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BASIN: Those Who Came Before

Those Who Came Before
by Pat Walsh

Image of Little Raven, Chief of the Arapahos. Copyright by the Denver Public Library.
The following is copyright 1996 and used by permission of The Naropa Institute

We're the new kids on the Boulder Creek Watershed block.

Hunting sites in the mountains dating back some 7,500 years show that at least that long ago, indigenous peoples were passing through the area-- probably in a yearly counterclockwise route turned to the movements of animals and the seasons.

Hunting and gathering tribes spent winters in the shelter of the Front Range foothills. Then in the spring, small bands of 15 or 20 people would move north to a point near the Colorado-Wyoming border. There they would turn west and south where there was access into North Park, an area rich in game and plants in the summer. Still following the game, the tribes moved further south into Middle Park. By August and early September, they began moving east into the Front Range to hunt bighorn sheep. They used low rock walls set up on ridges to drive the sheep toward their hunters, and spent September hunting, drying meat, preparing hides and picking berries. By late September and early October, as the temperature began to fall, the bands left the high country for their winter camps east of the Front Range once more.

This rotary system apparently continued over thousands of years, as the people took advantage of the three ecosystems at hand-- plains, foothills and mountains. Aside from bighorn sheep, they also hunted bison, deep, elk, antelope and rabbit. They also gathered and mustard plants to grind into meal.

From about 1600 on, after contact with the Spanish, indigenous peoples began using horses and European trade items. In the 1700s, the Apache and Kiowa Apaches lived along the Front range. They moved south as the Comanche moved in, and the Comanche themselves moved south to make way for the Arapaho and Cheyenne.

By the time goldseekers arrived in this area, the local indigenous people mainly included the Arapaho and the Cheyenne tribes in the plains and the Utes in the upper elevations. The Arapahos and Cheyennes by some accounts arrived in Colorado about 1790. They had lived in central Minnesota for generations until being forced westward by whites and other tribes who had already obtained European guns. Eventually, white settlers drove the Arapaho and Cheyennes from Colorado, resettling them on reservations in Wyoming, Montana and Oklahoma where some of their descendants remains to this day. The Utes were moved to a reservation in southwest Colorado.

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Last Page Update - Tuesday December 27, 2005