Arapaho Tribe of the Wind River Reservation


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Who are the Arapaho Tribe?

The Northern Arapaho Tribe of the Wind River Reservation is one of four groups of Arapaho who originally occupied the headwaters of the Arkansas and Platte Rivers in what is now northeastern Colorado. Culturally, a Plains Indian tribe, the Arapaho are distinguished from other Plains tribes by their language, which is a variation of the Algonquin language. 

Official Tribal Name: Arapaho Tribe of the Wind River Reservation

Address: 533 Ethete Rd, # 8480, Ethete, WY 82520
Phone: (307) 332- 6120 or (307) 856-3461 
Fax: (307) 332-7543
Email: See Address Directory

Official Website:

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning: Inuna-ina, or “our people” or Hinonoeino – Our people

Common Name: Northern Arapaho Tribe

Wind River Reservation
Wind River Reservation Photo Credit: Wyoming BLM via Flicker, CC BY 2.0

Meaning of Common Name: Possibly derived from the Pawnee word “tirapihu”, which means “trader” or the Crow term for “tattooed people.” 

Alternate names: Formerly the Arapahoe Tribe of the Wind River Reservation

Alternate spellings / Misspellings: Araphoe, Arapahoe, Arapajo, Arrapahoe, Hiinono’ei, Nookhooseinenno’, Boo’ooceinenno’, Bee’eekuunenno’, Noowunenno’, Nenebiinenno’, Noowo3ineheino’

Name in other languages: The Sioux and Cheyennes called the Arapahos “Blue-Sky” men, and “Cloud-men.”

Region: Great Plains

State(s) Today: Wyoming

Wind River Reservation
Wind River Reservation, Wyoming
Photo Credit: Wyoming BLM via Flicker, CC BY 2.0 

Traditional Territory:

The Arapaho Indians have lived on the plains of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Kansas since the 17th Century. Prior to that, they had roots in Minnesota.

Arapaho territory once extended from the Big Horn Mountains in the north, south to the Arkansas River, and east to west from the Black Hills to the Rocky Mountains, corresponding to present-day western Nebraska and Kansas, southeastern Wyoming, and eastern Colorado.

Around 1800, the two Arapaho tribes shared a common territory with their allies, the Southern and Northern Cheyenne, while other allied groups, such as the Lakota, were allowed access to shared hunting territories. The Arapaho moved in and out of various mountain ranges, especially the Rocky Mountains, Big Horns, Black Hills, and the Medicine Bow Range. For trade, hunting, and ceremonies, Arapaho bands often traveled into allied tribes’ lands, such as those the Lakota and Gros Ventre.

By 1840, the northern and southern bands of the Arapaho had acquired separate identities as the Northern Arapaho and the Southern Arapaho. The approximate boundary between the two tribes was the South Platte River of Colorado. This area, encompassing modern-day Denver, was a common meeting place for the two tribes and for intertribal trade.

Today the principal communities of the Northern Arapaho in Wyoming are Arapahoe, St. Stephens, and Ethete. The central communities for the Southern Arapaho are Canton and Geary, Oklahoma with tribal administration centralized in Concho.

Confederacy: Arapaho


1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie

In 1851 a treaty was signed between the U.S. Government and the Northern Arapaho and Cheyenne which granted the tribes land encompassing one-sixth of Wyoming, one-quarter of Colorado and parts of western Kansas and Nebraska. As the gold rush of 1858 pushed even more of the white men into the vast west, the treaty with the Northern Arapaho was broken.

1861 Treaty of Fort Wise

In 1861, the Southern Arapaho and Cheyenne signed the Treaty of Fort Wise, ceding claims to all their lands demarcated in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty and setting aside a reservation in western Colorado. The Northern Arapaho chiefs and other Cheyenne leaders did not sign, accept, or recognize the treaty.

1863 Fort Bridger Treaty

1867 Treaty of Medicine Lodge

In 1867, the treaty of Medicine Lodge placed the Northern Arapaho on their present reservation in Wind River, Wyoming, along with their hereditary enemies, the Shoshone.

1868 Fort Bridger Treaty

1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie

When the Treaty of 1868 left the Northern Arapaho without a land base, in 1878, the Northern Arapaho bands were sent to the Shoshone Reservation in Wyoming to await a decision about their own reservation, which was never forthcoming. The Shoshone Reservation was later renamed the Wind River Indian Reservation and is shared by the two tribes still today.

1872 Brunot Agreement

1898 McLaughlin Agreement 

1904 McLaughlin Agreement 

Reservations: Wind River Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land

After signing the Treaty of 1851, the Arapaho and Cheyenne then shared land encompassing one-sixth of Wyoming, one-quarter of Colorado and parts of western Kansas and Nebraska. Later, when the Treaty of 1868 left the Northern Arapaho without a land base, they were placed with the Shoshone in west central Wyoming, on the Wind River Reservation.

