The Arapahos, like the Cheyennes and Sioux with whom they are closely associated in the Indian wars,

were thought to have migrated onto the Great Plains sometime in the 17th or 18th century from the east,

but probably from a region further north, perhaps the vicinity of the Red River of the North.

Also, like the Cheyennes, they eventually separated into two groups.

Those that came to be known as the Northern Arapahos settled just east of the Rocky Mountains, along the headwaters of the Platte River in present-day Wyoming;

the Southern Arapahos settled further south, along the Arkansas River of Colorado.

The Northern Arapahos, along with the Northern Cheyennes, played a significant part in what have come to be known as the Sioux Wars (see "Sioux" ).

Important Northern Arapaho chiefs included Black Bear, Plenty Bear, and Sorrell Horse.

The Southern Arapahos were active in Colorado and Kansas in wars involving the Cheyennes (see "Cheyenne" ).

Two of their important leaders in the Plains wars were Little Raven and Left Hand.

Black Bear and his northern band suffered the brunt of a campaign of three columns sent into the Powder River country of northern Wyoming and southern Montana against the allied northern tribes in August 1865, by General Patrick E. Connor.

Although the 3,000 troops managed to engage the Sioux and Cheyennes in minor, inconclusive skirmishes, generally to their own disadvantage, they attacked and routed Black Bear’s people, killing many men, women, and children;

they then proceeded to burn their tepees and possessions.

The invading army was repelled from the Powder River country in September by hit-and-run Indian raids plus stormy weather.

Yet the abortive campaign had a long-lasting effect: It further sealed the military alliance of the Northern Arapahos with the Sioux and Cheyennes.

The massacre of Cheyenne innocents at Sand Creek one year earlier, in September 1864, witnessed by a number of Arapahos, had done the same for the southern group.

At the end of the wars (see "Cheyenne" and "Sioux" ) the Southern Arapahos were placed on a reservation with the Southern Cheyennes in the Indian Territory;

the Northern Arapahos, however, ended up on the Wind River reservation in Wyoming with the Northern Shoshoni, once their enemies.


The Blackfeet, also called the Siksika, along with their kinsmen, the Bloods and Peigans, probably migrated onto the northernmost plains from the northeast.

Most of them settled in what is now part of Canada, but others reached as far south as present-day Montana.

Although they persistently raided American whites who entered their domain—

one of their victims was John Bozeman in 1867, whose trail sparked one of the Sioux uprisings (see "Sioux" ) –

they did not confront the United States military as a tribe. They did, however, play a part in impeding the conquest of the Canadian West. (See "Canadian Indian Wars." )


The Caddo of the southeastern plains in present-day Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana were farming people, at odds with the nomadic hunting tribes of the Plains.

As a result, their Chief Guadalupe saw the war between Indians and whites as one between hunters and farmers and encouraged his people to serve as scouts in the United States Army.


The Cheyennes, who had once lived east of the Missouri River, came to be nomadic hunters on the Great Plains. In the 19th century, as white pressures increased, they also became allies of both the Sioux and the Arapahos.

In the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, the Cheyennes living along the upper Arkansas were designated as the Southern Cheyennes, and those living along the North Platte were called the Northern Cheyennes.

The northern group played a critical part in the so-called Sioux Wars of the northern plains in most of the major clashes with whites, during the period from 1865 to 1876;

their important chiefs, such as Dull Knife, joined the Sioux leaders Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse (see "Sioux" ).

The Southern Cheyennes were also active in the Wars for the West, and many military campaigns were launched against them.

The two Cheyenne groups of course were not mutually exclusive.

During the war years, there was considerable movement among the various peoples, as there had always been among the hunting bands of the Plains,

with some northern tribesmen fighting alongside their southern kinsmen and vice versa. The Cheyennes as a whole thought of themselves as the "Beautiful People."

An early engagement involving the Southern Cheyennes occurred in 1857, three years after the Grattan incident brought the whites’ war to the Sioux.

Because of raids on prospectors along the Smoky Hill Trail to the Rockies, the army sent in 300 cavalrymen under Colonel Edwin Sumner to punish the Cheyennes.

In the Battle of Solomon Fork in western Kansas on July 29, Sumner routed an equivalent number of warriors in a sabre charge.

