ute people

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Ute people/ˈjuːt/ are Native Americans of the Ute tribe and culture. They are now living primarily in Utah and Colorado. The Ute are in the Great Basin classification of Indigenous People.

They have three Ute tribal reservations: Uintah-Ouray in northeastern Utah (3,500 members); Southern Ute in Colorado (1,500 members); and Ute Mountain which primarily lies in Colorado, but extends to Utah and New Mexico (2,000 members). The majority of Ute are believed to live on one of these reservations. The State of Utah is named after these people.

The primary language of the Ute people is English. However, some of the people still speak their ancestral Ute language. It is related to the Southern Paiute language and belongs to the Southern subdivision of the Numic branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family.


Before Mexican settlers arrived, the Utes occupied significant portions of what are today eastern Utah, western Colorado, including the San Luis Valley, and parts of New Mexico and Wyoming. The Utes were never a unified group within historic times; instead, they consisted of numerous nomadic bands that maintained close associations with other neighboring groups. Some of the largest known groups were the Capote, Moache, Moanumts, Parianuche, Taviwach, Weeminuche, and Yamperika. Also the Uintah or Uinta, Uncompahgre tribe and White River Utes.

Unlike many other tribal groups in this region, the Utes have no tradition or evidence of historic migration to the areas now known as Colorado and Utah—and ancestors of the Ute appear to have occupied this area or nearby areas for at least a thousand years. The last partial migration of the Utes within this area was in the year 1885, as the tribes were coalescing on the reservations.


The aged leader Chief Sowiette (a brother of Chief Walkara, who had died 10 years before) explained that the Ute people did not want to sell their land and go away, asking why the groups couldn’t live on the land together. Chief Sanpitch (another brother of Walkara) also spoke against the treaty. However, advised by Brigham Young that these were the best terms they could get, the leaders signed. The treaty provided that the Utes give up their lands in central Utah, including the Corn Creek, Spanish Fork, and San Pete Reservations. Only the Uintah Valley Reservation remained. They were to move into it within one year, and be paid $25,000 a year for ten years, $20,000 for the next twenty years, and $15,000 for the last thirty years. (This was payment of about 62.5 cents per acre for all land in Utah and Sanpete Counties.) However, Congress did not ratify the treaty; therefore, the government did not pay the promised annuity. Nevertheless, in succeeding years most of the Utah Ute people were removed to the Uintah Reservation.” Though many historians refer to Sowiette and San-Pitch and their people as Utes, at the time of this treaty, they were the Utah Indians or Timpanogos, and may have been a Shoshonean people who only became Utes after they moved to the Uintah Reservation and joined other Utes there.


Like other Plains Indian tribes the Utes were skilled warriors who specialized in horse mounted combat. War with neighboring tribes was mostly fought for gaining prestige, stealing horses, and revenge. Prior to a raid warriors would organize themselves into war parties made up of warriors, medicine men, and a war chief which led the party. To prepare themselves for battle Ute warriors would often fast, participate in sweat lodge ceremonies, and paint their faces and horses for special symbolic meanings. The Utes were master horsemen and could execute daring maneuvers on horseback while in battle. Unlike other plains people the Ute did not have warrior societies with the exception of the Southern Utes which developed them late and were dissolved after they went onto reservations. Warriors were exclusively men but women often followed behind war parties to help gather loot and sing songs. Women also performed the Lame Dance to symbolize having to pull or carry heavy loads of loot after a raid. The Utes used a variety of weapons including lances, bows, tomahawks, war clubs, and knives, as well as rifles, shotguns, and pistols which were obtained through raiding or trading.


A series of treaties established a small reservation in 1864 in northeast Utah, and a reservation in 1868, which included the western third of modern Colorado. The latter included land claimed by other tribes. Their lands were whittled away until only the modern reservations were left: a large cession of land in 1873 transferred the gold-rich San Juan area, which was followed in 1879 by the loss of most of the remaining land after the “Meeker Massacre“.

Eventually, the various bands of Utes were consolidated onto three reservations. Several of these bands maintain separate identities as part of the Ute tribal organizations. Although initially large and located in areas that white settlers deemed undesirable (occupying parts of Utah and most of western Colorado), the territory of the reservations was repeatedly reduced by various government actions, and encroachment by white settlers and mining interests. In the 20th century, several U.S. federal court decisions restored portions of the original reservation land to the Ute Tribes’ jurisdiction and awarded monetary compensations for losses.


The *Ute Mountain Ute are descendants of the Weminuche band, who moved to the

*The Ute people were hunters and gatherers who moved on foot to hunting

hunter gatherer

grounds and gathering land based upon the season. The men hunted animals, including deer, antelope, buffalo, rabbits, and other small mammals and birds. Women gathered grasses, nuts, berries, roots, and greens in woven baskets; They also processed and stored meat and plant materials for winter use. Ute in the western part of their territory lived in wickiups and ramadas; Hide tipis were used in the eastern reaches of their territory.


