Arapaho Battles

Signs of the Warpath

Signs of the Warpath

The warpath that our ancestors followed was not without rules or regulations. Prayers were sent to the Creator Above (Houu) and roles were assigned. All the warriors knew the sign language particular to their tribe and were on alert for any sign of danger. In September 1880, Little Raven and Left Hand of the Southern Arapaho and Bobtail and Big Horse of the Cheyenne were part of a delegation to Washington, D.C. on behalf of their tribes. During their visit, they shared some of the signals they used when on the warpath. They explained that when the Arapaho or Cheyenne warriors would leave their family camp to go on the warpath, there were certain rules and ceremonies that were observed to ensure the success of the raids. They would first announce their intentions and receive the blessings of the old men through ritual and ceremonies. They would then send runners so that neighboring friends could join them. The pipe-bearers were the first ones appointed a post, usually after already being on the warpath a few days. These men carried the sacred pipes and preceded the war party while on the move. The success of the expedition would be endangered if anyone crossed ahead of these pipe-bearers so warriors joining the war party would avoid riding up before the head of the column. All new arrivals would instead join the group from the rear or the side. When the war party approached a potential elevated lookout, they hid themselves in the surrounding areas. Just before dawn, scouts approached the area with caution to make sure that none of the enemy had reached the summit before them. The scouts would then watch the site for any objects in motion and would closely monitor the flight patterns of the birds. If any bird landed on the hill or butte, it would indicate that there was nothing to scare them off. However, if a large bird, such as a raven, crow or eagle, flew towards the hilltop and then made a sudden swerve to either side and disappeared, it would indicate that something or someone was there. If the scout suspected the enemy were near, he would signal “danger” to the rest of the war party watching him. He would do this by grasping the blanket he wore with his right hand and wave it downward from a shoulder position. If there was no enemy visible, the scout would ascend to the lookout slowly and undercover as much as possible. After scanning the horizon and finding no one, the scout would signal the all clear or “clear surface” by grasping his blanket and waving it horizontally from right to left and back again repeatedly. However, if the enemy was...

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Chief Black Coal

Black Coal was born in 1840 to the Antelope band of the Northern Arapaho tribe otherwise known as the Long Legs. They were so named because they were always on the move. In reservation days, they were known as the Forks-of-the-River band because their new home was in the area of “Lower Arapaho” on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Black Coal earned his name after a victorious fight against the Ute tribe. He had rolled in the ashes of the battlefield until he was all black, the color of victory. Years later, when he lost three fingers in a fight against the U.S. army, he earned another name, Fingers Cut Off. In October 1867, Black Coal participated in the first Fort Laramie treaty. He later became the principal chief in 1871 after the death of Medicine Man. In the summer of 1874, two women were murdered in present day Lander. This attack and other raids, though never proved, were attributed to the Northern Arapaho. In an effort to locate and subdue the hostiles, Captain A. E. Bates took a company of 2nd Cavalry from Camp Brown. Their Shoshones scouts guided them to an Arapaho camp outside of present day Thermopolis. Black Coal’s band had been traveling with two other Platte River tribes from the Black Hills to raid against the Shoshonis. On the way, they argued and separated, with Black Coal deciding not to make a raid against the Shoshonis and to honor the peace treaties other Northern Arapaho had made with their former enemy. He then made camp at Nowood, a tributary of Wind River. On the dawn of July 4th, 1874, Black Coal’s village was alerted to the Cavalry by the war cries of the Shoshoni. The Arapahos poured out of their tipis and made it to the heights above their village, gaining the advantage in the ensuing battle. They were able to rain shots down and keep the soldiers back. Captain Bates captured and held the village for half an hour. During this time, the post surgeon cared for the wounded in a tipi before being forced to evacuate. The Shoshonis ran off about 250 head of horses and 50 Arapaho died, some on the battle field and others from their wounds in days following. When Bates began to run out of ammunition and two men were killed and an officer seriously injured, the Captain retreated and the Arapaho counted themselves as the victor of the battle. Afterwards, Black Cole and his band returned to the Red Cloud agency where they were taunted by their Sioux allies for not keeping the original plan to attack the Shoshonis. Two years later, Black Coal joined with other Northern...