In the course of the next outbreak of violence—sometimes referred to as the Cheyenne-Arapaho War or the Colorado War of 1864-65 –

a tragedy occurred that served to united many of the Plains tribes in their distrust and hatred of whites.

Because of the rapid growth of mining interests in Colorado after the Pikes Peak Gold Rush of 1858, Governor John Evans sought to open up Cheyenne and Arapaho hunting grounds to white development.

The tribes, however, refused to sell their lands and settle on reservations.

Evans decided therefore to force the issue through war and, using isolated incidents of violence as a pretext, ordered troops into the field under the ambitious, Indian-hating territorial military commander Colonel John Chivington.

In the spring of 1864, while the Civil War raged in the east,

Chivington launched a campaign of violence against the Cheyennes and their allies, his troops attacking any and all Indians and razing their villages.

The Cheyennes, joined by neighboring Arapahos, Sioux, Comanches, and Kiowas in both Colorado and Kansas, went on the defensive warpath.

Evens and Chivington reinforced their militia, raising the Third Colorado Cavalry of short-term volunteers who referred to themselves as "Hundred Dazers."

After a summer of scattered small raids and clashes, Indian and white representatives met at Camp Weld outside Denver on September 28.

No firm agreements were reached, but the Indians were led to believe that by reporting to and camping near army posts, they would be declaring peace and accepting sanctuary.

A Cheyenne chief by the name of Black Kettle , long a proponent of peace,

led his band of about 600 Cheyennes and some Arapahos to a camping place along Sand Creek, about 40 miles from Fort Lyon, and informed the garrison of their presence.

Shortly afterward, Chivington rode into the fort with a force of about 700, including the Third Cavalry, and gave the garrison notice of his plans for an attack on the Indian encampment.

Although he was informed that Black Kettle had already surrendered, Chivington pressed on with what he considered a perfect opportunity to further the cause of Indian extinction.

On November 29, he led his troops, many of them drinking heavily, to Sand Creek and positioned them, along with their howitzers, around the Indian camp.

Black Kettle, ever-trusting, raised both an American and a white flag over his tepee. In response, Chivington raised his arm for the attack.

With army rifles and cannons pounding them, the Indians scattered in panic.

Then the soldiers charged. A few warriors managed to fight back briefly from behind the high bank of the stream, and others, including Black Kettle, escaped over the plains.

But by the end of the quick and brutal massacre, as many as 200 Indians, more than half of them women and children, had died.

Chivington’s policy was one of no prisoner taking, and his Colorado volunteers had been happy to oblige.

Chivington was later denounced in a congressional investigation and forced to resign.

Yet an after-the-fact reprimand of the colonel meant nothing to the Indians.

As word of the massacre spread among them via refugees, Indians of the southern and northern plains stiffened in their resolve to resist white encroachment.

Cheyennes and Arapahos stepped up their raids and, on January 7 and again on February 18, they stormed the town and freight station at Julesburg along the South Platte River,

on the overland route from the Oregon Trail to Denver, forcing its abandonment.

The final and most intense phase of the war for the Plains had begun.

It would take another massacre at Wounded Knee a quarter of a century later to end it.

Soon after the conclusion of the Civil War, the army organized an offensive against the Indians of the central plains, which is known as the Hancock Campaign of 1867.

General Winfield Scott Hancock set up his command at Fort Larned along the Santa Fe Trail in western Kansas.

From there, after an unproductive parley with the Southern Cheyenne leaders Tall Bull and White Horse, Hancock launched a campaign that also turned out to be abortive.

Hancock’s chief commander in the field was the young cavalry officer George Armstrong Custer.

Custer’s career as an Indian-fighter would begin with frustration and end nine years later with disaster at Little Bighorn (see "Sioux" ).

During the summer of the Hancock Campaign, Custer and his Seventh Cavalry chased the Cheyennes and their Sioux allies throughout western Kansas, northeastern Colorado, and southwestern Nebraska.

He succeeded in burning an evacuated village on the Pawnee Fork but little else, as the Indians stayed one step ahead of his outfit and raided mail stations, stagecoaches, wagon trains, and railroad workers at will.

The war parties even undertook forays against Fort Wallace on several occasions, where Custer’s force ended up on July 13, with men and horses too exhausted to continue.