In 1906 an agreement was made to trade Utes out of Mesa Verde National Park for land on Utah border. In 1905 the U.S. Government allotted new reservations with 80 to 160 acre plats for farming and access to communal grazing areas; This reduced the Ute land holdings by more than 85%, limited water access and limited the viability of successful livestock ranching. The remainder of the land was opened for white entry. In 1918 the Consolidated Ute Indian Reservation is established.


The population was 1,687 as of the 2000 census.

western end of the Southern Ute Reservation in 1897. (They were led by Chief Ignacio, for whom the eastern capital is named). The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Reservation is located near Towaoc, Colorado.

As of the census of 2000, there were 1,069 people, 329 households, and 266 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 317.4 people per square mile (122.4/km²). There were 366 housing units at an average density of 105.9 per square mile (40.8/km²). The racial makeup of the CDP was 2.83% White, 0.09% African American, 94.44% Native American, 0.46% from other races, and 2.19% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.46% of the population.

There were 329 households out of which 52.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.2% were married couples living together, 32.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 19.1% were non-families. 16.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 1.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.30 and the average family size was 3.68.

In the CDP the population was spread out with 40.9% under the age of 18, 9.7% from 18 to 24, 35.1% from 25 to 44, 10.8% from 45 to 64, and 3.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 25 years. For every 100 females there were 96.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.7 males.

The median income for a household in the CDP was $1,405, and the median income for a family was $1,796. Males had a median income of $1,583 versus $1,658 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $531. About 9.0% of families and 2.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 49.3% of those under age 18 and 27.3% of those age 65 or over.

It includes small sections of Utah and New Mexico. The Ute Mountain Tribal Park abuts Mesa Verde National Park and includes many Ancestral Pueblan ruins. The White Mesa Community of Utah (near Blanding) is part of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe but is largely autonomous.

Modern challenges

Gradual assimilation into majority culture has presented both challenges and opportunities for the Utes. The current conditions of the Utes are similar to those of many Native Americans living on reservations. Cultural differences between the Utes and the rest of America have contributed to pockets of poverty, educational difficulties and societal marginalization, although the Southern Ute Tribe is financially successful.

souther ute indian reservation


The United States also made treaties with various bands of Ute in 1855, 1865, and 1866, which the Senate failed to ratify. Initially given the whole of eastern Colorado for a reservation, the discovery of gold there in the 1860s brought a quick reduction in territory. The treaty with the Ute in 1865 provided for the cession of land in exchange for the entire valley of the Uintah River in Utah, plus $25,000 per year for ten years, then $20,000 for 20 years, and thereafter $15,000 per year, based on an estimated population of 5,000 Ute. The treaty also banned liquor and provided for the establishment and maintenance of a *manual labor school for ten years.

*schools in the United States which required students to perform manual labor, usually agricultural or mechanical work


During the late 1870s a railroad line was built that cut through the reservation. White settlers arrived to build and work on the railroad. There were many quarrels between the Indians and the settlers over use of the land. Tensions increased and an incident known as the Beaver Massacre occurred in which 11 Indians were killed by stockmen who accused them of butchering some of the settlers’ cattle. The Meeker Massacre occurred on Sept. 29, 1879 when the Indian agent Nathan Meeker and his men were killed. During this event the Indians took Meeker’s wife and daughters as hostages. They were eventually released. Another treaty was created in 1880, in this treaty the southern Utes agreed to settle on the La Plate River within their reservation. During the 1880s the government sought trying to keep the peace between the Indians and the settlers. Indian fairs became a big event on the Southern Ute Reservation starting in 1907. At first the Indians were judged separately but by 1916 the Utes were in open competition with their neighbors. The Indians did well with their exhibits and won their fair share of prizes. The Durango newspaper reported “Awards given out yesterday show that the agency and farm has not a single ‘loafing Indian’. The Utes have been successful, [as] perhaps no other reservation in the United States could boast in a competition with whites at a county fair”. The superintendent reported there were no Indian dances (which were discouraged) at any of the fairs. In 1895 The Hunter Act distributed the land in the reservation in plots to the heads of households in the Mouache and Capote tribes. The Weeminuche tribe had approved an 1888 congressional bill relocating them to San Juan County, Utah, however this bill did not pass so the Weeminuche were brought back to Colorado. They refused to go back to the old grounds of the agency so they established camps on the western end of the Southern Ute Reservation. With the three tribes given their land the final provisions of the Hunter Act were implemented opening over 500,000 acres of the Reservation to non-native settlers.


ute mountain colorado headstart child development center:


Our Head Start Program enrolls children ages 3 to 5.  The children transition into Kindergarten in nearby Cortez, Colorado. The service area for the Head Start is the Ute Mountain Ute reservation and there are 56 funded slots.   The Center opens at 7:30 and closes at 5:00. Head Start sessions are Monday through Thursday for 3 ½ hours ending at 1:00. Transportation is provided.  All day children are transitioned into the Child Care at 1:00.


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