Arap·​a·​ho | \ ə-ˈra-pə-ˌhō How to pronounce Arapaho (audio) \
variants: or Arapahoe

Definition of Arapaho

1 plural Arapaho or Arapahos or Arapahoe or Arapahoes : a member of an Algonquian-speaking (see Algonquian sense 2a) Indigenous people of the Great Plains ranging from Saskatchewan and Manitoba to New Mexico and Texas

Note: The Arapaho split into Northern and Southern Tribes around 1830, with the Southern Arapaho uniting with the Southern Cheyenne tribe to form the federally recognized Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Nations.

2 : the Algonquian language of the Arapaho people

First Known Use of Arapaho

1811, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for Arapaho

probably from Hidatsa arúpahu Arapaho, or a cognate word in another Siouan language

Note: The word was apparently borrowed from a widespread Siouan designation for one or more Arapaho bands; compare, in Siouan langauges, Crow arappaho, Hidatsa arúpahu, Mandan "Arrapahó" (cited as a Mandan name for the Gros Ventre [Plains people of Montana and adjacent parts of Canada] in the 19th century), Omaha-Ponca aðábahu, and Kansa aropwahì. For more forms and bibliography see Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 13, Plains (Washington, D.C., 2001), pp. 859-61. The Handbook editors consider the Crow/Hidatsa translation of the name as "many tattoos" to be a folk etymology. Also rejected is the supposed Pawnee source raraˑpihuˑru, "one who trades," or tiraˑpihuˑʔu, "he trades, barters" ("there is no evidence other than similarity of forms to support the derivation"). The earliest record of this ethnonym is the form Ar-rah-pa-hoo, which was inexplicably recorded as the self-designation of the Republican River Pawnee band by William Clark in his "Estimate of the Eastern Indians," a tabular summary of all the Indigenous Americans east of the Rockies sent from Ft. Mandan to Washington by Clark in April, 1805 (reproduced at the website of The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Online). (The band's actual self-designation is kitkahahki, which bears no resemblance to Clark's Ar-rah-pa-hoo.) After Clark, forms comparable to Arapaho can be found in accounts and documents of beaver trapping expeditions to the upper Missouri. John Bradbury, a botanical collector who accompanied the Pacific Fur Company expedition led by Wilson Price Hunt, recorded the word while visiting the Arikara villages on the upper Missouri on June 16, 1811: "… some Indians had arrived from the Chayenne nation …One of these Indians was covered with a buffalo robe, curiously ornamented with figures worked with split quills …I understood that this robe had been purchased from the Arapahoes, or Big Bead Indians, a remote tribe, who frequent the Rocky Mountains" (Travels in the Interior of America in the Years 1809, 1810, 1811 [Liverpool, 1817], pp. 123-24). A Hispanicized version of the name as Arapaos occurs in a letter written in Spanish to authorities in Santa Fe by the fur trading entrepreneur Manuel Lisa on September 8, 1812 (see Herbert E. Bolton, "New Light on Manuel Lisa and the Spanish Fur Trade," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, vol. 17, no. 1 [July, 1913], pp. 61-66). Lisa's use appears to be reflected in the form Arepaos in a journal kept by a member of one of Lisa's expeditions: "…Mr. Charles Sanguinette … on his return from the Arepaos, in which he confirmed the sad News of the hunters, he found none and was informed by the Arepaos, that 3 of them were Killed by the Blackfeet …" (December 13, 1812, entry in Journal of a Fur-Trading Expedition on the Upper Missouri, 1812-1813, edited by Stella M. Drumm [Missouri Historical Society, 1920], p. 101; the unsigned manuscript is attributed by the editor to John C. Luttig, the clerk of the expedition). Clark, in the same document, recorded the self-designation of what would become the southernmost band of the Arapaho, the Nawathinehena, as Ni-mi-ou-sin; this linguistically quite divergent band would later merge with the more northerly Hinanaeina and adopt their language. Note that in 1805 the five bands now counted as Arapaho would not have struck outsiders as a clear ethnic or political unit.

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The first known use of Arapaho was in 1811

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Cite this Entry

“Arapaho.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Jun. 2022.

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More Definitions for Arapaho


variants: or Arapahoe \ ə-​ˈra-​pə-​ˌhō \
plural Arapaho or Arapahos or Arapahoe or Arapahoes

Kids Definition of Arapaho

1 : a member of a tribe of indigenous people of the plains region of the United States and Canada
2 : the language of the Arapaho people


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