That autumn, peace advocates in the government, citing both the Hancock Campaign and the Bozeman Campaign to the north as failures and claiming that heavy-handed military policies, exemplified by Sand Creek, had only made matters worse,

launched a peace commission that resulted in two treaties—the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867 in Kansas and the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 in Wyoming (see "Sioux" ).

In the former, the Sioux were granted a reservation in the northern plains, from the Powder River country to the Missouri;

and in the latter, the Cheyennes and Arapahos were granted a combined reservation in the Indian Territory, as were the Comanches, Kiowas, and Kiowa-Apaches.

Peace had not come to the Plains, however. As white encroachment on Indian lands continued, so did Indian raids.

It was General Philip Henry Sheridan’s turn to try his hand against the Plains Indians.

Appointed commander of the Division of the Missouri in September 1867, he set about organizing a campaign the following summer, because of continuing Indian unrest.

The incident that sparked the new wave of violence was the refusal of officials to distribute arms and ammunition for hunting to the Southern Cheyennes because of an earlier raid on a Kaw Indian village.

After a party of about 200 Cheyennes—many of them warriors in the tribe’s Dog Soldier Society

—unleashed their anger on settlements along the Sabine and Solomon rivers in Kansas, other militants joined them, some southern Sioux as well, in frontier attacks.

Troops entered the field. On September 17, a force of about 50 men under Major George Forsyth picked up the trail of a war party.

The much larger Indian force—probably 600 strong—led the soldiers as far as the Arikara Fork of the Republican River, then turned on them.

The soldiers took refuge on a small island in the middle of the dry streambed.

For a week they held off repeated attacks by Cheyenne warriors under Tall Bull, Bull Bear, White Horse, and Sioux warriors under Pawnee Killer, until help arrived and drove off the Indians.

At least six were killed on each side and many more wounded. One of the dead was lieutenant Frederick Beecher, for whom the island and the battle were named.

Another killed was a much-revered Cheyenne warrior by the name of Roman Nose.

The following winter, Sheridan launched a major campaign of three converging columns on the insurgents—Major Andrew Evans leading out of Fort Bascom, New Mexico;

Major Eugene Carr, out of Fort Lyon, Colorado;

and Colonel Alfred Sully, out of Fort Dodge, Kansas. Custer’s Seventh Cavalry was part of this third column.

The most famous engagement of Sheridan’s campaign was the Battle of the Washita in late November.

At Camp Supply in the northwestern part of the Indian Territory, Sheridan had transferred control of his main column from Sully to Custer.

Custer, eager to prove himself after his frustration in Hannock’s Campaign the year before, set out from the field base in a blizzard with his calvary and some Osage scouts.

The scouts picked up a fresh trail and lead Custer’s men to an Indian camp on the Washita River.

Under the cover of darkness, Custer deployed his 800 men in four groups around the Indian camp for an attack at dawn.

Unknown to Custer, and probably irrelevant to him if he had known, opposite him were the people of Black Kettle’s Band .

Even after witnessing the Sand Creek Massacre at Chivington’s hands, Black Kettle had never gone to war with the white man.

In fact, he had led his people south into the Indian Territory, to avoid the subsequent fighting in Colorado and Kansas.

Some of the younger warriors within the camp, those that had led the Osage scouts to it, had carried out raids on whites.

But Black Kettle had tried to keep them in check; he had even traveled to Fort Cobb a week earlier to assure General William Hazen that he wanted peace.

But, tragically, it was his destiny to die at the hands of whites.

At daybreak, the troops swept through the camp.

The surprised Indians rallied as best they could and managed to kill five soldiers and wound 14.

Another 15 were cut off from the main force and killed later.

But the Indians lost their leader, Black Kettle , along with about 100 others and many more wounded.

Although Custer claimed a major victory, he had only succeeded in decimating a largely peaceful band in what was essentially another Sand Creek, except for the presence of a few militants and the fact that women and children were not slaughtered but taken prisoner.

On Christmas Day a few weeks later, Evans column to the south engaged the Comanches at Soldier Spring.

The Sheridan Campaign continued into the following spring and summer, the Indians increasingly hounded by the white forces.

