Arapaho Nation

Arapaho Literature


“All plants are our brothers and sisters, they talk to us and if we listen, we can hear them.
If we wonder often, the gift of knowledge will come.”


Girl Who Climbed to the Sky

One morning several young women went out from their tepee village to gather firewood. Among them was Sapana, the most beautiful girl in the village, and it was she who first saw the porcupine sitting at the foot of a tall cottonwood tree. She called to the others: “Help me to catch this porcupine, and I will divide its quills among you.”

The porcupine started climbing the cottonwood, but the tree’s limbs were close to the ground and Sapana easily followed. “Hurry,” she cried. “It is climbing up. We must have its quills to embroider our moccasins.” She tried to strike the porcupine with a stick, but the animal climbed just out of her reach.

“I want those quills,” Sapana said. “If necessary I will follow this porcupine to the top of the tree.” But every time that the girl climbed up, the porcupine kept ahead of her.

“Sapana, you are too high up,” one of her friends called from the ground. “You should come back down.”

But the girl kept climbing, and it seemed to her that the tree kept extending itself toward the sky. When she neared the top of the cottonwood, she saw something above her, solid like a wall, but shining. It was the sky. Suddenly she found herself in the midst of a camp circle. The treetop had vanished, and the porcupine had transformed himself into an ugly old man.

Sapana did not like the looks of the porcupine-man, but he spoke kindly to her and led her to a tepee where his father and mother lived. “I have watched you from afar,” he told her. “You are not only beautiful but industrious. We must work very hard here, and I want you to become my wife.”

The porcupine-man put her to work that very day, scraping and stretching buffalo hides and making robes. When evening came, the girl went outside the tepee and sat by herself wondering how she was ever to get back home. Everything in the sky world was brown and grey, and she missed the green trees and green grass of earth.

Each day the porcupine-man went out to hunt, bringing back buffalo hides for Sapana to work on, and in the morning while he was away it was her duty to go and dig for wild turnips. “When you dig for roots,” the porcupine-man warned her, “take care not to dig too deep.”

One morning she found an unusually large turnip. With great difficulty she managed to pry it loose with her digging stick, and when she pulled it up she was surprised to find that it left a hole through which she could look down upon the green earth. Far below she saw rivers, mountains, circles of tepees, and people walking about.

Sapana knew now why the porcupine-man had warned her not to dig too deep. As she did not want him to know that she had found the hole in the sky, she carefully replaced the turnip. On the way back to the tepee she thought of a plan to get down to the earth again. Almost every day the porcupine-man brought buffalo hides for her to scrape and soften and make into robes. In making the robes there were always strips of sinew left over, and she kept these strips concealed beneath her bed.

At last Sapana believed that she had enough sinew strips to make a lariat long enough to reach the earth. One morning after the porcupine-man went out to hunt, she tied all the strips together and returned to the place where she had found the large turnip. She lifted it out and dug the hole wider so that her body would go through. She laid her digging stick across the opening and tied one end of the sinew rope to the middle of it. Then she tied the other end of the rope about herself under her arms. Slowly she began lowering herself by uncoiling the lariat. A long time passed before she was far enough down to be able to see the tops of the trees clearly, and then she came to the end of the lariat. She had not made it long enough to reach the ground. She did not know what to do.

She hung there for a long time, swinging back and forth above the trees. Faintly in the distance she could hear dogs barking and voices calling in her tepee village, but the people were too far away to see her. After a while she heard sounds from above. The lariat began to shake violently. A stone hurtled down from the sky, barely missing her, and then she heard the porcupine-man threatening to kill her if she did not climb back up the lariat. Another stone whizzed by her ear.

About this time Buzzard began circling around below her. “Come and help me,” she called to Buzzard. The bird glided under her feet several times, and Sapana told him all that had happened to her. “Get on my back,” Buzzard said, “and I will take you down to earth.”

