Arapaho Legends

Hichaba Nihancan (also spelled Hixcéébe Nixóó3o, Chebbeniathan, and other ways, meaning Spider Above or Spider of Heaven) is the Arapaho name for the Creator God, as distinguished from the earthly Nihancan (see below.)

Sometimes the name is translated in English as Man Above, since the literal form of a spider is not ascribed to Hichaba Nihancan. Some people believe that Nihancan and Hichaba Nihancan were originally the same mythological entity, and split into two figures after trickster legends were borrowed from the Crow and Sioux.

Characters of Arapaho Legends

Nihancan (also spelled Niatha, Nih’oo3oo, and several other ways. Pronounced Nih-aw-thaw, but speakers of some Arapaho dialects pronounced the “th” sound as an “s”) – A  spider trickster. 

He is called “White Man” in many older translations, but this is a misleading because the Arapahos named white people after the trickster character, not the other way around. He is also sometimes referred to as Crazy Man, Trickster, or Fool.

In some tales Spider plays the typical trickster/transformer role common to Algonquian tribes, making more or less benign mischief and shaping the world for the Arapahos as he goes. But in other tales, Nihancan is depicted as a more violent, anti-social trickster type similar to Siouan spider spirits like Iktomi.

By-The-Door and Spring-Boy – Mythical twins whose mother was killed by a monster are common to the folklore of many Midwestern and Plains tribes. They are generally portrayed as heroic monster-slayers in Arapaho legends.

Found-In-The-Grass – A rags-to-riches hero of Arapaho folklore. In some variants of the myth he is an orphan, while in others, he is an older version of the magical twin Spring-Boy.

Hecesiiteihii or Hantceciitehi (heh-chass-ee-tay-hee)- The Little People of the Arapahos (also known as Cannibal Dwarves) are dangerous man-eaters and particular enemies of the Arapaho tribe.

Sometimes their name is given as Nimerigar in anthropology texts but Arapaho volunteers do not recognize this name.

Hiincebiit or Hiintcabiit (heen-chabb-eet ) – A great horned water serpent. Although they are powerful and dangerous, in Arapaho legends, horned serpents often do not harm people who pay them the proper respect, and sometimes even reward people who give them offerings with good luck in hunting or war.

Splinter Foot Girl (or Foot-Stuck-Child) An Arapaho heroine with magical powers, born from the swollen leg of a male hunter. She and her family of hunters turned into stars, usually the stars of the Pleiades.

Thunderbird (Boh’ooo, Baha, or Boh’ooonii’eihii, pronounced ba-h-aw) – A huge bird of prey, common to the mythology of most Plains Indian tribes,who is responsible for creating thunderstorms. To the Arapahos, Thunderbird is a symbol of summer and was diametrically opposed to White Owl, who represents winter. The sound of Thunderbird’s flapping wings make the sound of thunder, and lightening comes from the blink of its eyes. Thunderbird also owns the rainbows.

Whirlwind Woman – A powerful storm spirit of Arapaho mythology.

White Owl – Represents winter.

Modern Day Arapaho Tribes

Arapahoe Tribe of the Wind River Reservation (Wyoming) (F)
Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes (Oklahoma) (F)

Famous Arapaho
Arapaho Language
Arapaho Treaties
More articles about the Arapaho Indians

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The Comrades’ Pranks

Two boys were living together as comrades. They said to their parents, “We will go to look for people.” The father of one of them raised objections, but the other consented, and they went away. On the third night of their journey one of them said, “Let us sleep in separate shelters.”


“Don’t say that, comrade.”

“Yes, we shall camp apart.”

They built a fire and camped apart. -Before going to bed, the one who objected to camping by himself heard the noise of chopping outdoors. It was a dark night. He went out quietly and saw his companion sharpening his legs to a point. He got scared and ran away, pursued by Sharpened-Leg. He climbed up a tree.

Sharpened-Leg said, “Now I shall catch you, comrade.” He kicked the tree, splitting it in two. It came tumbling down. He kicked his comrade repeatedly, piercing him, but not killing him. Finally, he cured him again.

They traveled on together. That night the man who had fled proposed that they camp apart.

In the night, Sharpened-Leg heard snorting outside. Looking out, he saw that his partner had turned into a large buffalo. He was scared and ran away, chased by the bull. On account of his sharpened legs he could not run very fast. He climbed a tree.

The bull hooked it until it tumbled down. Then he hooked Sharpened-Leg again and again, ripping every part of his body and nearly killing him. At last, he let him alone.

They traveled on. At nightfall, Sharpened-Leg said, ” I wish to urinate.” He went outside and turned into a big elk. The buffalo-man was scared and fled, screaming. When the elk was close to him, the buffalo man climbed a tree.

The elk uprooted the tree, and repeatedly knocked down the buffalo-man, nearly killing him. At last, it ceased, and made him well again.

The next night when they went to camp, the buffalo-man said, “Let us camp apart.”

In the night Sharpened-Leg heard a bear growling. He fled, but a grizzly pursued him. He climbed a tree. The bear followed. Both fell down, and the bear bit off half of his companion’s nose. Finally he restored him.

Sharpened-Leg said, ” I am afraid, let us stop this now, let us be friends again.”

“No, you were the one to begin.”

“Let us stop now.”

“No, let us try once more.”

Sharpened-Leg begged him to desist, and finally his companion consented. They resolved to live together as friends.

“If you try again,” said the bear-man, “I shall kill you. Now get your feet again.” Sharpened-Leg found them, but could not put them on, so the bear-man set them for him. Then they traveled on in peace.

The Magic Springs

An old man was living with his son, his daughter and her husband, who was a great hunter. The two brothers-in-law hunted every day one winter, but could not find any tracks.

There was a great deal of snow, and the young husband made himself snowshoes. He passed through an unfrozen spring. When he came home, his wife saw blood on his snowshoes.


She said, “I am glad you have killed a moose.” “‘I have not killed anything, I have merely stepped into a spring.” The girl paid no attention to him, but told her father, “My husband has killed some game.”

The young man was ashamed. His father-in-law said, “Bring me the snowshoes, I want to look at them.” When he saw them, he was glad and said, “We’ll eat plenty of meat now.”

He smelt the snowshoes. The young man sat with bowed head, afraid to look up. Finally, he said, “All day I could not find any track or other sign of any game.”

The girl’s relatives said, “You have killed something, for there is blood on your snowshoes.” He protested that he had merely passed through a red spring. At last, the old man proposed to go to the spring with him.

The next day the father-in-law stripped two trees of their bark and pushed one strip into either end of the spring. Then he told the people to get ready to shoot. He pushed in a stick and called on a moose to come out.

A doe appeared and after running a short distance was* shot. Then he cried, “Young moose, come out.” A young moose came out, and they shot it. Next he cried, “Big buck, come out.” A buck appeared, and was shot.

“I have seen many springs like this,” said the young man.

His brother-in-law said, “Let us look for such springs every day.” They skinned the moose, roasted it and ate it.

Then they went to a bear spring. The old man looked at it and said, “There is a bear within.”

He put in bark, and poked the ground. A big black bear appeared, and the young man killed it. They had plenty of fat.

The old man said, “Every spring has some kind of game in it in the winter.” Now the young man went hunting for a spring every day, and they were no longer in want.