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Strategies of the Arapahos and Cheyennes for combating nineteenth century American colonialism

Date

2009

Authors

Hilger, Stephen, author
Smoak, Gregory E. 1962-, advisor
Knight, Frederick C., advisor
Kneller, Jane, 1954-, committee member
Didier, John, committee member

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Abstract

The nineteenth century was a period of turbulence for the Cheyenne and Arapaho people and both tribes relied on existing cultural systems of socio-political organization to confront the new challenges brought by this new era of change. At the dawn of the century, the two tribes elected to embrace the horse and a nomadic equestrian lifestyle on the Great Plains. Although the adoption of the horse offered a path to acquire great wealth, the animal's ascendance as the critical material good within both societies stressed existing social relationships. The second new phenomenon confronting the Cheyennes and the Arapahos during the nineteenth century was the influx of American settlers onto the Front Range following the Colorado gold rush. American settlers not only brought a contending ecological relationship with the natural environment, but also competing conceptions of property and power. These new dynamics threatened the viability of equestrian lifestyles as natural resources were put under high levels of stress and became privatized by the new boundaries of capitalism. To confront the challenges brought by the horse and American expansion, the Cheyennes and Arapahos developed indigenous political strategies expressed through their respective socio-political institutions. In Arapaho culture, males were progressively organized into peer groups through the lodge system. The lodge system directed Arapahos' interactions with foreign actors, as the tribe utilized intermediaries to relay pre-established political decisions made by the tribe's elders known as the Water Pouring Men, functioning to avert instances of violence with the United States and limit tribal factionalism. Similarly, the Cheyennes own socio-political institutions, the Council of Forty Four and the warrior societies, directed their relationship with United States in a different historical trajectory. While the chiefs of the Council of Forty Four strived to use peace and diplomacy in solving critical political issues, the warrior societies preferred methods of violence to advance Cheyenne interests. After the violent massacres of Cheyennes at Sand Creek and along the Washita River, however, a new generation of Cheyenne council chiefs, who embraced policies of both war and peace rose to leadership and were more successful in achieving Cheyenne political goals.

Description

2009 Summer.
Includes bibliographical references (pages 137-143).

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