ETHNONYMS: Arapahoe, Dog Eaters, Hitänwoiv, Inuñaina, Suretika

The Arapaho are an Algonkian-speaking tribe who at the time of first contact with the Americans lived around the headwaters of the Arkansas and Platte rivers in southwestern Wyoming and eastern Colorado. In the mid-nineteenth Century, the tribe split into two groups. The Northern Arapaho now live with the Eastern Shoshone on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, and the Southern Arapaho, with the Southern Cheyenne as the Cheyenne-Arapahoe Tribes of Oklahoma on a federal trust area in southwestern Oklahoma. The U.S. Bureau of the Census estimated that there were at least forty-four hundred Arapaho living in the United States in 1980. Their language is distantly related to Blackfoot, Cheyenne, and the other Algonkian languages. The Gros Ventre (Atsina) were formerly an Arapaho band and speak a dialect of Arapaho.

The earliest evidence indicates the Arapaho were agriculturalists living near the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota around 1600. From there they moved westward, acquiring the horse and becoming typical bison-hunting horse nomads on the Great Plains. They were noted as Warriors and fought with many other tribes as well as with the U.S. Army. After the split into two groups around 1835, the Southern Arapaho agreed to settle with the Cheyenne on an Oklahoma reservation in 1869, and the Northern Arapaho were placed on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming with their old enemies the Eastern Shoshone. The Southern Arapaho are now governed by the Cheyenne-Arapahoe Tribal Business Committee, which has elected officials from each of the tribes; on the Wind River Reservation, affairs are carried on by a joint business council. The major Arapaho business on this reservation is the Arapaho Ranch Enterprise, a beef-breeding operation that brings in over $3 million annually. Income is also derived from coal mining, forestry, and payments for grazing rights.

After the Arapaho moved to the plains, their economy was based almost entirely on bison hunting and the use of the horse, with men doing the hunting and carrying on warfare and the women concerned with domestic chores, gathering vegetable foods, raising children, and building the conical bison-hide-covered tipis characteristic of the society. They originally had five major divisions, although the Gros Ventre broke away from the others around the beginning of the eighteenth century. Each division had a chief, not formally elected but chosen from among the Dog Company, one of the age-grade societies which were characteristic of Arapaho social Organization. These societies no longer survive, but their general structure continues today in modified form and their values still determine social and political behavior to some extent.

While living on the plains, the tribe was nearly fully Nomadic, with communities having populations of two hundred to four hundred people. They had bilateral descent but no descent groups. The communities were exogamous, and postmarital residence was generally uxorilocal. There were strict mother-in-law/son-in-law and father-in-law/daughter-in-law taboos, as well as great respect between brothers and sisters. Polygyny was frequent, very often sororal. There were no strict rules of inheritance. Religion was largely bound up with the ceremonials of the age-grade societies, with the Sun Dance and the peyote worship also being important.


Elkin, Henry (1940). "The Northern Arapaho of Wyoming." In Acculturation in Seven American Tribes, edited by Ralph Linton, 207-258. New York: D. Appleton-Century Co.

Fowler, Loretta D. (1982). Arapahoe Politics, 1851-1978: Symbols in Crises of Authority. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Kroeber, Alfred L. (1983). The Arapaho. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Originally published, 1902-1907.

Trenholm, Virginia Cole (1970). The Arapahoes, Our People. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

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