The Northern Arapaho Tribe holds joint sovereignty with the Eastern Shoshone Tribe over the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. Extending over two million acres from the Wind River Range of the Rocky Mountains east onto the Plains, it is the fourth largest reservation in the United States. The Arapaho residences and communities of St. Stephens, Arapahoe, and Ethete extend along the Little Wind River in the southeast section of the reservation. Tribal administration and governance is centralized in the town of Ethete, Wyoming.

Land Area: 2.2 million acres – 4th largest reservation in the United States.
Tribal Headquarters: Fort Washakie, WY
B.I.A. Office: Fort Washakie, WY

Today, the Northern Band of the Arapaho occupy the Arapaho-St. Stevens area of the reservation which covers approximately 50 square miles and lies southwest of the town of Riverton and 28 miles east of Fort Washakie.

The reservation is an area about 3,500 square miles just east of the Continental Divide. The reservation is bordered roughly on the north by the Owl Creek Mountains which join the Rocky Mountains and east to Wind River Canyon. The Bridger and Shoshone National Forests and the Wind River Mountains serve as a border for the western segment. From these areas, streams flow south and east into the foothills and plains which constitute two-thirds of the reservation.

The Wind River Indian Reservation is located in central Wyoming and includes portions of Fremont, Hot Springs, and Sublette counties with 99.5 percent of the Indian people residing in Fremont county.

The Arapaho-St. Stevens area of the reservation covers approximately 50 square miles and lies southwest of the town of Riverton and 28 miles east of Fort Washakie. The major share of the homes are located in the vicinity of the Arapaho Public School and along the banks of the Big Wind River and Little Wind River. There is some farming and ranching in this area. There are approximately 2,067 Indian people residing in this area.

The total land area of the Northern Arapaho reservation is 2,268000 acres with 1,701,795 acres Tribally owned and 101,149 acres individually owned. The land is an integral part of the Arapaho culture and the economic base of the reservation.

The reservation was originally established by the Fort Bridger Treaty of July 2, 1863, and included 44,672,000 acres in Colorado, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming. This area was reduced to 3,054,182 by the second Fort Bridger Treaty of July 3,1868. The Brunot Agreement, dated September 26, 1872, ceded 710,642 acres from the southern border of the reservation to the United States.

In 1957, the Shoshones received $443,013 for the land lost under this agreement. The McLaughlin Agreement of April 2, 1898, transferred 55,040 acres from the northeast comer of the reservation to the United States. The second McLaughlin Agreement, April 21, 1904, ceded 1,480,000 acres to the United States for homestead purposes and the Riverton Reclamation Withdrawal that covered 325,000 acres.

In 1938, the Shoshones restored to the reservation the land alienated under the second McLaughlin Agreement. These lands, with the exception of the Riverton Reclamation Withdrawal, now belong to the reservation. Through these transactions, the reservation has been gradually reduced to its present size.

The reservation is now the home of 2 Tribes, the Eastern Band of the Shoshones and the Northern Band of the Arapaho. The Shoshones are original inhabitants of the reservation, which was established solely for them. In 1878, the Arapahos were settled on the reservation when they were in need of a winter home.

The Shoshones were rewarded $4,453,000 in 1938 for the eastern half of the reservation occupied by the Arapahos and used part of this settlement to restore to the reservation the land mentioned above. The Shoshone Tribal members principally occupy the western areas of the reservation including Fort Washakie, Crowheart, Burris, and the Dry Creek Ranch area.

The Arapaho Tribe principally occupies the eastern segments of the reservation of Ethete and Arapaho. Members of both Tribes live in the Mill Creek-Boulder Flat areas.


Arapaho Flag

After the Choctaw of Oklahoma, the Arapaho of the Wind River Reservation may have the distinction of being the second tribe to adopt a flag.

The flag of the Arapaho dates back to the 1940s when the Arapaho saw their young men going off to war in Europe or the Pacific. After the first Arapaho to die in World War II – John L. Brown – the tribal elders decided there should be a symbol of the Arapaho nation since their sons were now dying not only for the United States, but for the Arapaho nation.

 The elders designed a flag of seven stripes to indicate seven ceremonial and sacred ingredients. At the top of the flag (at that time flown vertically) a white triangle would contain a circular device of red white and black. Red because they are human beings and Arapaho, white because they wanted a long life, and black because they wanted happiness.

 After the war ended the concept of a flag for the Arapaho nation faded until the Korean War started. At that time the Arapaho people requested of their tribal elders that they adopt a flag to let everyone know that they are Arapaho. On June 15, 1956, the flag of the Arapaho nation was adopted by the general council of the Arapahos.

That flag consists of seven stripes, the central stripe one half the width of the other six. The two outer most stripes are red, the second and sixth stripes are white, the third and fifth stripes black and the central narrow stripe is white. At the hoist is a white triangle edged in black. It bears a circle of red over black separated by a narrow white band.

Red is for the people, the Arapaho. Black is for happiness, so we will be strong and that we do not fear of death. White is for a long life and for representing knowledge to be passed to future generations. The seven strips symbolize the seven ingredients, Seven Medicines of Life, those that are sacred to the Arapaho People.

