Arapaho Leaders

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 Medicine Man Speaks to Twiss

By 1850, the Arapaho people were considered to be “wild and barbarous”. They were greatly feared because of possible Indian uprisings against the settlers moving into their hunting territory. However, they did have advocates who attempted to work on their behalf with Washington. One such man was Agent Thomas S. Twiss who was given the charge of the Platte River tribes. They numbered 6,500 Sioux, 1,600 Arapaho and 1,400 Cheyenne who contended with each other over their hunting grounds while opposing white encroachment. (Trenholm, pg 144) In 1857, Twiss unsuccessfully tried to stop Morman Mail Stops from being built in the tribes’ territory. By 1858, gold seekers invaded the territory and by 1859, immigrants were pouring into Pikes Peak area by the thousands. On September 18, 1859, Twiss held a council at Deer Creek, Nebraska Territory. The Arapaho chiefs present were Medicine Man, Black Bear, Cut Nose, Little Owl, and Friday with thirty of their leading men. The Arapaho, in an unprecedented move, spoke on behalf of the Sioux and Cheyenne as well as for themselves. The following is the speech that was given by Chief Medicine Man, the head chief of the Northern Arapaho. “Father (Twiss), the words which you have given us from our Great Father are good. We listen to his voice. Our country for hunting game had become very small. We see the white man everywhere; their rifles kill some of the game, and the smoke of their Camp fires scares the rest away…. It is but a few years ago, when we camped here, in the valley of Deer Creek, and remained many moons, for the Buffalo were plenty and made the prairie look black all around us. Now, none are seen and we are obliged to go to Yellow Stone, ten days travel, and then find only a few, for the Crow Tribe of Indians show hostile feelings towards us when we hunt there; oftentimes scaring away the game and stealing our horses…. Our sufferings are increasing every winter. Our horses, too, are dying because we ride them so far to get a little game for our Lodges. We wish to live…. We are willing that our people should plant and raise corn for food, and settle on small farms and live in Cabins. We ask our Great Father to help us until we can labor like the white people. The Arapaho Tribe wish to settle on the Laramie River, above Fort Laramie. The Oglalas will settle on Horse Creek, in part; and another part on Deer Creek, the present agency…. We request that our Great Father will supply us for a few years with a Blacksmith, Carpenter, farmers, physicians, Missionaries of the...

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Chief Sharp Nose

Sharp Nose was an admired warrior, scout and chief of the Northern Arapaho as the tribe moved to their permanent reservation home on the reservation from the nomadic life they had known for generations. He was among the leaders that believed peace with the non-Indians was the best option for their tribe’s survival even if it meant going against their traditional allies. In the winter of 1876 to 1877, Sharp Nose served as a scout under Colonel Crook during the second Powder River winter campaign against the Arapaho allies, the Cheyenne and Sioux. It was during this time that Sharp Nose earned the respect of the non-Indian soldiers he fought with. As they waited for the surrender of Crazy Horse, Captain Bourke was especially impressed with the Arapaho warrior. Bourke stated, “In all that galaxy of gallant soldiers, white and copper-colored, whom I met… none stands out more clearly in my recollection than Sharp Nose. He was the inspiration of the battlefield. He reminded me of a blacksmith; he struck with a sledgehammer, but intelligently, at the right spot and at the right moment. He handled men with rare judgment and coolness, and was as modest as he was brave.” In 1877, Sharp Nose traveled with other chiefs to Washington where he met President R. Hayes and obtained official permission for his people to be placed on to the Shoshone Reservation. By 1891, Sharp Nose was an ardent follower of the Ghost Dance religion, a cult that Chief Black Coal did not look favorably on. This religion preached the coming of a new age for the Native Americans. Wovoka, the messiah of this cult, said that dancing would bring the buffalo and old way of life back and the non-Indians would leave. Black Coal, a Catholic convert, sent out a scout to check out the new religion and concluded through Yellow Eagle’s eyewitness reports that it was not a good thing. This, however, did not stop Sharp Nose and many others of the tribe believing in the hope this cult was giving them. Although Black Coal did not himself believe, he allowed the dancing to continue because it was the tribe’s right to choose for themselves their own religion. Along with others, Sharp Nose sang Ghost Dance songs and danced for days about their despair, clinging to a desperate hope that things would soon change –   My Father, have pity on me! I have nothing to eat. I am dying of thirst – Everything is gone.   Sharp Nose belonged to the “Bad Pipes” band of the Northern Arapaho and succeeded Black Coal as the head chief in 1893. At this time, the Arapaho were living on the...