She stepped on to the bird’s back. “Are you ready?” Buzzard asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Let go of the lariat,” Buzzard ordered. He began descending, but the girl was too heavy for him, and he began gliding earthward too fast. He saw Hawk flying below him. “Hawk,” he called, “help me take this girl back to her people.”

Hawk flew with Sapana on his back until she could see the tepee of her family clearly below. But then Hawk began to tire, and Buzzard had to take the girl on his back again. Buzzard flew on, dropping quickly through the trees and landing just outside the girl’s village. Before she could thank him, Buzzard flew back into the sky.

Sapana rested for a while and then began walking very slowly to her parents’ tepee. She was weak and exhausted. On the way she saw a girl coming toward her. “Sapana!” the girl cried. “We thought you were dead.” The girl helped her walk on to the tepee. At first her mother did not believe that this was her own daughter returned from the sky. Then she threw her arms about her and wept.

The news of Sapana’s return spread quickly through the village, and everyone came to welcome her home. She told them her story, especially of the kindness shown her by Buzzard and Hawk.

After that, whenever the people of her tribe went on a big hunt they always left one buffalo for Buzzard and Hawk to eat.

Girl Who Climbed to the Sky, #2

How Medicine Man Resurrected Buffalo

At one time an Arapaho Medicine Man named Black-Robe wanted very much to be able to make magic because his people were very hungry. How could he lure the buffaloes back to the Arapaho hunting grounds? Buffalo meat was their principal food.

Black-Robe decided to ask Cedar-Tree for his help. “Go west and hunt buffalo for our people. Try very hard to find at least one buffalo.”

Cedar-Tree hunted hard as he was asked to do. After a long time, he saw some black objects at a distance. “Could they be buffaloes?” he wondered.

Encouraged, he walked faster, but as he drew closer he was less sure the black objects were buffaloes. Suddenly, he saw the black things fly toward the sky. By then, Cedar-Tree seemed certain the objects were oversized ravens.

Disappointed, he returned to his village, reporting to Black-Robe what he had seen. The Medicine Man scolded him for not believing that what he had seen were buffaloes.

“If you had only believed strong enough, the buffaloes would not have changed to ravens,” said Black Robe.

By now the Arapahoes were desperately hungry. One woman on the verge of starving made soup from the soles of her moccasins. The next day her uncle, Trying-Bear, set out early to hunt for anything edible. He had no weapons. Fortunately, on the way he met Black-Robe who loaned him a bow and some arrows.

“Tomorrow morning, I will come to your tent to learn of your success,” said Black-Robe. “You must even try to find a dried buffalo, if not a live one.”

After hunting a long time to the northwest, Trying-Bear finally found a dried buffalo. He ran home swiftly to tell his people. Black-Robe painted his white pony black and wrapped a black buffalo robe about himself. He stuck his lucky eagle-feather in his hair, mounted his black pony, and took off in a rush to find the dried buffalo.

“Follow me, Trying-Bear,” Black-Robe called.

Because he wanted to see what Black-Robe would do with the dried buffalo, Trying-Bear followed rapidly. Medicine Man arrived about midday at the place of the dead buffalo. He dismounted, took aim with his magic eagle-feather, and threw it straight at the carcass. Immediately, a live buffalo jumped to its feet!

Black-Robe turned and saw Trying-Bear. “Shoot it!” commanded Medicine Man. Trying-Bear shot it dead.

“Let’s skin it and carry everything eatable back to our people,” said Black-Robe.

A feast of thanksgiving and rejoicing followed. Black-Robe had saved his people from starvation. Arapahoes still love to tell this story of how their Medicine Man resurrected the dead buffalo with his magic eagle feather-medicine!

Lame Warrior and the Skeleton

In the days before horses, a party of young Arapahos set off on foot one autumn morning in search of wild game in the western mountains. They carried heavy packs of food and spare moccasins, and one day as they were crossing the rocky bed of a shallow stream a young warrior felt a sudden sharp pain in his ankle. The ankle swelled and the pain grew worse until they pitched camp that night.

