Significance – The land that was to become the City of Denver was a favorite campground of the Arapahos. When Anglo miners arrived in search of gold in the late 1850s, the Arapaho had already established their village on the Platte, just below the mouth of Cherry Creek.

Inscription – Before the founding of the City of Denver, the tribe that camped in the area called themselves “Inuna-ina: meaning, “Our people.”

This tribe was also known as “Arapaho,” the word for “trader” or “buyer” in Pawnee. Denver’s founders honored the tribe with the names of Arapahoe Street and Arapahoe County. Note the change in spelling with the “e” at the end.

Location – 39.748855, -104.994257

Details – Arapaho life was peaceful and predictable in the years before the colonists arrived. It was a time when the New World was just that, and the United States of America was merely a concept. The Arapahos were a sedentary, agricultural people, living in permanent woodland villages. They used domestic dogs as pack animals to pull their sleds. Their settlements ranged from the South Saskatchewan River in what is now Canada south, populating what became Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota and western South Dakota.

As the Arapaho thrived in the vast plains west of the Great Lakes, the first Dutch settlers were establishing the New Netherland – a 17th-century colony of the Dutch Republic that was located on the East Coast of North America. Slowly but surely, European expansion into the New World infiltrated Arapaho life. The Anglos came on horseback and pushed the Indians westward.

The upside for the Arapahos was the horse. Anglos introduced the horse to the Arapaho in the early 1700s. These steeds were the key to the Arapahos new lifestyle as nomadic people who followed the great buffalo herds. Horses made life easier. The animals allowed the Indians to pull greater loads, hunt more meat, hunt easier, travel faster, and travel further. They traversed the plains of what would become Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Kansas and lived in teepees made from buffalo skins. The Arapaho became expert buffalo hunters, as the mammals provided the Indians with virtually everything they needed for survival.

Buffalo hide teepees were the homes of choice and they belonged to the women in the Arapaho tribe. In additional to the traditional domestic chores like cooking and cleaning, an Arapaho woman built her family’s house and dragged the heavy posts with her whenever the tribe moved. Men were hunters and warriors, responsible for feeding and defending their families. In addition to buffalo, the tribe also hunted for elk and deer, fished, and ate various berries, and plants. During hard times, they were also known to eat their dogs. 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. Then tribal hunters ventured off together for the great summer buffalo hunt. Hunters and warriors were permitted to become Arapaho chiefs, but both genders took part in storytelling, art, music, and traditional medicine.

Once established as a wandering tribe, the Arapaho extended their presence through trade, warfare, and alliances with other plains tribes. As they drifted west, the Arapaho became close allies of the Cheyenne Indians and grew to become loosely aligned with the Sioux. Typically, the Arapaho lived together in small bands, predominantly determined by birth, but members were free to move between bands as they chose. As their territory expanded, the Arapaho developed northern and southern tribes. The southern Arapaho migrated toward the Arkansas River in the Oklahoma Territory, while the Northern Arapaho lived along the edges of what would be named the Rocky Mountains at the headwaters of the Platte River.

The Arapaho frequently came into contact with fur traders with minimal conflict. The Arapaho freely entered various trading posts and trade fairs to exchange mostly bison hides and beaver furs for European goods such as firearms. Speculation has it their tribal name could be that the white traders referred to them by their Crow (Apsáalooke aliláau) 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 widespread use of the name Arapaho.

As the white man pushed west, the Arapaho generally maintained friendly relations. In 1851, a treaty was signed between the U.S. Government and the Northern Arapaho and Cheyenne. The white men claimed the former tribal lands for themselves, granting the Indians land encompassing one-sixth of Wyoming, one-quarter of Colorado and parts of western Kansas and Nebraska. Then on August 25, 1855, the Kansas Territorial Legislature created a huge Arapahoe County to govern the entire western portion of the Territory of Kansas. The county was named for the Arapaho Nation who lived in the region.

The land that was to become the City of Denver was a favorite campground of the Arapahos. When Anglo miners arrived in search of gold in the late 1850s, the Arapaho had already established their village on the Platte, just below the mouth of Cherry Creek. The discovery of gold in July 1858 triggered the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush. Many residents of the mining region felt disconnected from the remote territorial governments of Kansas and Nebraska, so they voted to form their own Territory of Jefferson on October 24, 1859. The following month, the Jefferson Territorial Legislature organized 12 counties for the new territory, including a smaller Arapahoe County. Denver City served as the county seat of Arapahoe County.

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.

They are federally recognized as the Arapaho 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.

Quiz Questions

Why did the Arapaho Indians become nomadic people?

The Colorado Arapaho were dependent upon which animal?

What can you share about Arapaho homes?

To where did the 1867 treaty of Medicine Lodge relocate the Arapaho tribes?

Do you think it was easy to be an Indian during the mid-19th century? Why or why not?