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Chief Black Bear, Battle of Tongue River

Chief Black Bear played a prominent role in the Indian Wars in Wyoming even though he attempted for most his time as leader to find peace with the non-Indians. After the Colorado militia attacked a peaceful village of Cheyenne and Arapaho in the Sand Creek Massacre on November 1864, Black Bear moved his lodges from Colorado to what he felt would be a safer place in Medicine Bow. The next May, official reports from Lt. Col. W. O. Collins reported that the 3,000 Northern Arapaho gathering in the area appeared to be peaceful and allowed soldiers to pass through the area without harassment. Collins was concerned that hostile Cheyenne and Southern Arapahos would be a bad influence on the Northern bands. There were also smaller groups of Northern Arapaho warriors marauding against the non-Indians against their leaders wishes. But it was the Powder River campaign to subdue the Platte River Indians that nearly proved Black Bear’s undoing not other Indians. Circular No. 11 distributed in Ft. Laramie, stated that parleys with Indians would no longer be held with the Indians because they must first be severely chastised. It was because of the charge that the Platte River Indians had massacred “our men, women and children; burned stolen, and otherwise destroyed our property; and committed outrages upon innocent women, which sicken the soul and crush the pleadings of mercy.” In the summer of 1865, General Patrick E. Connor carried out his mission and the major attack of his campaign occurred on August 29, 1865. By late summer, Black Bear and Chief Old David had brought 250 lodges to a remote camp in the Tongue River country. They did not believe a Cheyenne, his wife, and son who rushed into camp warning them of an approaching column of soldiers. But when an Arapaho on a fast horse rode into camp with the same news, the camp was thrown into a state of panic. By the time they saw the soldiers advancing less than a mile away, the women and children had no way to escape and many hid in the underbrush along the river and waited. Other Arapaho women mounted horses and were ready to leave but never made it. General Patrick E. Connor marched on their camp with 400 men and two pieces of heavy artillery. The camp was in a state of panic as the warriors fought and the women and children fled. The soldiers captured over one thousand horses and the Pawnee scouts with them plundered the village. The soldiers destroyed 250 lodges and burned the buffalo robes and dried meat, cremating their dead in the piers of fire so the Arapaho would not come back to maim their...

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Medicine Man, Head Chief of the Northern Arapaho

  Medicine Man was the chief of the Long Legs band and the head chief of the Northern Arapaho during a crucial time in our period during the 1860’s. As leader, he had great influence over the tribe and determined that peace with the white man was our best option. “So far as we Arapahoes are concerned, we are like the ants. There are a lot of us, but the white men are like the blades of grass on the prairie. We would have no chance if we started to fight them.” Medicine Man attempted for years to secure a reservation for the Arapaho without success. He petitioned Colorado Governor John Evans and other officials to establish a home for the Northern Arapaho in the Cache la Poudre area. On November 29, 1864, hope for a reservation was crushed after the brutal attack by the Colorado Militia on a peaceful village of Cheyenne and Arapaho. Many Northern Arapaho, mainly women and children, lost their lives in the incident now known as the Sand Creek Massacre. By 1865, Medicine Man led his nomadic small band to the Sweetwater River area. They ranged north to the Big Horns, west to the Rockies, east to the Black Hills and south to the Cache la Poudre following the trail of the bison. When the chief learned of the Wagon Box fight in 1867, he appointed a crier to announce the facts to the camp with words of peace… “The Arapaho are a peaceful people and want to keep their treaties. Don’t do like our friend Red Cloud. Keep out of these fights and always be friendly with the white people.” Under his leadership, the Northern Arapaho did not become “stay around the fort Indians” and continued to hunt. In 1868, sixty-nine lodges of the Long Leg band brought in 2,000 buffalo robes to Ft. Fetterman for trade. They also received trading credit for army horses that they returned. Medicine Man continued to lead his tribe in a search for a home to call their own and this led them to the Wind River area with Black Bear and Friday. Although they did not fight the non-Indians, they continued their raids against the Shoshone and Crow tribes, stealing horses and claiming their hunting territory. In 1871, Medicine Man died after eating bad rations at Ft. Fetterman. He never did accomplish his goal but he helped to guide the Northern Arapaho on their journey during a time when a strong leader was...

