An Arapaho boy, given the name Warshinun (meaning Black Spot or Black Coal Ashes), was born sometime in the early to mid-1820s. His tribe was nomadic and traveled across the plains of what is now Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming. However, they spent most of their time in what is now Northern Colorado, camping and hunting most often within the Cache la Poudre and Big Thompson river valleys. Though the land in which they lived had been claimed by France in 1699 and eventually was purchased by the United States in 1803, up until the mid-1800s, none of that really made any difference in their lives other than through the occasional interaction with a French trapper who was passing through or stopping to trade.
In 1831, during a battle between rival tribes that took place around what is now Dodge City, Kansas, Warshinun and two other boys became separated from their people. Scared and hungry, they were eventually discovered by Thomas Fitzpatrick, an Irish trapper for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company who was in the area for an annual rendezvous. Fitzpatrick took Warshinun under his wing, renaming him Friday, enrolling him in a school in St. Louis, and taking him along on his travels when school was not in session. Friday learned fluent English as well as the ways of these relative newcomers who were slowly expanding into, and placing restrictions on, his own peoples’ land.
In 1843, while assisting Fitzpatrick in his work, the pair met up with an Arapaho tribe. One of the women recognized Warshinun as her son. He rejoined his people at that point, though he continued to have a close relationship with Fitzpatrick until the older man passed away in 1854. Friday was able to help broker trade deals and smooth over cultural misunderstandings between his tribe and the English-speaking interlopers, making himself a useful asset to his people and gaining their respect. They sometimes referred to him as the “Arapaho American.”
In 1851, the largest treaty council ever to take place occurred near Fort Laramie at Horse Creek. Between 10,000 and 15,000 Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains attended. Thomas Fitzpatrick, as Indian Agent, signed the treaty on behalf of the U.S., along with D. D. Mitchell, the Indian Superintendent for the West.
In the Horse Creek Treaty, the Northern Arapaho and the Cheyenne were reserved the land from around the area of Casper, Wyoming down to Trinidad, Colorado, and from the edge of the Rocky Mountains to sections of Kansas and Nebraska. The agreement included an annuity of $50,000 to be paid to the tribes for the next 50 years as well as the protection of the United States military against any attacks or other crimes by American citizens against the native peoples. (In 1852, Congress unilaterally changed the terms of the payout to 15 years without ever consulting anyone from the Plains Tribes.) In return, the First Nations would cease hostilities among themselves and others and they would allow the United States to build roads, military forts, and other posts within their territories.
Friday attended the council and was chosen to represent his tribe in a follow-up trip to Washington D. C. that December and January in which several indigenous leaders met with President Millard Fillmore, went site-seeing, and posed for portraits.
In 1858, Antoine Janis, a French trapper who had passed through the Poudre River valley in the 1830s, returned with his wife, First Elk Woman of the Oglala Sioux tribe. They settled just north of the river (near where Vern’s is today). When Janis had originally crossed through the valley, he said it was “black with buffalo” and the creeks ran high. Though the bison had become significantly diminished by the late 1850s, Janis still settled in the valley along with about 150 lodges of Arapaho, including Friday and his ten wives and children.
In that same year, gold was found in Little Dry Creek (now Englewood area), setting off the Pikes Peak Gold Rush of 1859. Suddenly the land that had been apportioned to the Arapaho and Cheyenne in the Treaty of Horse Creek became prime real estate. Small mining communities began to spring up in the mountains and along the Front Range, including Auroria, which was later swallowed up by Denver.
It was decided that another treaty should be made with the First Nations people. In 1861, the United States offered the Treaty of Fort Wise, presented by Albert G. Boone (the grandson of Daniel Boone). Friday refused to sign the document, which would have significantly shrunk the extent of his people’s land as well as moved them to an area, between what is now Limon and Rocky Ford that his tribe rarely, if ever, visited. (If you scroll back up to the map of the land that was secured for the Arapaho and Cheyenne in 1851, the bright green section near the lower middle shows the substantially reduced proposal of 1861.)
