#Lookback: Black Coal, An Arapaho Chief

A series where we take a #lookback at the stories
and history of our community,
brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

When he died in 1893, Black Coal was the chief of the Antelope band of the Northern Arapaho. The Antelope band numbered about 700 people and settled in the area around Arapahoe close to St. Stephen’s Mission. Black Coal led his people during the transition from nomadic hunters to a settled tribe sharing the Wind River Reservation with the Shoshone people.

As a young man, Black Coal fought in many battles in the Powder River country and earned recognition for his bravery. He fought in the Battle of Platte River Bridge in 1865 where Caspar Collins was killed. He also fought at Fort Phil Kearney in December of 1866 alongside the Sioux forces who killed a wood cutting party outside the fort.

Black Coal, Sharp Nose, and Sorrel Horse signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 for the Arapaho. The treaty gave them hunting rights on land north of the North Platte River for as long as the buffalo roamed, but it did not establish an Arapaho reservation. The Arapaho lived in the Powder River country staying close to the Red Cloud Agency and Fort Fetterman where Black Coal’s people could obtain rations from the U.S. government.

Black Coal’s people were camped at Bates Creek in the Bridger Mountains on July 4th, 1874, when they were attacked by the U.S. Army and 20 Shoshone scouts. The year before, Sioux led by Red Cloud’s brother had been preying on the miners and settlers in the South Pass area. The army stationed at camp Brown believed the Arapaho were allies of the Sioux. Black Coal had a horse shot out from under him and he lost two fingers on his right hand during the battle. The Arapaho lost many horses in the raid. After the Battle of Bates Creek, many Arapaho moved south – some as far as the Canadian River in Oklahoma. Black Coal went to Pumpkin Buttes at the Red Cloud Agency.

In 1876, Black Coal enlisted as an army scout to earn Army pay and to earn favor for securing a reservation for his people. He worked hard to keep his people peaceful during the Great Sioux Wars.

Black Coal went to visit the Southern Arapaho in Oklahoma in 1876 in hopes of securing a permanent reservation, but he found the area unsuitable for agriculture and the climate ‘sickly’.

In 1877, Black Coal and Sharp Nose, another Arapaho chief, went to Washington D.C. to meet with President Rutherford B. Hayes. Their purpose was to finally secure a reservation for the Northern Arapaho. Within months, the Northern Arapaho were temporarily installed onto the Shoshone’s Wind River Reservation. Soon, the placement was made permanent, and Sharp Nose’s band of Arapaho settled around the area known as Ethete.

Black Coal converted to Catholicism, and during the Ghost Dance period voiced his doubts about the effectiveness of the Ghost Dance. Black Coal worked for the rest of his life to legalize his people’s claim to the Wind River Reservation. He also encouraged students at St. Stephens to study hard and learn all they could learn.

In December of 2019, Temple Smith of Marblehead, Massachusetts contacted the Northern Arapaho Historic office and offered to return Black Coal’s warbonnet. Smith’s great grandfather had worked as a dentist on the reservation in the 1870s or 1880s and had worked on Black Coal’s teeth. Black Coal had gifted him with his headdress. It was stored in the family attic for over 100 years. After conservation work, the headdress will be on display in the Wind River Casino’s Arapaho Experience room.

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

Our April Schedule of events and programs are being rescheduled where possible

Stay tuned for updates on our programs.

Consider supporting The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander or the Riverton Museum with a monetary donation. The museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide quality programs, collections management, exhibits, and services that have become their hallmark. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.