Story Behind the Name: Little Raven Trail
July 5, 2023
Photo by J. Gurney & Son (1871)
Little Raven Trail is a small street connecting a wide circling loop of Legend Ridge Trail in the Niwot’s Legend Ridge subdivision. The name “Little Raven” is a reference to a Southern Arapaho Chieftain, who came from the same tribe as Chief Niwot, the namesake of the town of Niwot. The two chieftains’ stories are interconnected.
Little Raven (1810-1889) was an Arapaho Chief who lived in the area which would become part of Denver, Colorado, including the area along the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. Like Chief Niwot, he was known throughout his life as a peacemaker.
Little Raven negotiated peace between several different tribes, including the Cheyanne, Kiowa, Plains Apache, Comanche, and his own Arapaho. During the 1858 Gold Rush he, along with Chief Niwot, welcomed the white settlers to the area, thinking they might leave after they found all the gold in the hills. He was wrong. And soon, he was faced with the force of the white settlers and their government upon his tribe’s lands and way of life.
Little Raven tried to keep peace between his tribe and the settlers, but was forced to sign unfavorable treaties that were often broken by the settlers, even after the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864, where between 150 to 250 peaceful Cheyanne and Arapaho people were slaughtered in southeastern Colorado, including Chief Niwot. Little Raven survived only because his camp happened to be set up on the opposite side of the area that came under attack.
Little Raven negotiated the Little Arkansas Treaty in 1865, which was to establish reservations for many tribes. It was broken less than 18 months later and the reservations did not materialize.
The betrayal of yet another peace treaty caused him to be forced to move to a reservation eventually formed in Oklahoma in 1867 as part of the Medicine Lodge Treaty. It was recorded that he was frustrated and rightfully angry about the slaughter of his people and mistreatment of his tribe. But Little Raven still kept to his moral values and remained a pacifist. When Little Raven was offered a Peace Medal in 1871 by President Ulysses S. Grant, he refused, stating that he had never been at war with the white people.
The Arapaho tribe does not own any land in Colorado today. The only Native American reservation is a small strip of the state belonging to the Ute tribe in the southwest corner of Colorado. Chief Little Raven died on a reservation in Oklahoma in 1889.
The name of the street in Niwot and a ski trail near Brainard Lake are just some of the tributes to this lesser-known figure who played an important role in Colorado history.