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 Arapaho as an Army scout. In this role, in November 1876, he participated on the attack to the Dull Knife’s Cheyenne village. The Northern Arapaho did not want to be linked to their Cheyenne allies’ hostility towards the non-Indians and so helped guide them to Dull Knife, not expecting a battle. Oral history from a descendant, Tom Shakespeare, Sr., states that the Northern Arapaho believed it was going to be a non-violent return of the Cheyenne to the agency and were furious when it turned into an attack.
Black Coal was one of the first converts to Catholicism and his band followed his example, becoming predominantly Catholic. He was the last head chief of the Northern Arapaho to be selected in the traditional way and so many still today refer to him as the last real head chief of the Northern Arapaho. Up until this time, each principle chief came from the band that had produced the previous head chief, which was the Antelope band. The leader was chosen by the people and was one who was considered the bravest, most generous and most popular of all warriors in the Antelope band.
On 10 July 1893 he died in the Arapaho Reservation and was succeeded as head chief by Sharp Nose. Black Coal was buried at the rocked ridges west of St. Stephen Mission in Wyoming.
Hahou! (Thank you!)
Jackie Dorothy 2016 ©