Who are the Arapaho Indians?

Jessica Hobby

The Arapaho Indians are a Plains tribe of the Algonquin family of Native Americans in the United States. The origin of the word Arapaho is not known, but they call themselves Iñunaina, which loosely translates to “our people.” Once a stationary tribe of agricultural people living in the Red River Valley of Minnesota, at some unknown time, the Arapaho Indians moved across the Missouri River and rested in what is modern day Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Nebraska.

The Arapaho Indians dried deer meat into jerky.
The Arapaho Indians dried deer meat into jerky.

Modern day Arapaho Indians live in Wyoming or Oklahoma. There is a division among the Arapaho Indians because of this geographic separation. After the 1867 Treaty of Medicine Lodge, a group of Arapaho Indians was assigned to a reservation in Oklahoma and the remainder of the group was assigned to the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. This split created what is known today as the Northern Arapaho and the Southern Arapaho.

The Arapaho were a nomadic tribe that followed the movements of herd animals across the plains.
The Arapaho were a nomadic tribe that followed the movements of herd animals across the plains.

As many groups of Native Americans from the Great Plains, the Arapaho were nomadic people who followed herds of large game animals to survive. The Arapaho Indians cooked bison, elk and deer in pits and dried the meat into jerky. Additionally, they gathered food such as fruit, root vegetables and chokecherries.

The Arapaho Indians used animal hides to construct teepees.
The Arapaho Indians used animal hides to construct teepees.

The Arapahos lived in teepees constructed of a wood frame with animal hides. Their nomadic lifestyle forced them to be able to construct and tear down their villages in record times, so they could move quickly. Women owned the homes and were responsible for carrying the large wooden frames during a move and rebuilding them.

Arapaho Indians wore a variety of traditional Native American clothing, such as skirts, buckskin dresses and loincloths. Shirts were not necessary in Arapaho culture, but women would wear furs during battle or on special occasions. Men and women both wore moccasins and robes to keep warm which were made from buffalo skin. Both men and women styled their hair in two long braids on each side of their head with the occasional addition of feathers. After the Arapahos traded with the neighboring Sioux Indians, some men chose to wear traditional feather headdresses.

In addition to trading with the Sioux, the Arapaho Indians traded with the Europeans and many other tribes. Most of their trading activity consisted of selling animal furs, when they weren’t fighting with enemy tribes. The Arapahos are revered for their ability to shoot arrows. Arapaho warriors used spears and protected themselves with shields made from animal hides.

Arapaho Indians styled their hair with the occasional addition of feathers.
Arapaho Indians styled their hair with the occasional addition of feathers.

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Discussion Comments


When did they meet modern-day Kansas?


@Parmnparsley- I thought that the Arapaho Indians split into two groups and moved to reservations in Oklahoma and Eastern Wyoming. Before the split, the Arapaho tribes ranged from the southern United States all the way up to Montana.

I think this is the reason that much of the Arapaho language was lost. The Arapaho used to have five dialects, but I think only one has been archived. Only a few in the Arapaho population remain that can understand and speak the old Arapaho language, but for the most part, much of their culture was lost. The trail of tears was a sad, sad time in American history.


@parmnparsley- Arapaho history is interesting indeed. You mentioned that the Arapaho took part in many pivotal battles with settler armies, but you did not touch on the tribal enemies of the Arapahos.

As you mentioned, the Shoshone were Arapaho enemies. I want to add that the Crow, Kiowa, and Comanche were sworn Arapaho enemies as well. By the time the Santa Fe and Oregon Trail had opened the plains tribes up to increased contact with settlers moving west, the Arapaho had formed peace treaties with most of their enemies.

Do not quote me on this, but I think the reason was that the train of settlers moving across the nation had brought disease with them that had decimated their numbers. The tribes needed to band together to fight the invasion of their lands.


@Babalaas- Glasshouse kind of touched on it, but I wanted to emphasize that the Arapaho Nation was located along the eastern plains adjacent to the Rockies.

The history of the Arapaho Nation is one that is storied, and includes roles in some of the most iconic battles if the Indian wars. The pre- European Settler lands of the Arapaho included lands rich in resources like gold. Many of the Arapaho clashes were between white settlers encroaching into their territory, and prospectors staking claims for gold and silver.

These encroachments lead to a number of intense battles, including the Arapaho war Glasshouse described. The Arapaho often joined forces with their traditional allies the Sioux, Cheyenne, and the Gros Ventre to win a number of battles and culminating to a role in the battle at little big horn. Prosperity from these victories was fleeting however, so the Arapaho ended up sharing a reservation with the Shoshones, one of their fiercest traditional adversaries.


I am not sure of the balance between warring nation and peaceful tribe, but I do know that the Arapaho Indians did join forces with the Cherokee, and fought for better land during the mid-19th century. The Arapaho tribes in Colorado were having clashes with western settlers at the base of the Rockies.

The settlers claimed they were stealing cattle, and the Arapaho were unsatisfied with the natural resources on their reservations land. The war raged on for a few years, with settler armies suffering losses that were more significant. From what I know, the Arapaho Indians were skilled marksmen and hunters, so they were quite fierce in battle.

In the end of the war, the Indian tribes signaled treaty by accepting more fertile grounds to the south. The fact that the Arapaho tribe compromised with the settlers makes me think that they were more into coexisting than war. The tribe was a trading tribe, and at the time, you did not trade with your enemy.


This was a neat article...very informative and to the point. I was surprised to learn that the Arapaho Native Americans lived in tipis, even though they are so closely related to the Algonquian tribes. From what I understand, the Algonquian tribes built wigwams and were more stationary and agriculturally minded. They may have moved around, but their moves were more seasonal, and their lives lived more in the woods.

I wonder if the Arapaho were from the fringe regions of the Great Plains since they are so closely related to the Algonquian. I guess their nomadic nature explains their use of tipis.

Does anyone know who any of the Arapaho Chiefs were? How dominant was this tribe in its region during the tribe's prime? Were the Arapaho more of a warring tribe or more of a peaceful tribe?

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