Arapaho Hair Traditions

In the early days, hair was part of an Arapaho’s identity. It was worn in such a way to signify who we were and our role in the tribe. For example, the Keeper of the Pipe was not allowed to comb his hair. In the old days, before the 1900’s, an Arapaho man parted his hair on each side in either a braid or tied together. Over his temples, the hair was cut into a zig zag edge and stood upright on his forehead. This style was down to make the wearer look fierce and resembled the ‘mohawk’. In the 1900’s, the style evolved so that the hair was worn in braids or masses tied together over the ear and scalp. The old men did not comb their hair and instead rolled it. When it was sticky and matted, they would gather in in a bunch over their forehead much like the dreadlocks of today. Hair styles also changed over the years for woman. Before the reservation, they would wear their hair loose with paint on it. The paint along the part of their hair was called “path of the sun”. They also painted streaks down their face, on their cheeks, forehead and nose, to signify war. Black paint symbolized victory and Red was the color most used which represented old age and happiness or a wish for happiness. When in mourning, women and men did not paint their face and the first painting after completion of mourning would be with red paint and is called “washing” or “cleansing”. The old women wore their hair loose and tangled. They painted a spot on each cheek bone and one on the forehead, the latter which signified a buffalo calf. A line from the mouth down to the chin represented a road. These symbols together signified peace. By the 1900s, women wore two braids tucked behind their ears. Their hair was parted from the forehead to the nape of their neck. The old woman continued to wear their hair loose. These traditions fell out of use after the boarding school era and the loss of the age grade society of the Arapaho. Hohou! The information for this article was found in “Arapaho People” by Kroeber, pages 25 – 27. Jackie Dorothy,...

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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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Arapaho Dice Game

Arapaho Dice Game

One of the more popular games among the Arapaho, especially the women, was a counting dice game. This high stake game had been known to last up to several days. During the early years of reservation life, it was a common occurrence to see the older women put on their blanket and go off to gamble with their friends and family. The Arapaho had two type of dice games they played, one with bones or seeds and the other with sticks. The games were similar to each other and mainly just differed in the materials used. To play the bone and seed dice game, you needed at least two sets each made up of two dice and a basket to toss them in. The dice were made of plum-stones, seeds or bone. They were usually marked by burning designs into one side and leaving the other side blank. The dice could also be incised or bored with rows of holes filled in with paint. There were usually only two sets used at one time but occasionally as many as five sets can be used. The count depends on the combination of marked and unmarked sides as the dice fall. The stakes are won when all the dice fall alike and match, either unmarked or marked. Points are also given when the dice of each set fall alike even though the sets differ. When one die alone falls different from the rest, one point is scored. The dice are usually tossed into a special willow basket made for the game. These baskets are about 8 inches round, two inches deep and have flat bottoms, with sides rising without curvature at an angle from the bottom. The center of the basket is wide open. Some basket bottoms are covered with a piece of skin sewed in with sinew thread and the baskets can be dyed red. It was the only time the Arapaho women made woven baskets. Dice were unique and individually designed with such things as dragonflies, birds and other symbols. When playing a game, two sets of dice were never the same so that it could be told with a glance who won. The dice game had many of the same elements when sticks were used instead of the bone or seed dice. The sticks ranged in size from half a foot to a foot in length, were split lengthwise and with the pith removed. The flat side was then painted and the outer side left white. A stick dice game consists of two sets, each set containing four sticks of one color. The unpainted backs were marked by burning various symbols into one of the two sets of...

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Whirlwind Woman

Whirlwind Woman

  Whirlwind Woman (Neyoooxetuse) was the first woman on earth and vital to all ceremonies related to women according to the old Arapaho. She brought to us the art of quillwork and many of our sacred designs are said to be from her. She never stays in one place very long and is constantly on the move, attributes that were actually the opposite of those valued by the old Arapaho. However, it is this very trait which played a crucial role in the creation of the earth. The creation story of the Arapaho say that a turtle was sent by the first Pipe Keeper to the bottom of the water and this turtle brought up mud. Whirlwind Woman spun around the small piece of mud while it was still small. As she circled, the earth grew until it reached its present size. She made four stops on her journey around the earth and created the four hills upon which sit the four Old Men at the four directions. When she finally stopped, she had gone over the whole earth. This sacred journey of Whirlwind Woman is told in one of the decorative quillwork designs that she gave to the Arapaho people. The black and yellow concentric rings represent her course. It is said that as she circled the earth, she worked on her first quill-embroidery piece. Two of the sacred designs given to the tribe from Whirlwind Woman are the ‘bear-foot’ design unique to the Arapaho and the ‘ends of the earth’ design. She also created the first tent-ornament for the tipis to represent what she did in the creation of earth. The power that Whirlwind Woman holds is that she generate motion and can stun or stop the motion of others who gaze at her. The medicine of the Seven Old Women is lost to us but the power to stun people may have been theirs because of Whirlwind Woman. Quillwork was a gift from above to humans and was a prayer for a good and long life. The wearer of Quillwork absorbed those powers and more into themselves as it guided their life path. This power also radiated outward to others as did Whirlwind Woman’s power when she spun around the earth. Wind is considered a creative power that connects Whirlwind Woman with the Four Old Men. It is wind that sent life-giving breath to the people. However, the medicine of the wind can also be dangerous. It was said that the power of a whirlwind could take away your breath. If a whirlwind traveled towards a person, they must squat down and cover their face until it passes. If they fail to do this, they may lose their hearing...

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The Ghost by the Road

The Ghost by the Road

A ghost story told by Dickie Moss.  This ghostly tale was originally recorded by Professor James Andrew Cowell as told to him by Dickie Moss, the oldest son of the respected Arapaho storyteller, Paul Moss. Throughout the story, Dickie would say “Wohei” which means “and then”. A long time ago, when ghosts (biiteino’) and similar creatures were around, a certain man fooled a ghost. Wohei. He was walking downstream and then he realized that someone was following him. He kept turning around to look but he didn’t see anybody. Wohei. He clearly heard the sound of someone walking. Whenever he stopped walking, it stopped walking. Wohei. He set off again and he would hear the sound of someone walking toward him once more. He was certain that someone was following him. Wohei. After a while, he cleared his throat. It cleared its throat. He clapped his hands, and it clapped its hands. He was coming this way [towards Ethete] somewhere on his way home and it was dark. Wohei. There at the Red Hills, wohei and then at the Washakie Springs, wohei and then right there is a bridge. He was going to have to walk right over that bridge. And way out away from the settlements, someone was hollering out in a strange way. Every time it hollered out, it was a little closer to him. And now the man had come really close to the bridge. Soon, judging from where it had hollered out last, the ghost was real close to him. Right around the bridge was where he had heard it last. Then he arrived there at the bridge. And someone was standing there. But he didn’t want to run off back in the other direction. He didn’t want to run off back that way. “I might as well go ahead while I’ve still got my wits about me.” He closed his eyes and then he started running straight through there. He doesn’t know if he was going to run into that ghost, or what might happen. He just kept on running this way, without even slowing down. And that’s how they told this story. That spot out there, well apparently there’s something powerful there. Whoever wants to go on a vision quest should do it there. But maybe nobody has. I was supposed to take my brother-in-law out there. I told him the story, and – what do you know! – and he didn’t ever go out there again. Instead, his father took him way out here somewhere, way out north. He got scared of the Red Hills area again after hearing the story. That’s the story I told him. That’s how the old men...

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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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