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Dossier: Arapaho and Cheyenne Tribes Camped Near & Traded with Brighton

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

Sleuthing Brighton Colorado, with a full Investigative Report by the Brighton History Detective®(aka Robin Kring)

Case Number: 00006, Identify Mural Subject

Mural Location: “Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza” by Hans Joseph Geist

Subject Identified: Chief Niwot (Left Hand) Traded with Brighton Pioneers

ARAPAHO AND CHEYENNE TRIBES [pictured, Chief Niwot (Left Hand), c. 1825–1864], Camped Near South Platte River and Traded with Pioneers. Arapaho and Cheyenne Tribes inhabited this area, with its South Platte River resource, as early as 1800. The buffalo, Native Americans, and beaver trappers followed the trail along the life-sustaining river. Chief Niwot (translated to English as “Chief Left Hand”), chief of the Arapaho, was friendly with the pioneers who had settled south of present-day Brighton.

The South Platte River would also be essential to Brighton’s early pioneers, in transforming the dry landscapes of the Plains into a rich, fertile area. Five men, William Hazzard, George Hazzard, Andrew Hagus, Thomas Donelson and James Blundell, who came to Colorado in 1859 as gold-seekers, soon found out that crops provided a better income. By 1860, George Griffin, Frank Aichelman, and John and Louis Reithmann, joined the original pioneers.

Homesteading south of present-day Brighton, they dug ditches to divert water from the South Platte River to their farms. In 1860, eight farmers joined Samuel Brantner to dig the Brantner Ditch on the west side of present-day Brighton. The water rights for the Fulton Ditch were filed in 1865. Both ditch companies still exist today and continue to serve as an essential component of the agricultural industry in Colorado's northeastern plains.

The Arapaho and Cheyenne camped along South Platte River and traded with the area’s early pioneers. Chief Niwot spent the latter years trying to establish a peaceful agreement between Indigenous nations of the Great Plains and the thousands of gold seekers converging on Colorado. Tragically, he was killed in the American Indian War in the Sand Creek Massacre of Nov. 29, 1864, an event he had worked tirelessly to prevent.

Before the war, Niwot, often camped near the early pioneers' homesteads and was on friendly terms with the pioneer families. According to a Donelson family account, Grandma Donelson said Chief Lefthand liked to visit and “beg a little to eat, and sometimes to talk trade or ‘swap’.” One day the grandmother offered the chief and old shirt of the grandfather. Although she said Niwot was “much pleased with the shirt,” there was a large hole in it that she started to mend. The chief squatted down in front of her while she sewed, indicating that he saw another small hole ― and, then another. In fact, each time she got one hole mended, the chief would have his finger in another hole. She loved to tell the story of how she sewed on the shirt most of the afternoon. And, was especially proud to say that after he put it on, the chief was very proud of the shirt.

Many traders from the east also traveled to the South Platte, abundant with beavers. Top hats, made with beaver felted beaver fur, were an essential and prestigious aspect of men’s fashion across Europe from the late 16th to mid-19th century. American men also adopted this symbol of social status, often passing the valuable item on from father to son as a family heirloom. By the 17th century, the demand of beaver pelts led to the near extinction of the European beaver population. This was a boom to American mountain men becoming a leading supplier to the European Hat makers, selling the pelts of beavers they trapped themselves, or traded for in knives, beads, and vermillion from Native Americans.

©2023 Robin Kring, including excerpts from A Postcard History of Brighton

Discover More About the Artist and the Detective

Learn more about the Artist, Hans Joseph Geist, behind the Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza mural, in the Brighton History Detective® dossier, The Case of the New Mural and its Artist (Hans Joseph Geist). See more of Hans art at: Art by Hans Geist on Facebook.

Find more Investigative Case Reports, by Brighton History Detective®, each revealing the identity of one of the 20 intriguing Brighton characters and places, painted on the mural. Investigate the sleuthing and writing stories of yesteryear, mystery, and intrigue on the Clear Creek Publishing Authors Blog site, including: New Fiction, Victoriana, Event Planning Extraordinaire, Colorado History, and Cemetery Chats.

The Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza mural is located on the southwest corner of Main St. and Bridge St., in Brighton, Colorado. The mural is a project of the Brighton Cultural Arts Commission, whose mission is to increase arts and culture awareness and promote cultural and scientific opportunities in our community. It has been made possible with funding from the SCFD and Brighton Lodging Tax Grants.

®Brighton History Detective is a registered trademark of Clear Creek Publishing.

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