Arapaho Tribes: History and Culture in Colorado


Indigenous to the Great Plains, the Arapaho Tribes have a rich history and vibrant culture that continues to thrive in Colorado. As nomadic buffalo hunters, the Arapaho people developed a unique way of life that has shaped their Native American identity and traditions. Today, Colorado’s Arapaho Tribes work hard to preserve their heritage while adapting to modern challenges.


  • The Arapaho Tribes have a long history in the Great Plains. They lived a nomadic lifestyle centered around buffalo hunting.
  • Arapaho culture is rich in spiritual beliefs, ceremonies, and artistic expressions, including the Sun Dance, Sacred Pipe, and beadwork.
  • The Arapaho Tribes of Colorado are working to preserve their cultural traditions while navigating modern life on the Wind River Reservation.

Introduction to the Arapaho Tribes

The Arapaho Tribes are a Native American people who historically inhabited the Great Plains region of North America, which includes Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana. Known for their nomadic lifestyle and close relationship with the Cheyenne, the Arapaho have a complex history that spans centuries. In Colorado, the Arapaho Tribes have established a strong presence, focusing on cultural preservation and community development.

Nomadic Lifestyle and Bison Trade

Central to Arapaho life was the nomadic pursuit of buffalo herds across the vast Great Plains of the United States. Buffalo hunting provided not only sustenance but also materials for shelter, clothing, and tools. The bison trade played a significant role in the Arapaho economy, shaping their cultural traditions and interactions with other tribes and European traders.

Spiritual Beliefs and Ceremonies

Arapaho spiritual life is deeply connected to the natural world and the sacred relationship between humans and the divine. The Sun Dance, a major annual ceremony, involves prayer, fasting, and sacrifice to ensure the well-being of the community. The Sacred Pipe is another essential element of Arapaho spirituality, used in ceremonies and as a symbol of unity and peace. Warrior societies such as the Dog Soldiers also held important roles in Arapaho culture.

Tribal Alliances and Treaties

Throughout history, the Arapaho formed alliances with other indigenous people, most notably the Cheyenne. These alliances were tested by the pressures of westward expansion and the policies of the U.S. government. Treaties like the Treaty of Medicine Lodge and the Fort Laramie Treaty had far-reaching consequences for the Arapaho Native American tribe, leading to the loss of traditional lands and the challenges of reservation life. The Indian Wars and the Ghost Dance movement also left an indelible mark on Arapaho history.

Cultural Preservation and Modern Life

Today, the Arapaho Tribes of Colorado are actively engaged in preserving their cultural heritage while navigating the complexities of modern life. Education, ethnobotany, and cultural events play a vital role in passing on Arapaho traditions to younger generations. The Wind River Reservation, shared with the Shoshone, provides a land base for the Arapaho to maintain their identity and way of life.

Artistic Expressions and Material Culture

Arapaho artistic traditions, such as beadwork, reflect the Arapaho Indian tribe’s deep connection to the natural world and their spiritual beliefs. Tipis, the iconic conical tents of the Great Plains, were not only practical dwellings but also canvases for artistic expression. Adopted from European contact, horse culture became an integral part of Arapaho life, influencing their mobility, hunting practices, and social status.


What is the relationship between the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes?

The Arapaho and Cheyenne have a long history of alliance and shared cultural traditions, often living and hunting together on the Great Plains. The Arapaho and Cheyenne formed an alliance together in 1811, allowing them to expand their territories on the plains. A treaty between the Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho people took place in 1868.

How did the Arapaho adapt to reservation life?

The transition to reservation life was challenging, and the reality is that being a plains Indian comes with a painful history of violence and silencing by white people. However, the Arapaho have worked to maintain their cultural identity while engaging with modern education, healthcare, and economic opportunities.

What is the significance of the Sun Dance in Arapaho culture?

The Sun Dance is a sacred annual ceremony that involves prayer, fasting, and sacrifice to ensure the well-being of the community and to renew the Arapaho’s connection to the divine.

The Arapaho Tribes of Colorado embody a story of resilience, cultural pride, and adaptability in the face of historical challenges. As you explore their history and traditions, you will gain a deeper appreciation for the rich tapestry of Native American life on the Great Plains and the enduring spirit of the Arapaho people.

Which indigenous people live on the Wind River Reservation?

The Wind River Reservation in Wyoming is home to the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho Native American tribes.

Is Rocky Mountain National Park a good place to go to study Native American tribes?

Yes, Rocky Mountain National Park was originally the home of the Ute and Arapaho people, who were often in conflict with one another as a result of competition when it came to hunting. Rocky Mountain National Park, established in 1915, works to offer resources to commemorate the history of these American Indian tribes. Estes Park, in particular, preserves what it possibly can of the Indigenous history of the land.

What is the Battle of Little Bighorn?

The Battle of Little Bighorn took place in southeastern Montana and was also known as the Battle of the Greasy Grass and Custer’s Last Stand. It was a battle between the United States Army and the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho Tribes. In this most significant battle of the Great Sioux War of 1876, the tribes defeated the United States forces.


About the author

James Ranson

I’m an editor, traveler, and fan of the great outdoors. I’ve been to all 48 continental US states, and my drives through Colorado’s rugged peaks and snowy forests (not to mention whiskey tastings in Denver!) still stand out in my memories. I’m excited to use my ten years of editing experience to develop engaging and informative guides and articles that enhance the outdoor experiences of both Colorado residents and visitors. Whether a piece is about exploring the best ski resorts, uncovering scenic trails for hiking, or finding the most inspiring drives through the Colorado Rockies, my aim is to provide comprehensive and accessible content that encourages adventure and exploration.