Pre-Reservation Days

Never No Summer

Never No Summer

In 1914, Gun Griswold, Sherman Sage, and Tom Crispin, members of the Arapaho tribe, were brought to the Rocky Mountain region in a trip sponsored by the Colorado Mountain Club. Griswold and Sage spent their youth in the area and were asked to offer the Native American names for the various peaks, lakes and other geographic features in the area. They called this mountain range Ni-chebe-chii, which translates to Never No Summer. Now known as the Never Summer Mountains, this is a mountain range in the Rocky Mountains in north central Colorado in the United States that consists of seventeen peaks. The range is located along the northwest border of Rocky Mountain National Park and the continental divide makes a loop in these mountains. According to the Arapaho Project, the Never Summer Range, niiciibiicei’i, meant never summer and the mountains may have been named for the harsh winters here. Deep snowdrifts accumulate that melt only briefly during the summer. There is an Arapaho myth that may also explain the name. When they were in camp, White-Owl (the winter bird) and Thunder-Bird (the summer bird) challenged each other for an exhibition of their powers. So Thunder-Bird started up clouds, black as coal, making a tremendous noise and great wind. White-Owl  started its white looking clouds, which moved fast and thick, the clouds flying very low and blowing with a piercing wind. Now the black clouds and the white clouds met, but the white clouds of the white bird scattered snow, which drifted, so that there was a blizzard and nothing could be seen, and everything was frozen up. So the white bird gained the day and was considered the most powerful. This myth may explain the names of the Never Summer Range, White Owls (Mummy Range), and Thunder Pass (Lulu). Geographically Thunder Pass connects the Never Summers with the White Owls. The conflict may have taken place in the Never Summer mountains, which is why there is never summer there, since the winter bird prevailed and caused blizzards and snow to freeze the land. To this day summer comes late to these mountains and leaves early, and snow is here for most of the year. Hohou!  Resources http://www.colorado.edu/csilw/arapahoproject/map/handout.html https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Never_Summer_Mountains High Country Names, Louisa Ward Arps and Elinor Eppich Kingery, (Rocky Mountain Nature Association; 1994), pg 115 ISBN...

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The Buffalo Jump

The Buffalo Jump

The Arapaho people depended on the buffalo for our livelihood. Our warriors hunted them on foot, on horse, by stealth and by making loud noises. These brave hunters would sneak into the midst of a herd disguised as wolves to bring down one buffalo. At other times, the entire tribe would come together to drive an entire herd off a cliff. One such account of how the Arapaho came to use these buffalo jumps was recorded by an English Professor from the Washington State University. In the 1930’s, Miss Ella Elizabeth Clark, recorded the following story of the origin of the buffalo jump from an Arapaho informant. “A man tried to think how the Arapahos might kill buffalo. He was a hard thinker who would go off for several days to fast and think. At last he dreamed that a voice spoke to him and told him what to do. Going back to his people, he made an enclosure of trees set in the ground with willows wound between them. At one side of the enclosure there was only a cliff with rocks at the bottom. Then four runners who never tired were sent out to the windward of a herd of buffalo, two of them on each side of the herd. They drove the animals toward the enclosure and into it. Then the people drove the buffalo around inside until a heavy cloud of dust rose. Unable to see in the dust, the animals ran over the cliff and were killed.” The Western Photographer Edward S. Curtis described seeing a buffalo jump: “The manner of driving and decoying the bison was a varied as the form of the slaughter-pen; but whatever the method, the purpose and results were the same — the object was to stampede the herd, or a part of it, and to direct the rapidly moving animals to a given point, the Indians knowing that, once well in motion, they would run into their own destruction. The Sioux (allies of the Arapaho) built out in rapidly diverging lines from the pen a light brush construction, not in truth a fence, as it was only substantial enough to form a line. Men concealed themselves behind this brush, and when the herd was well inside the lines the hunters rose up and by shouting and waving their blankets frightened the animals on. Sometimes a man skillful in the ways of the bison would disguise himself in one of their skins and act as leader of the drove to the extent of starting them in their mad rush. By this method the Indians simply took advantage of a characteristic habit of the buffalo — to follow their leader blindly. The movement grew...

