Monday, February 12, 2018

History, Culture, Language and Lands of the Ute Indian Tribe

History, Culture, Language and Lands of the Ute Indian Tribe
The Ute or Shoshone Branch.

The northern, or Ute branch, which I so call from its most prominent member, includes the Shoshonees, Utes and Comanches, with their numerous sub-tribes and affiliated bands. They occupied at the beginning of this century an immense area, now included in south-eastern Oregon, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, parts of California, New Mexico and Arizona, northern and western Texas, and the states of Durango and Chihuahua in Mexico. Other names by which they are known in this area are Snakes, Bannocks, Moquis, etc. Everywhere their tongue is unmistakably the same. “Any one speaking the Shoshonee language may travel without difficulty among the wild tribes from Durango, in Mexico, to the banks of the Columbia River.”[ Their war parties scoured the country from the Black Hills of Dakota far into the interior of Mexico.
So far as can be ascertained, the course of migration of this group, like that of the whole stock, has been in a general southerly direction. The Comanche traditions state that about two hundred winters ago they lived as one people with the Shoshone somewhere
to the north of the head-waters of the Arkansas River. This is borne out by similar traditions among the northern Shoshone. That very careful student, Mr. George Gibbs, from a review of all the indications, reached the conclusion that the whole group came originally from the east of the Rocky Mountain chain, and that the home of its ancestral horde was somewhere between these mountains and the Great Lakes. This is the opinion I have also reached from an independent study of the subject, and I believe it is as near as we can get to the birth-place of this important stock.


This stock presents the extreme of both linguistic and physical development. No tongue on the continent was more cultured than the Nahuatl, and so were those who spoke it. The wretched root-digging Utes, on the other hand, present the lowest type of skulls anywhere found in America. The explanation is easy. It was owing to their lack of nutrition. Living on the arid plains of the interior, little better than deserts, they had for generations been half starved. They were not agricultural, but lived along the streams, catching fish, and making a poor bread from the seeds of the wild sun-flower and the chenopodium. Their houses were brush huts, or lodges of dressed buffalo skins; and where the winters
 were cold, they dug holes in the ground in which they huddled in indescribable filth.
Very much superior to these are the Comanches. A generation or two ago they numbered about fifteen thousand, and were one of the most formidable nations of the west. Now they have diminished to that many hundreds, and live peaceably on reservations. They are tall (1.70) and well formed, the skull mesocephalic, the eyes horizontal, the nose thin, the color light. Agriculture is not a favorite occupation, but they are more reasonable and willing to accept a civilized life than their neighbors, the Apaches or the Kioways. They had little government, and though polygamists, the women among them exercised considerable influence. Like the Utes, they are sun-worshippers, applying to that orb the term “father sun,” taab-apa, and performing various dances and other rites in his honor. The serpent would seem also to come in for a share of their reverence, their tribal sign in the gesture speech of the plain being that for a snake, and indeed they are often called Snake Indians. Not less interesting is it to find throughout all these tribes, Ute and Comanche, the deification of the coyote, which occupies so prominent a niche in the pantheon of the Aztecan tribes and those who have borrowed from them. According to the Ute myths, the wolf and the coyote were the first two brothers from whom the race had its origin, and to the latter were attributed all the good things in the world.

As we approach the southern border of the group, the stage of culture becomes higher. The natives of the Pueblo of Moqui, whose curious serpent-worship has been so well described by Captain Bourke, are of this stock, and illustrate its capacity for developing a respectable civilization. The Kizh and Netela, who were attached to the mission of San Capistrano, were also Shoshonees.