Arapaho Indian Tribe: History, Facts & Location

Instructor: Stacy Chambers
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).


Arapaho Camp, 1868
Arapaho Camp 1868

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.

Sand Creek Massacre
Sand Creek Massacre

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.

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