Remembering Friday: Northern Colorado’s Last Arapaho Chief

The day after Thanksgiving, America celebrates one of its favorite holidays; Black Friday. Last year broke spending records, with shoppers spending 9.12 billion. But another observance takes place on the same day every year, somewhat obscured by its more glittery and self-indulgent counterpart.

In 1990, a law was signed into legislation to designate the day after Thanksgiving each year as American Indian Heritage Day. The wording has now changed from American Indian to Native American, but the day continues to be set aside to honor the nations who preceded us on this land.

On another Friday, in the year 1831, a young boy was wandering lost in the Colorado Territory. His name was Teenokuhu, which means “sits meekly” in his native Arapaho tongue. He had been separated from his band when a fight had broken out several days before. 

Thomas Fitzpatrick, an Irish trapper, found Teenokuhu and took him in, naming him after the day he had found him; Friday. He took the boy back to St. Louis, Missouri, where he was enrolled in a school and started learning English. Going by the name of Friday Fitzpatrick, Teenokuhu completed his education there, but would join his adoptive father in the summers on adventures to the frontier. A fellow trapper said the boy had an “astonishing memory, minute observation, and amusing inquiries.” 

They traveled together, until an encounter with an Arapaho band, likely in 1838, when Teenokuhu was a teenager. His mother was there and recognized him, and with Fitzpatrick’s approval, Teenokuhu returned to live with his people, although he remained friends with Fitzpatrick for the remainder of his lifetime.

As nomadic equestrians, the culture of the Arapaho nation is one of high mobility, hunting bison, and trading with the Spanish in the Southwest, and with other nations such as the Mandan as far north as modern-day North Dakota. Within that nomadic lifestyle, Teenokuhu’s band centered their life along the Cache la Poudre River, on the land that is now known as Fort Collins and Timnath. 

His band often met at a large cottonwood, called Council Tree in English, which grew on the bank where Boxelder Creek joined the river. This site could have been used for various ceremonies, including the traditional Arapaho custom of sky burial, similar to the Tibetan method. The location of this tree was close to what is now the intersection of East Harmony Road and I-25 in the place now designated as Arapaho Bend Natural Area.

Teenokuhu quickly earned a reputation as a skilled bison hunter and great warrior in ongoing wars with other tribes. Despite being a fierce fighter, Teenokuhu was mainly known for being a peacemaker. He traveled with, and translated for, several explorers, attended councils, and even served as a delegate to Washington DC, and was one of twenty-one native chiefs who signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851. During Teenokuhu’s lifetime, he was the only English-speaking member of the Arapaho tribe.

In 1869, Governor Alexander Hunt forced Teenokuhu’s band out of Colorado Territory, north of the Platte River. By that time, their group had dwindled down to 175 people due to starvation, disease, and attacks from the United States Army. Continued attempts by him to negotiate access to his people’s lands proved in vain, and a Shoshone tribe allowed for Teenokuhu’s band to join them on their reservation in Wyoming, which is now known as Wind River Indian Reservation.

Teenokuhu lived on that reservation until he died in 1881, and is buried there in an unmarked grave. His descendants continue to live there today.

As part of an effort to be more responsive to the needs of Native American and Indigenous students, Front Range Community College acknowledges the original stewards of the land in a written Land Acknowledgement Statement. This statement includes mention of the full displacement of the Arapaho nation, as well as the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. Read the full statement here:

Note: During his lifetime, Teenokuhu also went by the name Warshinun, meaning Black Spot.

Written by Morgan Treat

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