History and Culture of the Arapaho Tribe

Last updated on March 9th, 2023 at 12:36 am

Many Native American tribes throughout history had a reputation for doing things on their own and living separately from other tribes. The Arapaho tribe, however, has the opposite reputation. 

While they had no problem doing things on their own and were self-sufficient in every way, the Arapaho tribe had a tendency to align themselves with other Native American tribes. 

Another unique thing about the Arapaho tribe is that they didn’t seem to hold grudges. They could have a peace treaty with one tribe for decades while quarreling with others, then make peace with their quarreling tribe and work with them to further their goals. 

If you’re curious and want to know more about the unique and intriguing Arapaho tribe, you’ve come to the right place. 

Chief Black Coal

Origin of the Arapaho Tribe 

According to their oral history, the Arapaho tribe originated in theĀ Eastern woodlands, most likely in the present state of Minnesota. However, due to fights and warfare with other Native American tribes, the Arapaho were driven west and settled in the plains of Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming, as well as offshoots in Montana and the Dakotas.

The Arapaho were among the widest-reaching Native American tribes in the 1700s and 1800s. 

Some accounts mention their presence as far south as New Mexico and as far north as Montana, as we previously mentioned. Part of the reason that the Arapaho were able to branch out so far is because of their ability to make peace with other tribes. 

The Arapaho were known as great buffalo hunters and nomadic warriors, which made them valuable allies to all. 

Historically, they aligned with the Lakota, Comanche, Cheyenne, Crow, and Kiowah, several of whom were their traditional enemies. 

The Cheyenne and Lakota

In the early 1700s, the Arapaho were one of the first Native American tribes to gain access to horses. 

While they were already great buffalo hunters, this made them even more deadly and efficient. Because of their success, other tribes and white settlers wanted to purchase buffalo meat and by-products from them. 

In the early 1800s, the Arapaho decided to make a treaty with the Cheyenne, and they became a sort of middleman to distribute Arapaho goods. This alliance also increased hunting territory for the Arapaho and was a lucrative arrangement for everyone involved. 

Around this same time, the Arapaho also aligned with the Lakota for extra defense against the infringing Kiowa and Comanche tribes. 

The Kiowa and Comanche 

Despite being mortal enemies in the 1820s and 1830s, the Arapaho tribe made peace with the Kiowa and Comanche in the mid-1840s. They did this to expand their hunting and trading territory. 

While the arrangement was very successful for several years, western expansion by white settlers started to present problems by the early 1850s. 

Despite their ability to make peace with most tribes, the Arapaho were never able to come to terms with the Shoshone, Pawnee, and Ute tribes. 

Housing Situation and Everyday Life

The Arapaho lived a nomadic to semi-nomadic lifestyle so that they could travel with buffalo herds. As such, they typically lived in teepees made of buffalo hides that could easily be constructed and taken apart at a moment’s notice. 

The average Arapaho family consisted of a man, one or more wives, and their children. Because of their family-driven culture, some Arapaho households also consisted of older parents and younger siblings who didn’t have families of their own. 

While Arapaho men would hunt and gather, the women took care of the children, village, and construction of teepees. Most marriages took place between Arapaho men in their thirties and women in their teens and were arranged by the male’s older relatives. 

This was because Arapaho men weren’t allowed to marry until they could prove their ability to support a family. 

What Was the Arapaho Tribe Culture? 

For most of their existence, the Arapaho were divided into three different groups – the Gros Ventre, Northern, and Southern tribes. However, each of these tribes lived peaceably together as a single alliance. 

In addition to the different tribes, there were also different bands within each tribe. 

The Arapaho were a very family-oriented group of people, and these bands were typically separated according to birth and heritage. 

Tribe members were free to move and travel between various bands and could even intermarry with one another. The Arapaho were also a highly religious tribe that practiced the Sun Dance and Summer Solstice, among other celebrations. 

Economy and Food 

The Arapaho economy was largely driven by their ability to hunt, trade, and gather. They were known as great buffalo hunters, and these majestic beasts played a significant factor in their economy. 

The Arapaho would trade buffalo meat and products to neighboring tribes and white settlers, which supplied them with whatever else they needed to live. 

In addition to buffalo, the Arapaho also hunted elk, deer, and other game that was readily available. 

Arapaho women were gifted gatherers and fortified their diet of meat with berries, fruits, and vegetables. While certain Arapaho bands would also farm and fish, most Arapaho did not. 


Like many other Native American tribes, the Arapaho spoke an Algonquian dialect. 

This allowed them to communicate effectively with many other Native American tribes but not fully understand all of them, as there were many different versions of the Algonquian tongue. 

Decline of the Arapaho Tribe and Where They are Today

As with nearly all Native American tribes, the eventual downfall of the Arapaho came courtesy of white settlers. 

For most of their existence, the Arapaho had been able to live off the land, hunt buffalo, and make peace with whatever tribe they needed to. While they were peaceful with white settlers until the early 1850s, their tolerance eventually ran out. 

Due to fast and relentless westward expansion, the Arapaho people were constantly being driven further and further west. Additionally, white settlers would kill buffalo and other large game, depleting the Arapaho economy and food source. 

By the mid-1870s, there were fewer than 1,500 Arapaho tribe members left living. When this happened they signed frequent peace treaties with the US government, only to have them broken and their rights further infringed upon. 

Today, despite many tribes and tribulations, there are more than 15,000 people who come from Arapaho descent. Of this number, a majority live on reservations in Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Colorado. 

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