Remaining in the Poudre River valley (which he had not ceded ownership of), Friday petitioned the government to allow for a reservation that extended north of the Poudre river from Boxelder Creek to Crow Creek (around present day Timnath), north into Wyoming. Agent Simeon Whiteley ignored these requests, claiming that it would be unfeasible due to its proximity with the Overland stage route and the fact that sixteen EuroAmerican families were squatting (illegally… but with the full support of the territorial government) within the proposed reservation. Despite the fact that this land had already been apportioned to the Northern Arapaho and Cheyenne in 1851, it was essentially being treated by the United States government as having been ceded in the 1861 Treaty of Fort Wise, despite not having been ratified by all parties.
In 1862, a military camp was located near Antoine Janis’s home in Colona (now Laporte). Following a June 1864 flood, it was moved downriver and renamed Fort Collins. Also in June of that year, Nathan Hungate and his family were attacked and murdered in Southeastern Colorado. Though the murders in no way resembled a Native attack, the Arapaho and Cheyenne were blamed. This eventually lead to a merciless massacre at Sand Creek five months later in which about 230 people, mostly women and children, were murdered, despite the fact that the victims hoisted both an American flag and a white flag before the oncoming soldiers arrived in order to show their peaceful status. Despite the fact that these events took place over 200 miles away, they had a profound effect upon relationships in the northern part of the Colorado Territory. Retaliation by the indigenous peoples against military outposts was expected. Friday’s people, as well as those led by White Wolf, were considered “friendly Indians” and were ordered by Territorial Governor John Evans to settle themselves near Fort Collins, ostensibly to protect them from government agents sent out to quell any Native uprisings. Together there were about 170 people with Friday and White Wolf. They were no longer allowed to range around in search of game, which was already getting harder to find as it was, given that all of the local bison had been wiped out by that point. The soldiers did provide the people with some rations, but they were scant and it was a very difficult winter for the people.
Friday had a good relationship with many of the local EuroAmerican settlers. Several, such as Antoine Janis, Rock Bush, Benjamin Claymore, John Prost, Elias Whitcomb, and Oliver Goodwin had married Native women. Friday had also built relationships with John Coy and F. W. Sherwood, frequently camping on, or near, their properties along the Poudre river. Because of these relationships, he was able to find odd jobs that the men in his band could work on the farms and ranches of the EuroAmerican settlers. But the Washita Massacre in Oklahoma in 1868 further damaged U.S./Native relations and in 1869, Friday and his people were ordered to relocate to the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. In 1878, the Indigenous women that had married EuroAmericans were also expelled along with their children. Some men, like Antoine Janis, moved to the reservation with their wife and kids. But others sent their wives and children away and remained in Colorado, often remarrying.
Friday’s relationships with Thomas Fitzpatrick, Antoine Janis, and others who were respectful towards him and the First Nations, may have given Friday hope that his own people, and those who were moving into their lands, could get along peaceably. But others, such as John Chivington (of the Sand Creek Massacre), Governor John Evans, and others, felt that the Colorado territory belonged to the United States and that the Native peoples were simply an inconvenience that must be either controlled or eradicated. Through it all, Friday’s forbearance and wisdom enabled him to navigate the often murky, constantly shifting waters of diplomacy between the United States and the Northern Arapaho people. Though he was unsuccessful in securing a permanent reservation at the heart of his people’s ancestral homeland, he still managed to keep them alive during a tumultuous time when the American military was, with some frequency, wiping out entire groups of Native peoples. And it was also likely that, thanks to Friday, there was relative peace between the interlopers from the United States and the Native peoples within the Cache la Poudre and Big Thompson valleys.
Friday signed the Horse Creek treaty in 1851, which gave his and other tribes access to, and ownership of, much of the Front Range. That reservation of land was abolished by the American government in the 1860s, despite protests from both the Northern Arapaho and the Cheyenne. Those of us who now live in Northern Colorado have benefitted from this seizure of land. It would probably be impossible to offer sufficient restitution for that theft at this point. But at the very least we should acknowledge what happened as well as our resulting benefit. And we should be thankful for Friday, that he pointed us all towards a means of peace.
To the best of my knowledge, the only monument to Friday in Northern Colorado is a bust located on private land in a shopping center at Horsetooth and Shields in Fort Collins. (By contrast, Antoine Janis, at the same shopping center, also has a monument, prominently placed on the southeast corner of the intersection.) Kudos to the sculpture who made both statues and who has provided our only local memorial to Friday. But as a community, can’t we do better?