The triangle within the flag signifies that the way one begins is with prayer. The circle inside the triangle is black on the bottom side, this is to show where the heart is. The top side of the circle is red. This is to show that we are human beings. It stands for our happiness, strength, and our sorrows. There is a white line that divides this circle. This line reminds us that there is a creator and that he made us human beings. The entire circle represents the world as this is the center of our lives.

Population at Contact:

Registered Population Today: About 7,000 Northern Arapaho, with about 4,297 living on or near the reservation.

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Genealogy Resources:

The Source: A Guidebook Of American Genealogy (Third Edition)  


Charter: The Tribal government operates under a constitution approved by the Tribal membership which is the General Council and is not under the Indian Reorganization Act of
Name of Governing Body: Business Council of the Northern Arapaho Tribe
Number of Council members: The Business Council of the Northern Arapaho Tribe consists
of a Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and four additional Council members
which are elected by the Tribal members.
Dates of Constitutional amendments:
Number of Executive Officers: 2

Elections: Two year terms.

Language Classification: Algic >> Algonquian >> Plains Algonquian >> Arapaho

Arapaho is one of five languages of the Algonquian family in the Plains culture area. The others are Cheyenne, Plains Cree, Plains Ojibwa, and Blackfoot. Arapaho diverges markedly, especially in grammar, from these and other languages in the group, suggesting a long separation from the Great Lakes proto-Algonquian (or Algic) stock.

Within the Arapaho language there were once at least five dialects, representing what were separate bands or subtribes, including Hitouunenno’, or “Beggar Men,” now known as the Gros Ventre. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Arapaho proper had separated from the Gros Ventre tribe, which then remained in the northern Plains in what is now Montana.

Number of fluent Speakers: At the beginning of the twenty-first century, approximately five hundred Northern Arapaho senior tribal members speak the “Arapaho proper” dialect.

Dictionary: Arapaho Dictionary 


The Arapaho Indians have lived on the plains of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Kansas since the 17th Century. Prior to that, they had roots in Minnesota before European expansion forced them westward. At that time they were a sedentary, agricultural people, living in permanent villages in the eastern woodlands. However, that changed when they moved west and the tribe became a nomadic people following the great buffalo herds.

The Plains Arapaho soon split into two separate tribes, the northern and southern Arapaho. The Northern Arapaho lived along the edges of the mountains at the headwaters of the Platte River, while the southern Arapaho moved towards the Arkansas River.

Bands, Gens, and Clans

Social Organization:

Arapaho kinship is bilateral. The extended family remains at the core of Arapaho social life. Between same and opposite sex siblings-in-law relations were very open, even to the point of lewd teasing and joking.

Opposite sex adult siblings maintained extreme respect, even to the point of avoidance. A similar respect-avoidance relationship held between son-in-law and mother-in-law and between father-in-law and daughter-in-law. Communication in these respect relationships usually required a third party to mediate.

Extreme respect was also accorded to grandparents, especially those with religious authority or possession of medicine.

Arapaho kinship terminology classifies mother’s sisters with mother and father’s brothers with father. Separate terms equivalent to “aunt” and “uncle” were used for father’s sister and mother’s brother, respectively. Persons in these relations conversely used the terms “niece” and “nephew” for children of their opposite gender siblings.

Both parallel and cross-cousins were merged with brother or sister, according to gender.

Age was marked with separate terms to distinguish elder from younger sister and elder from younger brother.

All males and females in the grand parental generation were generally called grandfather or grandmother respectively. Conversely, one term was used for grandchild regardless of gender.

Within each tribe there were distinct bands, each with its own headman and name, e.g., Long Legs, Quick-to Anger, Greasy Faces, and Beavers. Each band was composed of a number of camps. Typically, a camp included several tipis, including at least one of the senior generation and several for daughters, their husbands, and children.

Most married couples resided in the wife’s camp. Thus, there was a strong matrifocal pattern that placed mothers, daughters, and sisters at the enduring core of family and camp life.

There was an elaborate age set system. Men in the same age set but from different camps and bands passed together through the same sequence of age grades, including, from youngest to oldest, the Kit-Foxes, Stars, Tomahawks, Spears, Crazies, Dogs, Old Men, and Water-Sprinkling Old Men.

Each band recognized a headman or chief, a position that was generally though not specifically inherited along lines of descent. Among all the bands the headman of one band was regarded as the principal chief.

Each of the men’s junior age set had specific functions in policing and defending the camp. Senior grades provided military leadership, political relations with non-Arapaho groups, and authority over ceremonies.

All decisions facing the tribe were decided in council by the chiefs, leaders of the age set lodges, and the oldest men.

In traditional Arapaho society, there were a few formal modes of social control, specific to times of critical subsistence activity and sacred ritual events. During the communal buffalo hunts, for example, the Spear Lodge Men patrolled the camp as military police to keep individual hunters or families from racing out ahead of the group.

