Arapaho Sub-Tribes

In the last two centuries, the Hinono’eiteen (Arapaho) split into five divisions which in the 1970’s Tom Shakespeare Sr., an Arapaho elder, called:

  1. Arapaho Proper (The Northern Arapaho)
  2. Peacaus (I assume he is referring to the Southern Branch)
  3. Stonechippers (The Rock People)
  4. Treebark Dwellers (The Wood-Lodge People)
  5. Gros Ventres (Beggars)

According to Tom, each group spoke the Arapaho dialect in four different unique sub-dialects.

The Northern Arapaho (Arapaho Proper) called themselves the “Sage Brush Men” and the other Arapaho called them the “Red Willow Men” reportedly because of all the different ways they used the red willow tree. This branch of the Arapaho was the Mother Tribe and the custodians of the sacred symbols and medicines.

The Southern Arapaho (Peacaus?) were the “Southerners” or “South Men”. One the surface, their language shares similarities with the Cheyenne perhaps due to their long association with this tribe in relatively recent times.

The Gros Ventres of the prairies call themselves “White Clay People”, however they were called the “Begging Men” by other Arapaho and atsina (gut) by the Blackfeet Tribe. They historically lived north of the main body of the Arapaho near and adjacent to the Blackfoot territory. They were called the “Begging Men” because they were shrewd business men and demanded adequate pay for their goods.

The Aanuhawa “Rock People” lived with the Northern Arapaho and were few in number. Their dialect was between that of the Arapaho proper and the Blackfeet.

The Basawunne na “Big-Lodge” or “Wood-Lodge People” were, by tradition, a distinct tribe who were at war with the Arapaho Nation. However, they were actually absorbed into the Arapaho tribe years ago. Their dialect differed considerably from other Arapaho dialects. In the 1970s, the Big Lodge was still a distinct group among the Arapaho and the nation expected a member among those of the Big-Lodge People living with the Northern Arapaho to be the custodian of the Sacred Pipe, the palladium (protective charm) of the Arapaho.

Each group lived separately and continued to be allied to each other. Eventually, the smaller bands were absorbed into the larger Arapaho Proper group through intermarriage. This intermingling also occurred with the Cheyenne and Sioux to a lesser extent.

The North and South branches, each with their own dialect and different meanings of words, remain divided to this day.

One theory says that this division into two main tribes was the direct result of their hunting grounds being divided in half. The Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne had signed a friendly treaty that allowed wagon trains to pass through their land unmolested and this resulted in a barren strip being blazed through the middle to the common hunting grounds, effectively dividing the once massive buffalo herd into two. One herd, migrated south, the other migrated north and the Arapaho divided as well. (Native American Tribes: The History and Culture of the Arapaho by Charles River Editors)

Another theory I have heard from tribal members is that the Southern tribe preferred the warmer climates and our tribe preferred the colder weather. Jim Stewart, a local historian and teacher, told me today that the division occurred because of broken treaties. The Arapaho were promised land but each time we went to claim it, something happened to make it too valuable. Gold was discovered, for example, on South Pass. So, eventually, the Arapaho ended up split into the two divisions they are today. The Southern Arapaho went with their Cheyenne allies and the Northern Arapaho ended up in Wyoming on the Wind Reservation. But that’s another story for another time!

For additional information, there is the 1971 book, The Sky People by Tom Shakespeare Sr.