Colorado State University has posted a Land Acknowledgment statement. From what I hear, the City of Fort Collins is in the process of writing one. I haven’t heard if any other Northern Colorado municipalities are doing likewise. Fort Collins has also convened a diverse group of people to update the “Proposed Street Names” list in order to ensure that it encompasses all of Fort Collins’ history and not just that of the powerful or rich. Several names were recommended that covered local tribes and people, including Friday. There’s also the possibility of naming a square or plaza for Friday and adding interpretive signage.
But ideally, Fort Collins and other local municipalities would invite the Fridays (Friday’s descendants took Friday as their last name.) and other people descended from the tribes indigenous to this area and ask them what they would like to see happen to acknowledge their ancestors, their ancestral land, and the injustices that were done to their people.
Friday was a great man. He was smart, affable, thoughtful and peace-loving. It was because of him that the Euro-American settlers to the area were able to live in safety. Friday’s leadership was foundational to the founding of the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, but it was also foundational to the development of Fort Collins and Loveland. Friday’s collaborative spirit enabled homesteaders to come and live peaceably on land that Friday had every right to forcibly defend. His deference and careful negotiation kept White settlers safe. Sadly, most of the White settlers did not return the honor.
A note on names:
Among some First Nations tribes, names are less rigid than is generally found among people from other parts of the world. Whereas a European male may be born, live, and die with one name (and perhaps one nickname in addition), it was not uncommon among tribes such as the Arapaho, especially before they were heavily influenced by EuroAmerican culture, to have a variety of names that reflected their lives at various points. Though Friday had several names over time, it is the English name that seems to have been used most often, at least in recorded documents. Friday’s family honored the name as well by taking it on as their last name.
In many articles written about Friday, he is referred to as Chief Friday. Though he was clearly a leader of his people, there is mention in a few places that Friday eschewed the title of chief, explaining that that was a term reserved for those who lead their people into battle. So I chose to refer to Friday simply that way – Friday.
Sources for this article as well as other resources worth looking through if you want to dig deeper:
“People of the Poudre – Cache la Poudre National Heritage Area,” by Lucy Burris . Available online through Yumpu or through the Fort Collins History Connection website.
“Summaries of Primary Sources on Native American History at the Archive at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery from the report ‘People of the Poudre: Native Americans in Larimer County, Colorado: 12,000 y.a. – 1878,'” by Lucy Burris, 2006, as found on the website of the Archive at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.
“Mountain Man Thomas Fitzpatrick: Legendary ‘Broken Hand,'” by Joe Gannon.
“Horse Creek Treaty: Case Study,” by Native Knowledge, 360°. This website includes teacher and student materials as well as helpful summaries of the original documents in question.
Tribal Connections maps by the USDA are helpful in understanding what land was allotted in each treaty. Simply clicking on an area will cause a boundary line to be drawn around that point showing which “cession” that place belongs within. (Also see the home page that describes the purpose of the site.)
I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Brian Carroll who piqued my interest in Friday and who has collected a tremendous amount of information about him. Brian believes that we need to honor this incredible man in some way, and he was the one that started me thinking about how we memorialize Friday in Fort Collins and Northern Colorado.
Friday around 1851. (Image from the FC Archive, H05383, and on file with the Smithsonian.)
The picture of Friday as part of the delegation that was going to see President Millard Fillmore was found on American-Tribes.com.
Photo of Emily and John Coy was taken from Ansel Watrous’s History of Larimer County.
The cover of Broken Hand: The Life of Thomas Fitzpatrick Mountain Man, Guide and Indian Agent, by LeRoy R. Hafen, was found on Abebooks.com.
The group photo from 1875 is from the Library of Congress.
The photo of the statue of Friday at the Poudre Valley Plaza (SE corner of Horsetooth and Shields) was taken by me. That statue was done by sculptor Shelley Kerr.
Native Territory Mapping Site:
Native Land: This site enables you to enter a present day address and find out which tribes lived in that area as well as what treaties were made regarding that place.
A greatly abbreviated version of this same story was published in the November 2020 Senior Voice. I did not choose the title for the story (as you may surmise based on what I wrote above about Friday’s name).