A violator could be beaten or have his lodge destroyed. For certain crimes, specific actions were prescribed. A murderer, for example, had to send a senior relative to speak to the offended family and then make reparations usually in the form of payment of horses.

There also were various informal mechanisms of control. If a young man or woman stole, lied, or committed some other offense, a senior relative would lecture him or her. Those who did not conform after informal mechanisms were applied could be shunned from the camp.

As a result an offender would camp at a distance from the main camp permanently or until reform was evident to the band. On the reservation, functions of social control have gradually shifted to formal institutions involving police, social agencies, and courts.

Internal conflict was rare in the pre-reservation period but could arise, especially from adultery or murder. When such conflict did occur older family members or elders from outside intervened to negotiate compensation agreeable to all parties involved. This usually consisted of payment of horses from the offender to the offended party. In cases of irreparable conflict within a band, the two groups might separate into two separate bands.

There were two main types of intersocietal warfare. One consisted of planned raids in the late summer and early fall against enemy camps. War parties of young men traveled great distances, often on foot, to sneak into enemy camps and escape with as many horses as they could. If fighting ensued, scalps were taken from enemies killed.

Arapaho warriors also followed the Plains Indian custom of counting coup by striking their war clubs on living or fallen enemies, as well as accumulating honors from other war feats.

The second type of warfare occurred when an Arapaho and enemy band encountered each other in contested areas bordering their territories. Though rare, battles over several days’ duration with considerable loss of life could result from these encounters.

Related Tribes: Southern Arapaho

Traditional Allies: Close allies of the Cheyenne tribe and loosely aligned with the Sioux.

Traditional Enemies:

War parties raided on Eastern Shoshone and Utes to the west, the Crow to the north, the Pawnee to the east, and the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache south across the Arkansas River.By 1840, the Arapaho had made peace with the Sioux, Kiowa, and Comanche, but were always at war with the Shoshone, Ute, and Pawnee until they were confined upon reservations. The reservation they were forced upon was home to the Shoshone, one of their fiercest enemies.

Ceremonies / Dances:

Once a year all of the bands would congregate together for the Sun Dance festival, an eight day event at the time of the Summer Solstice. The festival preceded the great summer buffalo hunt. In the middle of the camp, a large open air Sun Dance Lodge would be constructed of wooden poles with the Sun Dance pole standing in the middle. Individual teepees would be erected around the lodge in a large circle.

The participants of the dance fasted during the dance and painted their bodies in symbolic colors. Dressed in aprons, wristlets and anklets the dancers would stare at the Sun while dancing hypnotically before being impaled to the Sun Dance pole by way of tiny stakes punctured into the skin. The Sun Dancer was not to show any signs of pain during the ritual and, if able to do so, would be rewarded with a vision from the Great Spirit.

The annual Sun Dance was their greatest tribal ceremony but they were also active proponents of the Ghost Dance religion when it was made popular in the 1880s.

Ceremonies included those for life transitions that took place in the family and camp settings, such as marriage and childhood honor feasts. For childhood transitions families sponsored cradleboard presentation, naming, earpiercing, first tooth, first walk, and, for boys, the first hunt.

Another type encompassed highly sacred rites that took place in a specially prepared tipi, sweat lodge, or other small space closed to public view and access. These consisted of all the secret ceremonies of the oldest age groups and for fasting, offerings, sweats, and prayers to the Flat-Pipe, as well as the women’s sacred quillworking ritual.

There were also public ceremonies referred to as “all the lodges” (beyoowu’u), which included five men’s age grade ceremonies, the women’s Buffalo Lodge, and the Offerings Lodge, now commonly called the Sun Dance. Most ceremonies surrounding the Flat-Pipe have survived, but the only public ceremony to survive is the Sun Dance.

Modern Day Events & Tourism:


St. Stephens Indian Mission & Heritage Center – Visit the historic mission to learn about the Northern Arapaho tribe. The mission’s Catholic Church is painted with colorful Native American designs. A gift shop showcases local Indian beadwork and crafts. Open 9-noon, 1-4 Mon.-Wed, and Friday.

Legends / Oral Stories:

Art & Crafts:

Traditional arts involved quillwork, beadwork, and painting on rawhide, buffalo hides, wood, and artifacts.

Paints were made from tallow mixed with earth, clay, berries, charcoal, or plants.

Quillwork applied to tanned hides was done only by women, supervised by the seven old women who were owners of sacred bundles containing the appropriate tools and materials.  Beadwork was an introduced medium that adopted designs and styles once reserved for quillwork.

Women made buffalo robes, cradleboard covers, pillows, tipi ornaments, and other goods as gifts to relatives.


Oral history holds that the Arapaho-Gros Ventre people once resided together to the east near the Great Lakes or farther north in Canada. There is no archeological or historical evidence to establish exactly when they entered the Plains. However, the linguistic distance between Arapaho and other Algonquian languages, and oral historical evidence such as stories about the use of dogs for transport, suggests that the Arapahos were on the Plains prior to the introduction of the horse and appearance of Euro-Americans.

