The Ute Indians were a group of Indians that lived mostly around the mountainous area of Utah and Colorado near the Colorado River. But they sometimes lived in dessert areas also. The word Ute comes from the word eutaw or yuta which means dwellers on the top of mountains. Although it is not certain where they originated but it is assumed that they arrived to the Colorado and Utah area around 1000 A.D. The Ute Indians spoke a part of the Uto-Aztecan language called Numic.
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The Utes were divided into bands or a subdivision of a tribe. There were at one time eleven different bands of Ute Indians. The type of housing in each band depended on the material available. They lived in teepees, lodges, and domed shaped structures. The lodge shaped structure was the Ute’s traditional mean of shelter. These home were temporary because the Utes moved every season to hunt. The dome shelters were built out of willow branches over a pole frame. They were eight feet high and fifteen feet in diameter. They usually built their homes on a river or stream valley and were scattered to take advantage of wood, shade and other resources. In the winter they moved into lower elevations for the milder weather there.
Children were very important in the Ute Indian tribe. Every member was responsible for caring and the education of the youth. Babies were held in cradle boards that were either made of willow branches bundled together or a solid piece of wood. Willow bark was often used as diapers. Babies were cared for by girls nine and up. The babies were delivered in a special shelter that was set aside for giving birth. During the birth the mother is usually assisted by another female tribe member. The husband was expected to help the wife by keeping her warm by bringing lots of firewood. The umbilical cord was cut off with a stone knife. When the remaining part fell off the mother always saved it in a special pouch that was attached to the babies cradle board. When the baby learned to walk the mother placed the umbilical cord on a red ant hill. They thought that would help the ants industrious ways to rub off. The children were given many names and nicknames in their life. These names were given to them during various occasions during their life, like when they were born and when they learned how to walk. The children were educated by watching and helping their elders.
Everything that the Ute needed could be found in their territory. The western part of the Ute territory ate more of plant life. The diet of the eastern part consisted mainly of meat. But the Ute only practiced agriculture for a brief period of time. A major plant resource was nuts that were found in the pinon pine tree’s cone. The nuts were gathered by knocking them off the tree with long sticks. During the pinon harvesting season deer were also hunted for their venison. Besides those foods the Ute also ate wild potatoes, various roots, berries, and fruit. Food was prepared in many ways such as using them in stews or drying them for winter. Crickets and grasshoppers were sometimes used in stews for extra taste. They also grew tobacco for use in religious ceremonies or in tribal customs.
Men also went hunting when not helping with the collection of berries and nuts. The Ute hunted and fished many things. Some of the things they hunted were buffalo, elk, whitetail deer, mule deer, antelope, mountain sheep, moose, jackrabbits, cottontail rabbits. They also hunted birds and various insects. The bow and arrow was their main tool for hunting. They had two types of bows, wooden and horn bows. The wooden bows were long, thin pieces of wood. The horn bows were made out of mountain sheeps horns. They were split and shaped, next sinew was wrapped around them to give them more strength. The arrows were about two feet long with a fire hardened end and a stone point. When hunting fish they either speared them or shot them with a special barbed arrow. In the winter shelters were built on frozen lakes and holes were cut into the ice for fishing.
The Ute dressed simply but some of their clothing was decorated with beads and patterns. The men often dressed in a deerskin breechcloth or leggings. When colder they wore a deerskin shirt. They wore moccasins or sandals on their feet. The woman wore skirts or long dresses all made out of deerskin wove with bark or reeds. The Ute also liked to wear jewelry. They wore small polished bones in their noses. They wore necklaces made of materials like animal claws, bone beads, stones and sometimes seeds. On special occasions they would paint their faces with white, black, red, blue or green face paints.
The Ute weren’t just all work and no play. They took a lot of time to play games. They played such games as dice, where if someone rolled certain symbols they would win. They also played games that were similar to baseball and kickball. A favorite game among the men was a dart game where someone would roll a hoop out in front of a person with the darts and the person would try to throw the darts in the middle of the hoop.
Today there are about seven thousand Utes still remaining. Many of them still remain in the Colorado, Utah area. There are a few reservations in that area. The remaining Utes today are troubled with unemployment and alcohol abuse is a serious problem for them. Most of this is caused by lack of education and skills training. The Ute reservation recently opened a casino which gave many Utes a job. It also gave them an opportunity to have a better life and a more hopeful future.