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Friday, the Arapaho Interpreter

His Arapaho name was “The Man Who Sits Thinking” but he was better known as Friday, the adopted son of Thomas Fitzpatrick. In 1831, he had been found wandering the prairies by Fitzpatrick on a Friday, hence his name. The mountain man took the boy back to St. Louis with him and sent him to school for two years. Friday stayed another five years before returning to his people and the Arapaho way of life. As a result of his education, Friday was the main interpreter for councils and meetings with non-Indians from 1850 until his death. He brought back useful knowledge to the Arapaho elders and proved that you can go to school but not lose the Arapaho way. By the 1860’s, Friday was a leader of his own band. He wanted to live on the Cache la Poudre in Colorado as his permanent home and spent most of his time there. However, his efforts failed to secure a reservation in his chosen area. In 1875, he served as the interpreter for Black Coal and Little Wolf when they testified that they had been given spoiled food and blankets too short for issue from the Red Cloud Agency. The Northern Arapaho had by now been reduced to poverty and their numbers depleted. In 1876, to show their good faith to their non-Indian allies, Friday joined other Arapaho as a scout for General George Cook in a campaign against their Sioux and Cheyenne allies. They did not want drawn into the Sioux war and agreed to help bring them back to their reservation. After the war ended, the Arapahoes accepted rations with the Sioux at the Red Cloud Agency but by 1878, began again to seek a reservation of their own. Friday was among the first delegation sent to Wind River to negotiate with the Shoshoni tribe’s Chief Washakie. Friday, as interpreter for the Arapaho, told the agents that the tribe no longer wanted to suffer the abuse of the Sioux and wanted a reservation of their own where they could learn to farm. They were instead sent to live with the Shoshoni although neither tribe wanted to share a reservation. On May 13, 1881, Friday died on the Wind River Reservation of a heart aliment. He was never a head chief but was known as a peace chief who sought a harmonious relationship with the...

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Apache Fort, A Battle Remembered In Stone

In 1914, two Arapaho Elders, Gun Griswald and Sherman Sage, returned to the hunting grounds of their youth in the Estes Valley – Grand Lake area. Their trip was arranged by the Colorado Mountain Club who wanted to preserve the area as a national park and asked the Elders to provide the Arapaho names for many of the local landmarks they remembered from their childhood before they had been relocated to the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. Since none of the professional anthropologists who were contacted about the project were willing to go on the pack trip, Oliver Toll, an untrained young man, was chosen to go and record the findings. He reported the story of the area just as it was told to him with little editorial comment. So let the reader be the judge. The following is the story of Apache Fort, a story of a great battle told in stone. It was around the year 1855 and the Arapaho were camped on the west side of present day Moraine Park in the beautiful Estes Valley. The area was plentiful with game and wild plants that the Arapaho were able to use for survival off the land. Elk, mule deer, moose, big horn sheep, cougars, eagles, black bear and many more animals shared the vast valley with them which also meant the area was one the Arapaho band had to protect from other Natives wanting the rich valley for their own. Sentries were regularly posted at the camp, patrolling the area vigilantly and it was most likely these young men who first gave the alert. Apaches! The Apache war party numbered about 50 warriors and had come into the valley from the south west. The Arapaho warriors grabbed up their weapons, mainly bows and arrows with a few old Canadian flint locks, and confronted their enemies in Beaver Park, somewhat south of the High Drive.  What followed was a great battle between the Arapaho and Apache that lasted at least two days, if not longer. Sherman Sage was a boy of four at the time and remembered the wounded being brought into camp. This included his older brother who was most likely tended to by their mother, Long Walker, and other women of the camp. The story of the battle itself was not retold by firsthand account, but by the story left behind in stone monuments laid down by the warriors themselves. Sage explained the battle to Toll, pointing out the stones at an area the whites called “Indian Fort”. The first pile of stones was a monument where the first Arapaho man had been killed. Near this pile, there were 3 or 4 stones off to themselves....

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