By the middle of the eighteenth century it is clear that Arapahos were using horses. Equestrian transport increased the distance and speed of travel, thereby contributing to expanded trade, greater hunting productivity, accumulation of more material culture, and intensified intertribal warfare. The horse also became the central object of wealth for internal exchange, raiding, and external trade.



Housing: The Arapaho lived in teepees made from wood poles and buffalo skins that could be easily erected and taken down as the tribe moved from place to place. The tipi was a highly mobile dwelling consisting of scraped buffalo hides sewn together for the cover and supported by lodgepole pine or cedar poles. The poles in turn became legs for the horse-drawn travois upon which belongings were transported. Other structures included the dome-shaped sweat lodge, various types of sunshades, the pole windbreak surrounding a tipi, the large circular lodge structures for ceremonies, toy tipis for children’s play, and small huts for dogs. 

Subsistance: Sedentary, agricultural people, living in permanent villages in the eastern woodlands.

Later becoming expert buffalo hunters, the buffalo provided them with virtually everything they needed. They also hunted for elk and deer, fished, and ate various berries, and plants. During hard times, they were also known to eat their dogs.When they moved further west, they became nomadic hunter-gatherers during temperate months and returned to winter in protected valleys.

The tribe lived together in small bands, predominantly determined by birth. However, members were free to move between bands at will.

By the mid-eighteenth century Arapaho peoples engaged in long-distance trade extending from the southwest to the Missouri River villages. Through raids and trade they acquired horses from Mexican settlements and other tribes to the west and southwest. In turn they traded buffalo hides, meat, and horses to Missouri River groups connected to English trade.

Women made the tipi and all domestic goods in it, including tipi liners, pillows, parfleches, rawhide boxes, and utensils. Women scraped, tanned, sewed, and decorated hides for robes, clothes, moccasins, and soft containers. Hides were prepared with a scraper made from an elk horn, a woman’s most important tool, then sewn with an awl and animal sinew. Designs were applied with dyed porcupine quills, beads, and paint.

Men produced and decorated the implements for hunting, horse care, ceremonies, and war. The bow and arrow made respectively from osage wood and a type of dogwood were used for hunting even after acquisition of guns in trade.

Young unmarried women remained close to the household, where they helped their mothers with domestic work, such as fetching water and gathering firewood, while learning subsistence activities, child care roles, and the rich culture of women’s artistic forms.

Young unmarried men moved into activities beyond the tipi and outside the camp, such as horse care, hunting, and service to older men.

For married adult women, roles included processing meat for cooking and storage; collecting and processing roots, berries, and other vegetable foods; hide preparation and artwork for clothing, containers, tipi covers, and household goods; and tipi construction and other preparations for moving camp.

Married men’s roles included horse care, hunting, scouting, warrior actions, camp security, and religious functions. The men’s division of labor was in part defined by membership in the age grades. Junior grades were servants to senior men. In intermediate grades men were organized for roles as warriors and military police.

In the senior grades they moved into positions of military-political leadership, followed in the old men’s groups by initiation to sacred knowledge and ceremonial leadership. As husband and wife moved into senior status, they took on increasing roles for economic exchange, including gift giving, redistributive feasts, and ceremonial duties.

There were two basic types of traditional Arapaho medicine. One involved knowledge of plants and other natural substances for curing illnesses.

The other was owned by a very few medicine men with great powers to cure, change the weather, predict the future, and perform other various miraculous deeds.

Medicine of either type could be acquired directly through visions or purchased and learned from a senior owner. Patients offered gifts of horses or other goods in return for treatment.

Economy Today:

By the 1850s, Northern and Southern Arapaho bands began to depend increasingly on trade goods and rations available at settlements and the military posts, such as Fort Laramie and Bent’s Fort.

In the early reservation period both tribes continued to hunt buffalo, but by the 1880s, with herds nearly extinct, they became completely dependent on agency-issued rations, domestic gardens, seasonal labor, and some farming.

The period from the 1880s to the 1920s was the most difficult in history for the survival of both tribes. Since World War II, farming and ranching declined significantly among individual allotment holders, who have become more dependent on a meager wage-labor economy, primarily based in the public sector of tribal administration, federal agencies, and education.

Since the 1940s, the Northern Arapaho tribe has earned some income from the Arapaho Ranch operation and fluctuating royalties from oil leases on the reservation.The Arapahoe Ranch is owned and operated by the Northern Arapahoe Tribe on the Wind River Indian Reservation. It is a 400,000 acre cow/ calf operation.

The tribe operates the Wind River Casino and the Little Wind Casino, the St. Stephens Indian Mission & Heritage Center, and a white water rafting and fishing tour guide service.

Leases in oil and gas are another large source of income for the reservation. Some private business and tourism also contribute to the economy.

Shopping and housing on the reservation itself is somewhat limited, although day-to-day amenities can be purchased there. The larger cities on the outskirts of the reservation, Lander, Riverton and Thermopolis, provide residents with more specialized shopping needs for their families. Recreational facilities such as swimming pools, golf courses, libraries, churches, and movie theaters are available in these three towns.