Next morning the warrior’s ankle was swollen so badly that it was impossible for him to continue the journey with the others. His companions decided it was best to leave him. They cut young willows and tall grass to make a thatched shelter for him, and after the shelter was finished they collected a pile of dry wood so that he could keep a fire burning.

“When your ankle gets well,” they told him, “don’t try to follow us. Go back to our village, and await our return.”

After several lonely days, the lame warrior tested his ankle, but it was still too painful to walk upon. And then one night a heavy snowstorm fell, virtually imprisoning him in the shelter. Because he had been unable to kill any wild game, his food supply was almost gone.

Late one afternoon he looked out and saw a large herd of buffalo rooting in the snow for grass quite close to his shelter. Reaching for his bow and arrow, he shot the fattest one and killed it. He then crawled out of the shelter to the buffalo, skinned it, and brought in the meat. After preparing a bed of coals, he placed a section of ribs in the fire for roasting.

Night had fallen by the time the ribs were cooked, and just as the lame warrior was reaching for a piece to eat, he heard footsteps crunching on the frozen snow. The steps came nearer and nearer to the closed flap of the shelter. “Who can that be?” he said to himself. “I am here alone and unable to run, but I shall defend myself if need be.” He reached for his bow and arrow.

A moment later the flap opened and a skeleton clothed in a tanned robe stood there looking down at the lame warrior.

The robe was pinned tight at the neck so that only the skull was visible above and skeleton feet below. Frightened by this ghost, the warrior turned his eyes away from it.

“You must not be frightened of me,” the skeleton said in a hoarse voice. “I have taken pity on you. Now you must take pity on me. Give me a piece of those roast ribs to eat, for I am very hungry.”

Still very much alarmed by the presence of this unexpected visitor, the warrior offered a large piece of meat to an extended bony hand. He was astonished to see the skeleton chew the food with its bared teeth and swallow it.

“It was I who gave you the pain in your ankle,” said the skeleton. “It was I who caused your ankle to swell so that you could not continue on the hunt. If you had gone on with your companions you would have been killed. The day they left you here, an enemy war party made a charge upon them, and they were all killed. I am the one who saved your life.”

Again the skeleton’s bony hand reached out, this time to rub the warrior’s ankle. The pain and swelling vanished at once. “Now you can walk again,” the ghost said. “Your enemies are all around, but if you will follow me I can lead you safely back to your village.”

At dawn they left the shelter and started off across the snow, the skeleton leading the way. They walked through deep woods, along icy streams, and over high hills. Late in the afternoon the skeleton led the warrior up a steep ridge. When the warrior reached the summit, the ghost had vanished, but down in the valley below he could see the smokes of tepees in his Arapaho village.

Nihancan and the Dwarf’s Arrow

Nihancan the spider was out traveling in search of some mischief he could do to please himself. Along a creek he found a patch of sweet berries, and while he was eating them he heard the sound of someone cutting wood. The sound seemed to come from a grove of cotton woods across the creek. “I must go over there,” Nihancan said to himself “I have heard that dwarves who make wonderful arrows live in that place. It is time that I played a trick on them.”

He crossed a stream, and among the cotton woods he found a dwarf making an arrow out of an immense tree that had been cut down.”Well, little brother,” said Nihancan, “what are you making?”

“You have eyes to see,” replied the dwarf, who continued shapingthe tree into an arrow as long as ten men and as thick as a man’s body.

“I have heard about your ability to shoot very large arrows,”Nihancan said. “But surely you do not expect me to believe that so small a person as you can lift so large a tree. Let me see you shoot it. I will stand over there against that hillside and you can shoot at me.”

“I do not want to do that, Nihancan,” the dwarf answered, “for I might kill you.”

