Native Americans in Larimer County - People of the Mountain and Plains

For thousands of years, many American Indian cultural groups lived in the mountains and plains of this area. Among them are the tribes today known as the Ute, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Lakota, Apache, and Comanche. Each possesses millennia of rich culture, language, artistry, and tradition deeply rooted in the land upon which they lived.

Paleo-Indians - 12,000 to 7,500 Before Present (BP)

Although there isn't complete agreement, the generally accepted theory for the peopling of the Americas is that sometime during the last Ice Age when the level of the oceans dropped sufficiently to expose the land mass of Berginia between Siberia and Alaska (between 24,000-15,000 years ago), people walked from the Asian land mass to the American continent.

Clovis - 12,000 to 11,000 BP

The Clovis people hunted megafauna (mammoths, sloths, bison, extinct horse, and camel) in the steppe-like conditions present at the end of the Ice Age. The Clovis people are found all over North America although no sites have been discovered in Larimer County.

Folsom - 11,000 to 10,000 BP

From the Folsom people lived in a climate that was about 5 degrees cooler than we know today. They saw increased seasonality compared to the Clovis people with colder winters and warmer summers. Like the Clovis people, Folsom cultures are found in many parts of North America. The Lindenmeier site in Larimer County was one of the first locations to provide extensive information about the Folsom people.

The Folsom people perfected the art of pressure flaking fluted stone projectile points. The 1-3 inch long points extended the beauty and workmanship of the Clovis point to a degree not seen since (Gilmore et al. 1999: 64, 68-69). Discussion still explores the purpose of fluting since it is difficult to produce, often destroys the point during fabrication, and weakens the point structurally. Theories for creating the flute include the formation of a large, flat surface area for hafting using lashing methods (creating a large area for friction effects, Wilmsen 1974: 52), creating a drainage hole for blood as an aid in killing prey, and simply that they did it because they could and they found it attractive and a way to display skill.

Plano - 10,000 to 7,500 BP

The Plano people used an even greater diversity of resources than the Folsom people. The climate was still cooler and more moist than today and more of the woodland was giving way to prairie grasslands. In Larimer County, the Gordon Creek burial site, dated 9700 BP, indicates eastern Plano burial practices in this area. The female body was arranged in a flexed position and grave goods included three biface tools, a polished stone, a hammerstone, and four elk incisors one of which was perforated among other objects (Gilmore et al. 1999: 82).

Archaic - 7,500 BP to 1,800 BP or 150 AD

With the climatic change of the Holocene, a new cultural adaptation took place, this was defined as the Archaic period. The Archaic period is distinguished from the prior periods in the adaptation for local conditions, the use of seasonal rounds, and a significant shift from reliance on big-game hunting to a use of many more of the available food resources .

Plains Archaic - 7,500 to 2000 BP

The Plains Archaic period lasted until the adoption of ceramics and bows and arrows by the plains nomads (Stone 1999: 56, 63). During this time, Colorado had drier temperatures and experienced periods of drought.

Ceramic Period

When ceramic objects start to appear, culture definition shifts from Archaic to Ceramic. A second diagnostic of the transition to Ceramic is the shift from atlatl-dart to bow-arrow hunting technology. The Ceramic period lasted from roughly 2000 BP (0 - 150 AD ) until permanent European contact in the area. For northern Colorado, the Ceramic period ends around 1850 AD (Stone 1999: 57).

During the Ceramic period regional cultures transformed into the Native American cultures we are more familiar with today, including:


The early history of the Algonquian -speaking Arapaho is less clear than that of the Cheyenne, Kiowa, or Comanche. Their oral traditions suggest (but are not in clear agreement) that at one time they grew corn and were located east of the Missouri River, possibly in northern Minnesota. By 1811 the Arapaho had linked up with the Cheyenne (Weist 1984: 29). Although the two tribes were closely affiliated, they maintained separate customs and languages. The Arapaho claimed Colorado as their heartland with each of their four bands having a favorite wintering location (Trenholm 1970: 52). In 1914, Oliver Toll (1962) and two Arapaho elders visited Estes Park to document the Arapaho names for features there.


The Cheyenne are an Algonquian-speaking group whose origin stories place them on lake shores in a far northern woodland, somewhere between the Great Lakes and Hudson Bay (in Ontario, Canada). About 1750, the Cheyenne acquired horses - possibly through trade. Horses allowed hunting without moving the whole camp, which in turn gave the women more time to tend crops, store foods, and work on hides and fur tanning.


By the 1840s white settlers were crossing Cheyenne and Arapaho hunting land on their way west over the Platte River Road (part of the Oregon Trail). The cattle with the wagon trains grazed large areas of grass which the buffalo would not cross driving the buffalo from their normal grazing lands. The white settlers also brought contagious diseases. In 1845 measles and whooping cough epidemics ravaged the Plains groups. Cholera followed in 1849 coming with a fresh wave of gold-seekers headed for California. These epidemics may have killed half of the Cheyenne living between the Platte and Arkansas rivers. (Weist 1984: 43-44). Not unexpectedly, tensions rose between the Cheyenne and Arapaho and the emigrants. In September 1851, Indian Agent Thomas Fitzpatrick secured a treaty (known as the Laramie Treaty) with many of the Plains Indian tribes which was intended to reduce tensions. The Arapaho and Cheyenne were assigned the territory between the North Platte and Arkansas rivers from their headwaters to the fork of Platte. Within two years, however, the government was building roads across these lands, the buffalo herds were shrinking, and settlers were moving onto prime hunting grounds.


