The Ute Indian Tribe

Learn about the history, culture, way of life, and current situation of the Ute Indian tribe.

The Ute Indians, for whom the State of Utah is named, ranged across the Colorado Plateau for thousands of years prior to the arrival of the white man. The name Ute means "˜land of the Sun.' There were originally seven Ute tribes located in and around the Rocky Mountains. These were the Uintah, the Yampa, the Grand River, the Tabaguache, the Mouache, the Capote and the Weeminuche. These tribes were scattered over an area comprising some 150,000 square miles. The Utes encompass both forest dwellers as well as the more nomadic desert inhabitants. The forest dwelling Utes subsisted on wild game and fish, whereas the desert Utes would travel to find their food and resources.

The Utes originally lived in wickiups. These were conical, pole framed shelters that were covered with juniper bark or tule. Later they were to adapt to the tepee, which they borrowed from the Plains Indians. It was the task of the women to make and construct the tepee. The bow used by the Utes were made of cedar, chokecherry and sheep horn. Knives were made from flint. Blankets would be made from rabbit skin. Clothing would be of fringed buckskin.

The Utes practised polygamy. A man would customarily marry sisters. He would also take into his family the widow of his brother. Shamans were powerful medicine men who , it was believed, could control the weather. The powers of the Shaman came from dreams. The Utes are a religious people who practice an animalistic type of worship. The major events of their spiritual calendar are the Bear Dance, which is held annually in the Spring time. The Sun Dance is held annually in the middle of Summer. The ceremony involves a four day fast, during which the participant is housed inside the Sundance Lodge. The participant undergoes a quest for spiritual power that involves some physically challenging tasks. If he is successful in going through these tests, he will receive his "˜medicine bundle.'

The language of the Utes is of Shoshonean origin. The other American Indian tribes who speak a derivation of Shoshonean are the Paiutes, the Goshutes, the Shoshones, the Bannocks and the Commanches. Today, English is the most commonly spoken language on the reservation.

The Utes endeavoured to live in harmony with nature. They never killed more game than they needed and would try to leave the landscape in an unspoilt condition.

Prior to the arrival of the horse, the Utes travelled on foot. The travels of the nomads would be in accordance with seasonal changes. While the men would hunt, the women were busy gathering seed grasses, nuts, berries, roots and greens. Life changed dramatically with the arrival of the horse, acquired from the Spanish. The Ute were soon raising horses, as well as cattle and sheep. They were now also able to engage upon communal bison hunts. By 1830, however, the bison had virtually disappeared from Ute territory. They would engage in raiding parties. They became respected warriors and feared enemies. The Utes also became involved in the trading of horses as well as in the slave trade. With the coming of the Mormons, the southern Utes were pressured to adopt a more agrarian lifestyle. The Northern Utes, however resisted the farming way of life. They felt that it was folly to stay in one place. The Mormons, however, continued to settle down on more and more of their land. The Northern Utes embarked on a series of raids against Mormon settlers. This led to what has become known as the Walker War, fought during 1853 and 1854. In 1869 the defeated Northern Utes were forced onto the Uintah Valley Reservation.

Chief Ouray was the last great Utah chief. In the 1870's he travelled with his wife to Washington, D.C. to try to speak to the "˜Great Father', in order to save his people from being moved to the reservation. But after some of his tempestuous young warriors wreaked havoc in what has come to be known as the Meeker massacre, Ouray's people were moved to a reservation at Ignacio, Colorado.

Today, the Utes have diversified to include a number of different income sources for the reservations. Farming, cattle grazing, the building of water systems and the pumping of reservation petroleum all contribute to the local economy. Of course, the Utes are also capitalising on their heritage, with tourism related activities also adding to the Reservation economy.

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