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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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The Girl who Ran with Horses

The Girl who Ran with Horses

In the mid-1900’s, a 70 year old Northern Arapaho woman shared the following story about a girl and a herd of wild horses. It had been told to her when she was about 12 years old by her grandmother. “There was a man and his wife and their relatives. All these and their friends were traveling together. They had been camping together. In the fall, about September or October, they set out to find a camping place for the winter. So they broke up camp and started out. Now, one of the daughters of this man and his wife was married to a man from another group. While they were traveling, looking for the winter camping place, this girl stopped her father and mother – they were on horseback – and told them that she had lost her pillow. She told them to go on ahead slowly while she went back and looked for her pillow. She rode back on horseback alone and came to a drove of wild horses near some brush. When these wild horses saw this woman on horseback, they all ran toward her. There was a stallion in the group. This girl got off her horse, got on the stallion and got away with him. When it was about time for her to return and there was no sign of her, her people began to wonder what had happened to her. The horse she had ridden out came back, but she did not. So they waited in that place for a while. The girl’s husband rode around, off and on, looking for her. Then they had gotten enough meat to least for a while, they decided to go back to look for the girl. The men rode out on horseback and looked all over the hills for her. They often came to where the group of wild horses were, but they never suspected anything. They passed up the horses just looking for the girl. One man said one day, “These horses may have chased that girl’s horse and she may have knocked off her horse.” The men then rode back to the camp. Her husband stayed and continued to look around for his wife. After awhile, he, too got back to camp. Then they all got on swift horses and again rode out to the wild horses. These wild horses were altogether different from the horses the Indians rode and so the men made a plan. They would round up all these wild horses and drive them to their watering place in the river. When they got them all rounded up and got them to the river, they found this girl among them. She was getting...

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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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The Girl Who Became a Bear

The following story, The Girl Who Became a Bear, is believed to be the explanation of how the Big Dipper came to be in Arapaho mythology. Philip Rapid/Rabbit shared the story with Alfred Kroeber in Oklahoma on August 15, 1899. Professor Andrew Cowell, William C’Hair and Alonzo Moss explained some of the meanings behind the symbolism in their book, Arapaho Stories, Songs & Prayers. (pages 375-381) As you read the story, here are a few things to be aware of… Bear-claws are prominent in old Arapaho art according to Cowell and he believes the use of the bear claws is significant. He further theorizes that this story may be connected to Whirlwind Woman since the claw motif is linked to her and she is linked to the creation of the world. The Big Dipper which is referred to as a bear in many cultures, is known as “broken back” or “broken shoulder” in Arapaho. And the three stars ‘hanging in the sky’ also refer to those ‘left behind.’ Now, the story! A large tribe had set up camp. The children were pretending to be a bear in the sand. There was one who was an older girl. When they were playing, “Heti-ce3-oobe hit-eihotoo-no!” (Bring it’s claws!) said this girl. Then she tied its claws to her hands. She pretended to be a bear with its lodge in sandy hills – the mythical home of the dead. There were a lot of berries at her lodge. The children would come and pick berries. While they were picking the berries, the one who played bear would come out and pretend to charge furiously at them in attack. There was a willow area where she would sleep. This one who actually did turn into a bear, she ripped open her younger brother’s back. I guess she hurt him badly. In the evenings all the children went home. “Ceebeh-‘ei’tobee toh-woxuunoo’oo-noo.” (Don’t tell them that I have turned into a bear) this girl said. “Noottob-einooni neinoo, heti-yooton-oobe,” (When my mother asks about me, you must hide this from her),” she said. “Tooto’oe, heitobee-neehek, hoot-ne’-woteekoohu-noo,” (And anyway, if you tell, I’ll come storming into camp) the one who had turned into a bear said. When her younger brother went home, well, I guess he didn’t tell that he had been injured. Once it was night again, when everyone went to sleep, then this boy’s injuries were noticed. When he was asked about it, then he told how his older sister had turned into a bear. He was still in the process of telling the story, when every single dog in the camp started barking. Then the one who had turned into a bear came storming...

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