The Arapaho tribe has a rich and varied history in North America. Learn about the beliefs and experiences of the Arapaho people as Europeans continued to settle westward.
The Arapaho tribe were once a part of a vast network of Native Americans called the East Woodland tribes that lived along the East Coast of what is now the United States.
There, they lived much as other tribes did, as hunters and gatherers who also farmed. Their language, Arapaho, is part of the Algonquian linguistic stock of languages. But encroaching settlement of European settlers forced the Arapaho – like many other Native Americans in the east – to move west. They settled chiefly in Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska. There, they eventually split into two politically independent groups — northern (Platte River) and southern (Arkansas River).
Once in the West, the Arapaho lifestyle changed dramatically. No longer farmers with settled lives, the Arapaho became nomadic equestrians (people who rode horses), living in teepees made of animal skins. They followed buffalo herds and gathered wild plants for food. Instead of growing maize, beans, and squash, they now traded buffalo products for them.
Relations with the United States
The Arapaho people’s troubles with white settlement did not end after they moved west.
The threat of losing lands to the Federal government was a constant. As more settlers wanted to settle in the west, the Arapaho joined forces with the Cheyenne tribes to prevent this. Eventually, a treaty stating that no settlers would be able to trespass on Arapaho settlements was signed with the Federal government. But settlers violated this with very little governmental intervention. In 1864, a Colorado militia massacred an Arapaho/Cheyenne camp at Sand Creek.
This touched off a war between the Arapaho and the United States that ended with a signed treaty in 1865. By the war’s end, the Arapaho had split into their northern and southern groups.
Another issue the Arapaho faced was the rapid depletion of the buffalo.
By 1876, buffalo herds were so depleted the Arapaho could no longer sustain themselves by using the buffalo for food and for trading. The Arapaho began to rely on wage work and rations they received from a government agent assigned to their reservation. The head of each band opened hay fields and created communal gardens, along with building cattle herds.The agent assigned to the reservation was the key to a decent relationship with the government of the United States. Some band headmen often contacted the agent as official representatives of the Arapaho tribe. In order to persuade the U.
S. government to honor the treaties it had signed with the Arapaho, these men had to promise the government that they would learn to farm and send their children to school.
The move west did not affect the fervor with which the Arapaho treated their religious beliefs. The Arapaho believed in a Pipe Person who created all life through prayer-thought, and who made the earth from mud below an ocean of water. The flat pipe held a great deal of significance for them.
They kept this pipe in a sacred bundle, and used a set of stones to represent it.The Arapaho, like other Plains Indians, practiced the Sun Dance, a ceremony where individual groups gathered together to reaffirm their supernatural beliefs and understanding of community and individual sacrifice. The Sun Dance was typically held annually by each tribe either in early spring or summer, when the buffalo congregated on the plains after the winter.
The Arapaho also participated in a Ghost Dance, a ritual designed to foster peace throughout the tribe as well as with the white man.
According to the 2010 U.
S. Census, the Arapaho are nearly 11,000 strong. This is due in part to the Self-Determination Act of 1975 — an act that reversed thirty years of government efforts to end treaties with the tribes. This act enabled the Arapaho to increase their government and invest in several businesses, including farming operations and casinos.
Today, many Arapaho live throughout Colorado, Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma.
A Native American Story: Key Points
Along the Eastern seaboard of what is now the United States, lived the Arapaho tribe. As European settlers began to colonize the land, the Arapaho joined many other tribes in a westward migration. Forced to completely reinvent themselves to survive, the Arapaho would need to battle for their beliefs and their survival.
They went from being farmers to nomaidc equestrians, and eventually they had to rely on government rations and wage work. Today, the Arapaho invest in farming operations, casinos, and other businesses.
After reviewing this lesson, you should be able to:
- Identify the Arapaho tribe
- Explain why they migrated West
- Discuss the relationship between the Arapaho and the United States government
- Describe the Arapaho beliefs and rituals