Unemployment on the Wind River Reservation is about 65%.

Traditional Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

The Arapaho are a very spiritual people, believing in an overall creator who they call Be He Teiht. As with many Native American peoples they believe in a close relationship between themselves, the animals of their world and the land on which they live. The Arapaho also have a deep respect and appreciation for the wisdom of their elders.

To the Arapaho people all life depends on the Flat-Pipe. More than a sacred object, it was the original being on earth and the means through which Arapahos continue to communicate with all sacred beings and forces. Sitting highest, motionless, and directly above is the Creator and most powerful of all.

Other principal beings, each with its own power, include the Four Old Men of the four directions, Sun, Moon, Morning Star, Earth, Thunderbird, and Whirlwind Woman. There are also various lesser beings and forces that roam the earth, such as little people, ghosts, and other spirit forms.

Various new religious traditions emerged to address the severe conditions of early reservation life, as well as to replace the loss of the old ceremonies due to governmental suppression.

In 1890, Northern Arapahos became the first Plains people to follow the Ghost Dance. The Paiute prophet Wovoka predicted the destruction of the earth, removal of Euro-American presence, return of all deceased Indians, renewal of the buffalo, and return of the land to its original state.

Central to the religious movement were a dance and associated songs that stimulated followers to experience their own visions of the afterlife and world to come. After the massacre at Wounded Knee late in 1890 and the failed renewal of the world as predicted for the spring of 1891, these practices gradually disappeared.

By 1900 the Peyote religion had been accepted among Southern Arapahos and later the Northern Arapaho. The religion’s code of sobriety, good family life, charity, and compassion addresses many of the problems of individuals and families on the reservation.

Most Southern and Northern Arapahos also have readily selected and adopted aspects of Christianity that are compatible with traditional religion and aid in resolving many of the crises and challenges of reservation life.

Before relocation on the reservation, ultimate authority for the proper performance of all ceremonies rested in seven of the oldest men in a sacred society with a name translated as “Water-Sprinkling Old Men” for the ceremony held daily in the sweat lodge at the center of camp. Because of the harsh conditions of early reservation life, the positions were not passed on.

To replace them, the Northern Arapaho formed a group called the Four Old Men, who retain authority over all religious life today. Similarly, the Southern Arapaho formed a group of twelve chiefs for organizing social and religious events.

Specific roles that have endured to the present time include the Pipe Keeper, keepers of various other ceremonial objects, the Sun Dance leader, leaders of the tribal drum groups, and various other ceremonial positions passed from one generation to another through apprenticeship.

As a counterpart to the seven old men, seven women owned seven sacred bundles for performing the women’s ceremonial art form of quillwork. There were also medicine men with specific powers for curing, prophecy, and spiritual guidance.

Other religious practitioners have also emerged including the peyote road chiefs, who are responsible for directing the ceremonies of the Native American Church.

Burial Customs:

In pre-reservation culture, death was followed by burial within the same day. The ceremony usually involved only the deceased’s immediate family. The deceased was buried in a stone-covered grave, wearing his or her best traditional clothes, along with a number of personal belongings. Remaining belongings that were very close to the person were either burned or claimed by brothers and sisters.

The tipi, tent, or, later on, house where death occurred was usually abandoned or destroyed.

If the deceased was a warrior, his best horse was killed and left at the gravesite. The deceased’s spirit was believed to linger for four days, then travel to hiyei’in, “our home,” located above and somewhere to the west.

For a year following a death, close relatives maintained mourning behavior by appearing unkempt and withdrawing from public life. Women often gashed their legs or midsections, or vowed to sacrifice a portion of a finger for a deceased relative.

With the influence of the missions, military service in World War II, and Pan-Indian traditions, Arapaho funerals have become more elaborate and prolonged, involving all extended family and, for prominent people, the entire community.

However, mourning behavior has decreased in the modern wage labor economy.

The reservation period brought the problem of inheritance of estate property in land and assets, for which Euro-American probate laws apply.

Historically, lands and subsistence sites were not owned by individuals, families, or bands, though tribes recognized their own territories. Among allied tribes, territory was shared and mutually defended.

On the reservations, there are tribal and individual trust lands, both of which are subject to tribal administration and protected by federal authority from local and state taxation, private claims, and excessive regulation, all of which contributed to loss of land in the past. There are also fee simple patent lands owned outright by individual tribal members and non-Indians.

Some other lands are claimed by various federal agencies.

Inheritance of individual trust lands by multiple heirs can fragment the family land base in just a few generations. Use, sale, or leasing of estate lands is subject to the unanimous consent of all heirs; in the absence of such consent, lands can remain out of production, generating no income for many years.

Since 1978, the Indian Land Consolidation Act (ILCA) has allowed individuals to trade small fragments of inherited lands for contiguous parcels from tribal trust lands. The act also grants tribes first rights to bid on any non-Indian-owned fee lands put up for sale. As a result of the ILCA, both Arapaho tribes have been able to solve some problems of heirship.