1861 - Treaty of Fort Wise - reduced the Cheyenne-Arapaho holdings to a small area south of Sand Creek on the Arkansas River. In 1861, the Civil War broke out and most of the regular army troops were returned to the east. Volunteer armies were raised to provide protection against both "hostile" Indians and Confederate invasion (Weist 1984: 44-48). Colorado's Governor Evans issued a proclamation during the summer of 1864 "designating all Indians remaining out as hostiles, whom all persons were authorized to kill and destroy as enemies of the country wherever they might be found" (Mooney 1898: 176). On November 29, 1864, Colonel John M. Chivington used white uneasiness with respect to Indian fears to lead a volunteer army of 700 in an attack on an encampment of friendly Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho with the order to take no prisoners. The attack killed 137 people mostly women and children. This massacre led to the biggest uprising in Plains Indian history (Weist 1984: 49-54).

1867 - Treaty of Medicine Lodge Creek - the combined tribe of Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho gave up all their Colorado land and were moved to a new reservation in Oklahoma (Hoebel 1978: 115). A reservation for the Northern Cheyenne was established in southeastern Montana in 1864 (the Tongue River reservation, Weist 1984: 104). Most of the Cheyenne and Arapaho bands eventually settled on these reservations.

Larimer County Connections

In Larimer County, trappers from Fort Laramie, Wyoming led by Antoine Janis established the first permanent settlement in 1858 at what is now Laporte (Kavazanjian 1975: 8). In 1864, Camp Collins was established by the Army near present day Fort Collins to provide protection for the mail stage, emigrants, and settlers from "hostiles." A small Northern Arapaho band, led by [Warshinun] Chief Friday, was still in the area, having no interest in moving to the Southern Arapaho camp on Sand Creek. This group was friendly to the whites and worked for local ranchers. They were directed to stay in the area of Camp Collins for protection and food rations. They were unable to follow their previous subsistence methods since the local wildlife had been reduced by overall population pressures. When Camp Collins was closed in 1867, the Arapaho were homeless and destitute. Proposals for a reservation along the Cache la Poudre were rejected due to the existing stage route and settlers. By 1878, Chief Washakie of the Shoshone allowed the remaining bands of Northern Arapaho to settle on the Wind River reservation in Wyoming (Swanson 1975).

In 1878 all remaining Indians were required to move to their respective reservations, including spouses of whites. Antoine Janis moved to the Pine Ridge reservation with his Sioux wife (Moriarty 1975). At this point all Arapaho (to Wyoming and Oklahoma), Cheyenne (to Montana and Oklahoma), Kiowa (to Oklahoma), Comanche (to Oklahoma), and Apache (to New Mexico) had been removed from the state of Colorado. The Ute were placed on two reservations in southwestern Colorado.

Editors Note: The preceding information is adapted from the report "People of the Poudre - Native Americans in Larimer County, Colorado: 12,000 y.a - 1878" by Lucy Burris. This report provides a framework for human occupancy of the area currently designated "Larimer County, Colorado" by indigenous peoples from prehistory until dispossession in 1878. Archaeological evidence indicates that the area has been used almost continuously from Paleo-Indian times up to the modern era by Paleo-Indians, by Archaic groups, and by Ceramic cultures.


Cassells, E. Steve
1983 The Archaeology of Colorado. Johnson Books, Boulder, CO.

Gilmore, Kevin P. Marcia Tate, Mark L. Tenant, Bonnie Clark, Terri McBride, and Margaret Wood
1999 Colorado Prehistory: A Context for the Platte River Basin. Colorado Council of Professional Archaeologists, Denver.

Hobble, E. Adams
1978 The Cheyennes: Indians of the Great Plains. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, New York.

Gable, Joseph
1994 The Cheyenne in Plains Indian Trade Relations 1795-1840. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.

Kavazanjian, Nancy
1975 Splendor of Poudre Valley attracted waves of settlers. The Triangle Review, 7/13/77.

Mooney, James
1898 Calendar History of the Kyowa Indians. In The Seventeenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington DC.

Moriarty, Bob
1975 Larimer County was Indian home. The Triangle Review, 7/16/75.

Stone, Tammy
1999 The Prehistory of Colorado and Adjacent Areas. The University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

Swanson, Evadene
1975 When the Indians left. The Triangle Review, 7/2/75.

Toll, Oliver W.
1962 Arapaho Names and Trails. privately published.

Trenholm, Virginia Cole
1970 The Arapahos, Our People. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

West, Tom
1984 A History of the Cheyenne People. Montana Council for Indian Education, Billings.

Wiliness, Edwin N.
1974 Lindenmeier: A Pleistocene Hunting Society. Harper and Row, New York.

Native American Placenames of the United States People of the Red Earth - American Indians of Colorado The Archaeology of Colorado People of the Shining Mountains - The Utes of Colorado Beginning Lakhota

Nico Strange Owl

Saving the Arapaho Language

Fort Collins Museum of Discovery          Poudre River Public Library District
Preserving the history of Fort Collins, Colorado & the Cache la Poudre region