The three stars in linear position in Orion were thought to be “three buffalos in a row.” When they were in the west, the Arapaho knew that dawn was near.
In 1876, the Arapaho Indian Scout, Wolf Moccasin, told Captain William Philo Clark that the Milky Way was the path taken to the afterlife by warriors killed in battle.
“They believed that after death they went to the land of the rising sun; this land was far way beyond and below all mountains, a level country near the ocean. An Arapaho killed in battle did not have to travel over this long road, or rather, the road of the warriors killed in battle (Milky Way).”
Clark, 1885, Indian Sign Language, p. 41
The Milky Way has an Arapaho legend tied to it of a race to the death between a young horse and a young buffalo bull. It was recorded in Oklahoma in 1893 by Albert Gatschet, the Swiss-American ethnologist who was a pioneer in the field of Native American languages.
Many of the details are significant such as the color of victory is black and youth is said to be impetuous and prone to poor decision-making in traditional Arapaho culture.
“A black bob-tailed horse raced with a young buffalo bull. If this buffalo wins, the horse will always be eaten. And if the black bobtailed horse wins, the buffalo will be consumed.
The black bobtailed horse won. That long white streak across [the night sky] is where he came running through. And that (streak) above which turns off to the side, that’s where the buffalo came running through.
When he was beaten, he ran off to the side.”
Some Arapaho versions of this popular story state that the Milky Way is made up of the dust raised by their running hooves.
Below is the Myth of the Milky Way with the Arapaho translation. Special thanks to Professor Andrew Cowell and Arapaho Elders Alonzo Moss and William C’Hair for providing this story and the significance of the details.
Ni’hwatä´n washî´nit hiwa´xāx ni’hnanü’hti´wat waxathöü.
Nih-wo’téén-wo’ošííni-t hiwóxhoox nih-nonouhtííw-oot wooxo3ou’u.
A black bob-tailed horse raced with a young buffalo bull.
Nihî-îthi-ihî´thine´nna nähä-i´theinan haye´hak hatetcha´nibinît hithēina´n.
Nih-‘ii-3i’ hihíí3inén-no’, nehe’ híí3einoon hoyéí-hok, hoot-tecó’oni-biini-t hii3einóón.[i]
The Indians[ii] said, if this buffalo wins, the horse will always be eaten.
Na’hwotä´nwash haye´hak hi´thena atna´tawit.
noh wo’téén-wo’oš hoyéí-hok, híí3einoon hootnó-ótoowu-t.
And if the black bobtailed horse wins, the buffalo will be consumed.
The black bobtailed horse won.
He´nni ä´ya nitchä´binaka´-eti nänihīthkāt,
Híni’ hééyoo-‘ nii-cébi-nookó’eti-‘, ne’=nih-‘ii3koohut,
That long white streak across [the night sky] is where he came running through,
nahĕ´ni nitchäbä tcheneiwa´tä nä-ni-î´thikahǐt hi´theino.
Noh híni’ hihcebe’ ceneiwóótee-‘, ne’=nih-‘íí3koohu-t híí3einoon.
And that (streak) above which turns off to the side, that’s where the buffalo came running through.
when he was beaten, he ran off to the side.
[i] The word ‘buffalo’ here must be an error, based on the content, with ‘horse’ the intended word.
[ii] Hihíí3inénino‘ lit. ‘the men from here.’
Albert Gatschet, NAA, mss 231, p. 285
Mary Inez Hilger, 1952, Arapaho Child Life and Its Cultural Background, pgs. 93, 160
W.P. Clark, 1885, Indian Sign Language, p. 41
Hohou! (Thank you!)
Jackie Dorothy 2016©