Wedding Customs:

Marriage was of two types. One was arranged through the senior relatives of both the prospective spouses. A reciprocal exchange of horses and goods took place between the two families.

The second type was elopement, in which case the couple usually moved off together in secret, usually to reside with the husband’s relatives. As time proved the marriage to be successful, normal relations and exchanges between the families could follow.

Marriage was prohibited with anyone recognized as a relative. Polygyny ( a man has more than one wife) was permitted but rare, usually taking the form of sororal polygyny (wives are sisters). As a man proved to be a good husband, his wife’s family could offer to arrange a marriage with her sister, though the man was not obliged to agree. Upon death, the levirate (a man may be obliged to marry his brother’s widow) and sororate (a husband engages in marriage or sexual relations with the sister of his wife, usually after the death of his wife or if his wife has proven infertile) were also practiced.

It was typical for a newly married couple to reside with the wife’s family while the husband offered a form of bride service to his parents-in-law. As they had children their tipi could become more independent, perhaps even moving away to another camp or to form their own.

They in turn would also take on more and more support of grandparents’ tipis in the camp and band.

As boys reached about age ten they began to spend more and more time away from the tipi, while girls remained very close to their mothers until marriage.

If a man had more than one wife, an individual tipi was constructed for each wife and her children. In each camp, all were obligated to assist and support grandparents.

Mothers were primary providers of direct care in infancy and they continued to be responsible for the socialization of daughters in childhood and youth, while fathers were mainly responsible for their sons’ development.

Formal socialization of children and young people primarily involved storytelling, lecturing, and honor feasts or ceremonies to recognize personal achievements.

Physical punishment was rare to nonexistent in pre-reservation society. In childhood, families sponsored various ceremonies for such events as naming, ear-piercing, first tooth, first walk, and a boy’s first hunt.

Arapaho socialization was a lifelong process. The life cycle was divided into four stages, called “the four hills of life,” including childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age.

Specific types of knowledge and modes of learning were appropriate to each stage. In childhood, relatives honored and encouraged the development of human abilities to eat, walk, speak, and learn. From a young age, boys and girls learned to be useful by taking on various chores in the camp.

During the third stage, men and women took on roles as economic providers and leaders. In old age, Arapaho men and women were initiated to the most sacred knowledge of tribal mythology, ceremonies, and history.

There were ways for individuals to define their own unique identity, status, and life direction.

For men as well as for some women, life direction was gained from knowledge acquired through visions acquired in solitary fasts on hills or mountains for from four to seven days. Young men also defined their rank and status through feats in war and the stories they told.

For women, personal statement and achievement through various art forms were comparable to the war deeds of men.

By 1871 Southern Arapahos began sending their children to the agency boarding school. The Northern Arapaho also welcomed and encouraged establishment of a boarding school and mission on the reservation.

In 1884, Jesuits founded a Catholic mission and later a boarding school at St. Stephens. In 1910 the Shoshone Episcopal Mission established St. Michael’s Mission in what is now the town of Ethete and in 1917 added a boarding school.

Education and Media:

Tribal College: Wind River Tribal College

Grades K-12 are available on the reservation, or in any of the three surrounding towns. For those choosing to go further in school, but do not want to leave the area, Riverton’s Central Wyoming College also offers a number of associate degree programs in association with the University of Wyoming.

Famous Arapaho

Catastrophic Events:

Sand Creek Massacre – In 1851, the Arapaho and the Cheyenne Indians signed a treaty with the United States government designating parts of southeastern Wyoming, northeastern Colorado, western Kansas and western Nebraska as their territory. However, pressure from white settlement and gold-seeking prospectors soon began to create tension between Indians and whites, and the tribes found themselves in conflict with the U.S. government.

In 1864, a band of Cheyenne and Arapaho were camped on the banks of Sand Creek near what is now Lyons, Colorado. The group of several hundred, led by Black Kettle, consisted mostly of women, children and elderly men; the young men having gone out hunting when early on November 29, 1864, Colonel John Chivington ordered a surprise attack on the encampment. The attack was a massacre of innocents. Between 150 and 200 Indians, mostly women, old men and children, were gunned down that morning in spite of their white flag of surrender.

The Arapaho and Cheyenne were devastated by the massacre and many of the surviving young warriors began attacking white settlements to avenge the loss of their loved ones. War raged for several years forcing the Arapaho to wander and exhausting the tribe until finally in 1878, the remaining Northern Arapaho followed what is now known as the Sand Creek Massacre Trail from southeastern Wyoming to the Wind River Indian Reservation where they were given what was to be a temporary home with the Eastern Shoshone. Fifty years later, the U.S. government negotiated a treaty formalizing the shared reservation and establishing a joint governing council between the two tribes.

Tribe History:

To ensure the safe movement of immigrants through the Plains, the United States government held a treaty council in 1851 with all central Plains tribes at Horse Creek near Fort Laramie in what is now eastern Wyoming.