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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

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. This did not mean, however, that he was as willing to give up his warring ways with enemy tribes. In 1856, Black Bear was leading forty Arapaho warriors on the warpath. They were on the trail of “thieving Utes” and had been following them for 500 miles from the Platte River to the Black Hills when they met up with a troop of soldiers under Col. Johnston on the Utah Expedition. To show their willingness for peace, the warriors unsaddled their horses, turned them loose and sat down for a talk interpreted by Friday. Private John Pulsipher later wrote how impressed he was of these men and how well-dressed they were. By 1859, Black Bear was one of the main chiefs at the Council of Deer Creek where the Northern Arapaho made a plea for their own reservation and farming equipment. They stated that the vast buffalo herds had been depleted and would not return to the same place after scenting a white man. In 1860, the Northern Arapaho met with Governor Evans several times in an attempt to secure a reservation in the Cache la Poudre area. Governor Evans spoke of the folly of war and the chiefs agreed. Their bands by now were poor and hungry and continued to make a stand for peace towards the non-Indians. Black Bear was among the leaders of the Northern Arapaho who signed a statement that they would abide by any treaty made with the U.S. government. In exchange for their signatures, they were given rations for their families. In late August of 1865, Black Bear and his camp were attacked at Tongue River and lost most their belongings to the U.S. army and Pawnee scouts. (See the blog post, Black Bear, Battle of Tongue River) On April 29, 1868, Black Bear was one of the first signers of the Ft. Laramie Treaty. He, along with Medicine Man, Sorrell Horse and Little Shield agreed to accept as a “permanent home” some portion of the country set aside at Medicine Lodge or a portion of the reservation of the Sioux. Later in June, twenty-one other Northern Arapaho added their mark to the treaty, a treaty that was never fulfilled. By February 17, 1870, Black Bear was instrumental in a peace treaty between the Shoshone and the Arapaho. Largely through his efforts and that of Medicine Man and Little Wolf, the Northern Arapaho could now travel unmolested in the Shoshone country. The Shoshones refused to permit the Arapaho to settle on their reservation and...

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Sherman Sage

Sherman Sage was born about 1844 near the Platte Rivers in Nebraska to the Long Leg band of the Northern Arapaho. At his birth, his Uncle named him Sage in honor of the time he had killed a man in a large sagebrush. Sage witnessed many key events of the Plains history. He attended the first and second Laramie treaty talks, experienced the birth of the gold rush in Denver, served as a scout for General Crook and met Wovoka, prophet of the Ghost Dance movement on behalf of his tribe. He was an advocate for education and expressed regret that the lawlessness of Denver caused him to be pulled out of the non-Indian schools when he was young. He also believed in preserving the Arapaho culture in the written word and, in this role, helped Alfred Kroeber and James Mooney record our customs and stories. On July 16, 1914, Sherman Sage was one of two Arapaho elders invited on a two-week pack trip above Estes Park. It was a naming expedition funded by the Colorado Mountain Club to help persuade Congress to establish the area as a national park by assigning Indian names to important land features. This area now is the Rocky Mountain National Park and many of the Arapaho names from this trip are used to this day. In his late 90’s, Sherman Sage continued his role as tribal historian by being one of the main informants for Mary Inez Hilger. Her book, “Arapaho Child Life and Its Cultural Background”, has successfully preserved much of our tribe’s past and our ancestors’ voice. Sage did not shun from sharing how hard daily life was. “People rose early in those old days. They couldn’t afford to sleep late. They had to be on the alert all the time. They had to look out for the enemy; bring in their horses, carry in water. Everyone would have had breakfast and then only the sun would be coming up.” Even though he is still known as Old Man Sage, he had several Indian names. After his nephew took his name, Sage, during a lodge dance, he assumed the name of his Grandfather, Good-To-Look-At. After another young man acquired this name, Sage then took the name Old-Owl after his mother’s father. It was common practice to take the name of someone you respect and for that person to assume another name. Sherman Sage was well respected by the Northern Arapaho and his memory lives on in the books he helped to bring about on our culture and customs. He attributed it to his mother’s advice. “Now look at your father here. He is brave, truthful, kind to everybody. Do as your...

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