At that, Nihancan laughed and began taunting the dwarf, who remained silent until Nihancan said scornfully: “Just as I thought, you are unable to lift the arrow, and so cannot shoot at me. I shall go on my way.

Then the dwarf said: “I will shoot.” Nihancan went toward the hillside and asked in a mocking voice: “Shall I stand here?”

“No, farther away,” said the dwarf. “You might get hurt there.”

Nihancan went on, and asked again: “Shall I stand here?” But the dwarf continued to tell him to go farther off. At last Nihancan called out: “I will not go any farther. I am as far as your voice reaches.” He was now on the hillside, and as he turned to look back he was astonished to see the dwarf pick up the huge tree with one hand.

At once he became frightened and shouted: “Don’t shoot at me, little brother. I know you are able to do it. I was only pretending not to believe you.”

“Oh, you trickster spider,” retorted the dwarf, “I know you are only pretending now. I am going to shoot.”

“Please do not shoot!” cried Nihancan, but the dwarf answered him: “I must shoot now. When once I have taken up my bow and arrows I must shoot, or I will lose my power.”

Then the dwarf lifted his great arrow and aimed and shot. As Nihancan saw the huge tree coming toward him through the air, he began to yell and run first one way and then another. He did not know where to go, for whichever way he went the arrow turned and headed in the same direction. It continued to come nearer and nearer, its point facing directly toward him. Then he threw himself on the soft ground. The tree struck him and forced him deep into the earth, so that only his head was left outside. He struggled to escape, but the arrow wedged him in.

In a short time the dwarf came up to Nihancan, and after scolding him for doubting his strength, he helped him out and gave him some medicine for his bruises. After that Nihancan went on his way, and he never came back to that place again to play tricks on the dwarves.

Star Husband

More Stories

The Arapaho autonym is Hinono’eino or Inun-ina (“our people” or “people of our own kind”), when referring to the tribe they use Hinono’eiteen (Arapaho Nation). They were also known as Hitanwo’iv or Hetanevoeo/Hetanevo’eo’o (“People of the Sky” or “Cloud People”) by their Cheyenne allies or Mahpíyato (“Blue Cloud Men”) by Dakota, Mahpíya thó (“Blue Sky People”) by Lakota and Assiniboine. The Caddo (Toniibeenenno’ or Toniibeeneseino’ – “pierced nose People”) called them Detseka’yaa, the Wichita (Hinosouno’ ) Nia’rhari’s-kûrikiwa’ahûski, and the Comanche Saria Tühka / Säretika (Sata Teichas), all names signifying “dog-eaters”. To Pawnee, Ute and other tribes they were also known as “dog-eaters”.

The Northern Arapaho who called themselves Nank’haanseine’nan or Nookhose’iinenno (“white sage men”) were known as Baantcline’nan or Bo’oociinenno’ (“red willow men”) to the Southern Arapaho, whereas the latter were called by their northern kin Nawathi’neha or Noowunenno’ (“Southerners”). The Northern Arapaho were also known as BSakuune’na’ (Bee’eekuunnenno’) (“blood-soup men”).

The Cheyenne adapted the Arapaho terms and referred to the Northern Arapaho as Vanohetan or Vanohetaneo/ Váno’étaneo’o (“Sage (Brush) People”) and to the Southern Arapaho as Nomsen’nat or Nomsen’eo (“Southerners”).

The Arapaho nation are unusual as they occupy many different regions.
They lived for some time in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North
Dakota territories before they crossed the Missouri River and settled in
Wyoming. There they divided into the Northern Arapaho and Southern
Arapaho. The latter settled on a reservation in Oklahoma, while the
Northern Arapaho joined the Shoshones on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

Arapaho Chiefs and Leaders

Rabbit Run, Cut Nose, Cut Finger, Birds Chief, Sr.
Two Lances, Nawat [‘Left-hand’], Henry Lincoln
Charles Harrington Bent, Little Bird, Birds Chief, Jr.

Little Raven

Little Raven’s Son

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