Chief Left-Hand of the Arapaho — Iconic figure and a martyr for peace

This article first appeared in the Broomfield Enterprise (4/13/08).

We live on mysterious lands. The history of our region has been on record for less than 200 years and we have only sketchy details about what was going on before the mid -1800s. Two centuries ago, the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes had this area more or less to themselves. A small tribe of 1,500 of so when the whites began to arrive, the Arapaho were avid traders and initially friendly with the strangers. The main group under Chief Little Raven maintained a large camp on Cherry Creek at the present site of downtown Denver. A smaller band lived in and around Boulder Valley under Chief Left-Hand, whose Arapaho name was Niwot.

Neva and No-Ta-Nee

Chief Left-Hand was an extraordinary man. He was described by early pioneer, Julia S. Lambert, as “the finest looking Indian I have ever seen.” Although no known pictures exist of Left-Hand, his brother, Neva (left) and cousin No-Ta-Nee (also called Knock-Knee) both Arapaho sub-chiefs, are shown in the above portrait from 1864.

Left Hand’s understanding of the situation went way beyond that of his peers. Soon after the appearance of the first gold seekers, he suspected that there were many, many more where they came from, and that fighting them would be ultimately pointless. He learned English, befriended a number of whites, and made an unprecedented “intelligence gathering” tour to Iowa and Nebraska to see how the white man lived. He was thinking of his tribe’s future and concluded that the Arapaho were not suited to farming, but that raising cattle would be a more workable substitute for the hunting and warring lifestyle that he knew would soon come to an end.

Left-Hand never deviated from his stance of adapting versus resistance. He attended many councils, serving as interpreter and “peace activist.” In April of 1861, on stage at Denver’s Apollo Theater, he made a plea for peace, assuring the audience that his people “had no enmity against them whatever—but looked on them as brethren…” (Rocky Mountain News, April 30, 1861). The newspaper also reported that “’Left Hand,’ chief of the Arapahoe tribe, and one or two of his braves, attended the polls on Saturday last, and offered their votes, which were refused, probably on the ground that their property was not subject to taxation.” (Rocky Mountain News, January 28, 1861).

Apollo Theater. Drawing by R. Turner.

He paid mightily for his efforts. He lost the respect of some of his warriors, who wanted to fight to hang on to their territory. At the end, he lost his life. In the weeks before John Chivington’s attack on Sand Creek, Left-Hand spoke to Captain Silas Soule of the Colorado First Cavalry, stationed in southern Colorado. Soule, also part of peace-making efforts, wrote to Chivington that “Left Hand is here with about twenty Indians. Today he says if all the rest go to war he will with his band lay down their arms and come in for protection, or fight even against his own tribe rather than take up arms against the whites.” (Silas Soule to John Chivington, October 11, 1864). Six weeks later, Left-Hand was mortally wounded at Sand Creek.

To learn more about this tragic and intriguing man, read Forgotten Heroes and Villains of Sand Creek (June 11, 2010) by Carol Turner, coming out from The History Press.

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8 thoughts on “Chief Left-Hand of the Arapaho — Iconic figure and a martyr for peace

  1. Pingback: Chief Left Hand: Renaissance Man of the Arapaho « Intriguing Faces and Places from Colorado's Past

  2. I was researching Neva, the brother of Left Hand, and came across your blog entry. Your book looks intriguing and I will be buying a copy from Amazon! Thank you for all your efforts on behalf of my tribe, the Northern Arapaho.

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