The resulting first Treaty of Fort Laramie recognized specific territories for the various Plains tribes including Arapaho-Cheyenne territory of 122,000 square miles extending north to the North Platte River, south to the Arkansas River, west to the Rocky Mountains, and east to the western parts of Kansas and Nebraska. The treaty also asked the tribes to allow roads and forts to be built, to cease hostilities among themselves, and to wage no depredations against non-Indians.

From that time on, recognized Arapaho chiefs officially maintained peace toward non-Indians, though at times some young men joined Cheyenne and Lakota war parties against Euro-Americans. In 1858 gold was discovered in Colorado, attracting thousands of settlers into Arapaho territory in a few years’ time.

Game disappeared rapidly and tensions intensified. After several Indian attacks on non-Indians, the territorial governor proclaimed that all peaceful bands must report to and remain at one of the forts, while total war would be waged against those who had not surrendered.

In 1861, the Southern Arapaho and Cheyenne signed the Treaty of Fort Wise, ceding claims to all their lands demarcated in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty and setting aside a reservation in western Colorado. The Northern Arapaho chiefs and other Cheyenne leaders did not sign, accept, or recognize the treaty.

In 1864, a Southern Arapaho band led by Chief Left Hand and a Southern Cheyenne band under Black Kettle complied with the governor’s orders, surrendering at Fort Lyon and then camping on Sand Creek near the post. On 29 November, Colonel John Chivington ignored the flag of peace flying above the camp and ordered his Third Colorado Regiment to attack the camp.

When what came to be called the Sand Creek Massacre was over, the soldiers had killed and mutilated over two hundred men, women, and children. In retaliation Lakota and Cheyenne warrior bands waged a war of resistance for the next twelve years, but, for the most part, Arapaho bands did not join the fight.

In 1867, the Southern Arapaho and Southern Cheyenne signed the Treaty of Medicine Lodge in which they again ceded claims to territory in the 1851 treaty and in return accepted a reservation in Indian Territory (Oklahoma), along with promises of assistance in food, education, and farming equipment.

By an 1869 presidential proclamation, the Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation was established in the Canadian River area. In 1878, the Northern Arapaho bands were sent to the Shoshone Reservation in Wyoming to await a decision about their own reservation, which was never forthcoming. The Shoshone Reservation was later renamed the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Southern Arapaho leaders agreed to the General Allotment Act of 1887. By 1892 each Southern Arapaho head of household had been assigned 160 acres to improve and farm. The government then purchased the remaining 3.5 million acres of Cheyenne-Arapaho land for less than fifty cents an acre.

On one day in 1892, thousands of Euro-Americans raced onto these lands to stake their claims in the famous Oklahoma Land Rush. Most families in both Arapaho tribes soon realized that the promise of successfully farming allotments as the sole source of income was impossible to achieve.

Most allotments were non-irrigated, while others had poor soil and frequent pests. Many Northern and Southern Arapaho were forced to sell their allotments to non-Indians in order to pay outstanding bills or simply to feed their families.

From the 1920s until the late 1940s, Northern Arapaho tribal leaders worked aggressively to convince the federal government to disperse income to tribal members from reservation mineral and grazing leases. While major companies were extracting oil in the 1920s and 1930s, few if any profits from leases were shared with tribes.

In the late 1940s, the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes began receiving occasional per capita payments distributed to tribal members and some financial support for tribal administration and social programs. In 1954, monthly per capita payments were institutionalized on a regular basis. Though the income brought modern housing, technology, and some improvement in the standard of living, the Northern Arapaho Tribe still faces many problems familiar on reservations reflected in a high unemployment rate between about 60 and 70 percent.

Though the Southern Arapaho government was dissolved upon allotment, a group of twelve chiefs continued to retain authority over religious and social life. In 1937, the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribal government was officially reestablished to administer the few remaining tribal trust and individual trust lands.

The Southern Arapaho tribe and the Northern Arapaho in Wyoming have worked to return lost lands to tribal trust status. Currently, the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal government administers about ten thousand acres of tribal trust land and seventy thousand acres of lands held in trust for individual Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal members.

Based on a constitution formed in 1975, tribal government is now administered by a Business Committee of eight elected members, four from each tribe, which in turn elects the chair. The tribal government also administers various social services, educational, legal, and economic development programs.

In 1961, the Northern Arapaho, Southern Arapaho, Northern Cheyenne, and Southern Cheyenne won a claims settlement case from the U.S. Court of Claims for the government violation of the original Treaty of Fort Laramie.

Altogether each of the four tribes received roughly a quarter share of the total $23.5 million settlement, calculated at about fifty cents per acre for their original territory, the value of the land the courts established for the time of the violation in 1858.

In the News:

Further Reading:

Arapaho Women’s Quillwork: Motion, Life, and Creativity
Traditions of the Arapaho
Arapaho Journeys: Photographs and Stories from the Wind River Indian Reservation
A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek
Public Memory of the Sand Creek Massacre
The Arapaho Sun Dance: The Ceremony Of The Offerings Lodge
Forgotten Heroes and Villains of Sand Creek