyle in the 18th and 19th centuries corresponded closely to that of their traditional allies, such as the Cheyenne, Sioux and Gros Ventre, and their traditional enemies such as the Crow, Kiowa and Comanche. They were part of the classic High Plains culture, living in tepees and hunting buffalo on horseback.
In November 1864, a small village of Cheyenne and Arapaho became victims of the Sand Creek massacre, an attack by the Colorado militia, led by Colonel John Chivington.
The events at Sand Creek sparked outrage among the Arapaho and Cheyenne resulting in three decades of war between them and the United States. Much of the hostilities took place in Colorado leading to many of the events being referred to as part of the so-called Colorado War. Battles and hostilities elsewhere on the southern plains such as in Kansas and Texas are often included as part of the Comanche Wars.
Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, and Plains Apaches seeking peace were offered to sign the Medicine Lodge Treaty in October 1867. The treaty allotted the Southern Arapaho a reservation with the Southern Cheyenne between the Arkansas and Cimarron rivers in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). Among those that signed the treaty was Chief Little Raven.
Those that did not sign the treaty were called “hostile” and were continually pursued by the US Army and their Indian scouts. The last major battle between the Arapaho and the US on the southern plains was the Battle of Summit Springs in northernmost Colorado.
After the Sand Creek Massacre and a number of other skirmishes the Northern Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Lakota moved many of their bands to the remote Powder River country in Wyoming and southern Montana. Along the way they participated in the Battle of Mud Springs, a minor incident in the Nebraska Panhandle involving a force of between 500 and 1,000 Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Lakota warriors and 230 US soldiers.
The battle resulted in the capturing of some army horses and a herd of several hundred cattle with a single US casualty. An attempt was made by the army to recapture their stolen livestock and attack the Indians which resulted in the Battle of Rush Creek.
Hostilities in the Powder River area led Major General Grenville M. Dodge to order the Powder River Expedition. The allied Indian forces mostly evaded the soldiers except for raids on their supplies which left most soldiers desperately under equipped. The most significant battle was the Battle of the Tongue River where Brigadier General Patrick Edward Connor ordered Frank North and his Pawnee Scouts to find a camp of Arapaho Indians under the leadership of Chief Black Bear. Once located, Connor sent in 200 soldiers with two howitzers and 40 Omaha and Winnebago and 30 Pawnee scouts, and marched that night toward the village.
Most of the Arapaho warriors were gone on a raid against the Crow and the battle was a US victory resulting in 63 Arapaho dead, mostly women and children. The few warriors present at the camp put up a strong defense and covered the women and children as most escaped beyond the reach of the soldiers and Indian scouts. After the battle the soldiers burned and looted the abandoned tipis.
The Arapaho were not intimidated by the attack and launched a counterattack resulting in the Sawyers Fight.
Red Cloud’s War was a war fought between soldiers of the United States and the allied Lakota led by Red Cloud, Northern Cheyenne, and Northern Arapaho between 1866 and 1868. The war was a response to the large number of miners and settlers passing through the Bozeman Trail, which was the fastest and easiest trail from Fort Laramie to the Montana gold fields.
The Bozeman Trail passed right through the Powder River Country which was near the center of Arapaho, Cheyenne, Lakota, and Dakota territory in Wyoming and southern Montana. The large number of miners and settlers competed directly with the Indians for resources such as food along the trail. The most significant battle during Red Cloud’s War was the Fetterman Fight.
The Great Sioux War of 1876-77, also known as the Black Hills War or Great Cheyenne War, was a major conflict that was fought between the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho alliance and the US Army. The war was started after miners and settlers traveled into the Black Hills area and found gold, resulting in increased numbers of non-Indians illegally entering designated Indian lands. A large part of Cheyenne and Arapaho territory and most of Sioux territory known as the Great Sioux Reservation was guaranteed legally to the tribes by the Treaty of Fort Laramie after they defeated the US during Red Cloud’s War in 1868.
Like in previous wars the US recruited Indian warriors from tribes that were enemies with the Arapaho-Cheyenne-Lakota-Dakota alliance to act as Indian scouts, most notably from the Crow, Arikara, and Shoshone. Unlike previous conflicts involving the Lakota-Dakota-Cheyenne-Arapaho alliance and the United States the Great Sioux War ended in a victory for the United States.
The bison herds which were the center of life for the Indians were considerably smaller due to government supported whole-scale slaughter in order to prevent collisions with railroads, conflict with ranch cattle, and to force nomadic plains Indians to adopt reservation life living off government handouts. Decreased resources and starvation was the major reason for the surrendering of individual Indian bands and the end of the Great Sioux War.
The soldiers attempted to ambush the large camp of Indians along the river bottom despite the warnings from the Crow Scouts who knew that Custer severely underestimated the number of warriors in the camp. The US Seventh Cavalry, including the Custer Battalion, a force of 700 men led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, suffered a severe defeat. Five of the Seventh Cavalry’s companies were annihilated. The total US casualty count, including scouts, was 268 dead including Custer and 55 injured.
Only five Arapaho were present at the battle and their presence was by chance. The Arapaho present were four Northern Arapaho warriors named Yellow Eagle, Yellow Fly, Left Hand, and Water Man. The fifth Arapaho was a Southern Arapaho named Well-Knowing One (Sage) but also known as Green Grass.
The Lakota and Dakota threatened to kill the Arapaho but Cheyenne Chief Two Moons recognized the men as Arapaho and ordered their release. The next day was the battle and, despite being viewed with suspicion, the five Arapaho actively fought in the battle.
Water Man wore a large eagle feather headdress, a white shirt, beaded leggings, a breech cloth, and painted his face red and yellow during the battle. Water Man claimed killing one soldier while charging up the steep river banks but did not take his scalp because most Arapaho refused to take a scalp from someone with short hair. Water Man claimed to have watched Custer die.
In 1878, the Northern Arapaho agreed to move onto the Wind River Reservation in central Wyoming, which they share with their traditional enemies, the Eastern Shoshone. This arrangement was supposed to be temporary just to get through a harsh winter, before going on to a reservation of their own. The new Arapaho reservation never materialized, and they are still there.
The 1851 Ft. Laramie Treaty fixed the boundaries of the Arapaho lands from the Arkansas River in the south to the North Platte in the north, with the western boundary roughly along the continental divide and the eastern boundary in western Kansas and Nebraska.
1865 Treaty With The Cheyenne And Arapaho, (Medicine Lodge Treaty)
1868 Treaty With The Sioux—Brulé, Oglala, Miniconjou, Yanktonai, Hunkpapa, Blackfeet, Cuthead, Two Kettle, Sans Arcs, Santee, and Arapaho
Modern Day Arapaho Tribes
- Arapahoe Tribe of the Wind River Reservation (Wyoming) (F)
- Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes (Oklahoma) (F)
More articles about the Arapaho Indians