By the Sweetwater Creek on the Staked Plain if the Texas Panhandle in March 1869, Custer, through threats and negotiations, effected the surrender of Southern Cheyenne bands under Little Robe and Medicine Arrows, who promised to return to the reservation.

The Dog Soldiers under Tall Bull fled northward, however, with intentions to join their northern kinsmen in the Powder River country.

They were cut off on their journey at Summit Springs in northeastern Colorado by a Calvary outfit under Major Carr.

Scouting for him were Pawnees and Buffalo Bill Cody. In a surprise attack on the Cheyenne camp, Carr’s men killed about 50 Indians and captured 117 more.

Tall Bull had fought to his death along with other slain Dog Soldiers.

The Southern Cheyennes and Southern Arapahos had been virtually conquered.

Some who escaped northward would join their northern kinsmen in an ongoing struggle, finally to be pacified along with the Sioux (see "Sioux" ).

Others would join the Comanches and Kiowas in an attack on buffalo hunters at Adobe Walls in Texas, during the Red River War of 1874-75 (see "Comanche" ).

But for the Cheyennes, the central plains would never be the same.

As has been stated, the Northern Cheyennes were involved in the Sioux Wars on the northern plains, and they triumphed with them in the battle of the Bozeman Trail of 1866-68 and at Little Bighorn during the Sioux Uprising of 1876-77.

And, like the Sioux, they suffered a series of setbacks after Little Bighorn until ultimate defeat.

For the Northern Cheyennes, the battles of War Bonnet Creek in Nebraska and the Battle of Dull Knife in Wyoming, in July and November 1876 respectively, were the most consequential, and the following spring their most influential leaders, Dull Knife and Little Wolf, surrendered at Fort Robinson, Nebraska (see "Sioux" ).

The Northern Cheyennes had expected to be assigned to the Sioux reservation in their former haunt, the Black Hills,

but they were sent instead to the Indian Territory to join their southern kinsmen on the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation near Fort Reno.

Yet on these barren southern plains, difficult to farm, especially for a former hunting people, and with meager supplies from the government, there was not enough food for those already present.

Moreover, the Northern Cheyennes soon experienced a devastating outbreak of malaria. Dull Knife, Little Wolf, and others resolved to return to the Tongue River country of Wyoming and Montana.

They set out -- 297 men, women, and children—on the night of September 9, 1878, leaving their empty tepees behind.

In an epic and tragic six-week flight over lands now occupied and developed by whites

—ranches, farms, roads, railroads—

the Cheyennes eluded some 10,000 pursuing soldiers and an additional 3,000 civilians.

They were cornered several times, some shot or taken, but the majority escaped.

Two groups formed—the strong under Little Wolf would continue towards the Tongue River; the old, sick, and exhausted under Dull Knife would head to the Red Cloud’s agency at Fort Robinson, Nebraska to seek food and shelter from the Sioux leader.

Dull Knife’s followers were captured during a blizzard by a cavalry outfit under Captain John Johnson on October 23, and taken to the fort.

The reservation lands surrounding it, however, had been taken away from the Sioux.

Dull Knife expressed the desire of his people to be placed on Red Cloud’s new agency in South Dakota.

After a bureaucratic delay, he was told they would be sent back to the Indian Territory.

White officials felt the whole reservation system would be threatened if the Cheyennes’ wish was granted.

The Cheyennes than staged a successful breakout.

Yet in a bloody roundup operation by embarrassed troops, most of the Cheyennes were killed, including women and children, among them Dull Knife’s daughter.

Dull Knife, his wife son, daughter-in-law, grandchild, and another boy made it to Red Cloud’s reservation at Pine Ridge where they were taken prisoner.

Meanwhile, Little Wolf and his group hid out for most of the winter at Chokecherry Creek, a tributary of the Niobrara, until discovered and induced to surrendered by an outfit, under Captain William Clark, out of Fort Keogh, Montana, where they were then taken.

Finally, after more bureaucratic wrangling, the Northern Cheyennes were granted their original wish of a reservation on the Tongue River.

By now, however, after all of the warfare, disease, and reservation impoverishment, there were only about 80 Northern Cheyennes.

And after the same hardship for the Southern Cheyennes, as well as Sand Creek and Washita, they too were a reduced and downtrodden people.

The Beautiful People had been scarred by the force of an expanding and flexing nation.