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The place of the Northern Arapahoes in the relations between the United States and the Indians of the Plains, 1851-1879 Murphy, James C.

Abstract

Whites, commonly class the Northern Arapahoes as a warlike tribe, but they call themselves a peaceful people. This study represents an attempt to discover the part of the Northern Arapahoes in the relations between the United States and the Indians of the plains from 1851 to 1879, and to determine whether they really were a peaceful group. This was a bellicose period, including raids along the Platte, the Powder River Wars, the Sand Creek and Washita massacres by whites, and the Fetterman and Custer massacres by Indians. The Northern Arapahoes associated with the mighty Sioux, dreaded by the whites, and with the Cheyennes, called the Fighting Cheyennes by Grinnell, who knew them well. Anthropological works contributed importantly to an understanding of plains Indian culture and the societal structure and practices of the Arapahoes. Correspsndence with the Indian Office and a former Commissioner of Indian Affairs produced important references on Indian policy, used to clarify the significance of material found in Government reports. Information from general works was crosschecked wherever possible, and each author's predilection considered. Historical bulletins from Colorado and Wyoming, and ether periodicals gave scraps of information which, unimportant by themselves, sometimes helped in solving problems. Contemporary newspapers, especially the Cheyenne Leader, also contributed in this respect, as well as showing the attitude of settlers toward the Indians who barred them from the free exploitation of lands and resources. An acquaintance with the Northern Arapahoes, through residence on their reservation, contributed toward an understanding of their character, learning of their traditions, developing an interest in their history and culture. Although the Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1851 was expected to usher in fifty years of peace between the United States and the Indians of the plains, three factors foredoomed the dream to failure: the Indian policy of the United States with its vacillations and misunderstandings; public attitude toward the Indians, colored by desire for their lands, fear of the braves, and a dogmatic faith in their own destiny to populate and civilize the plains; and lastly, the Indian's way of life, which he was loath to abandon, as it satisfied his social and emotional needs. Misunderstandings contributed to clashes between reds and whites; pressure upon their lands by gold seekers, stockmen and farmers, and the destruction of their game by immigrants made the Indians apprehensive; forays of hungry braves on settler's stock, and their reluctance to abandon their game of inter-tribal raiding for horses, scalps and prestige kept the whites on edge. Despite the fact that Federal troops waged war against their Sioux and Cheyenne friends a few years after the Treaty of 1851, nearly fourteen years elapsed before an appreciable number Northern Arapahoes engaged in hostilities. Even then a majority of the tribe abstained. During the Powder River Wars, 1865 to 1868, more participated, but never the entire tribe. Only once during the period from 1851 to 1879 is there any likelihood that all of the Northern Arapahoes' fought against the whites. This was in the Bates Battle of 1874; and even here positive evidence is lacking. During Custer's final days, when hundreds of Sioux and Cheyennes followed Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, the Northern Arapahoes, almost to a man, refrained from hostilities. This fact, with others of a kindred nature, finally brought recognition by the Government of the peaceful disposition of the Northern Arapahoes, On the basis of the evidence examined: the Northern Arapahoes should be classed among the most peaceable of the plains tribes.

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