the Spanish arrived in the Southwest, the people they called
the Yutas, or Utes, ranged across much of present-day Colorado,
northern New Mexico, and Utah. According to anthropologists,
the Utes were organized into loosely defined bands, but the
basic social unit was the extended family, which could most
efficiently utilize the available natural resources. These
small family units of perhaps ten to forty people followed
a seasonal migration pattern, moving into the higher country
in the spring and summer and returning to lower elevations
in the autumn. They hunted deer, elk, antelope, and occasionally
mountain buffalo and other animals and gathered seeds, fruits,
and wild berries in the summer and fall.
extended family had a recognized use area. Every autumn the
Utes moved southward out of the high country of southern Colorado
to exploit the antelope herds in the canyon and mesa country
south of the San Juan Mountains. In spring they gathered in
large groups for the annual Bear Dance, which was an important
ceremonial and social event, and then moved into the high
mountain valleys of the San Juans and the Uncompahgre Plateau.
they were a nomadic people, the Utes had a relatively simple
material culture, but that changed dramatically after the
arrival of the Spanish. Like other Indians in the Southwest,
the Utes began to acquire horses, which revolutionized their
way of life. Because of their proximity to Spanish settlements
in New Mexico, the Utes had relatively easy access to horses
and quickly amassed large herds, which allowed them to trade
the animals to other tribes. Horses greatly increased the
Utes' mobility and made their life easier by enhancing their
ability to utilize the available food resources. Hunters could
now travel over greater distances, and the tribe could exploit
the food resources of a larger area. Thus, the Utes began
to consolidate into larger camps. The band replaced the family
as the basic social unit, and large Ute camps were now able
to travel to the Great Plains to hunt buffalo. The organization
of large camps and large hunting expeditions led to the development
of more powerful and influential leaders, and the movement
to the Great Plains to hunt brought the Utes into contact
with hostile Plains Indians, spurring the rise of war leaders.
Indians such as Cheyennes, Arapahos, and Comanches often tried
to keep Utes off of the buffalo grounds and raided traditional
Ute areas in the mountains. The Utes learned from their Plains
adversaries, adopting the tepee and utilizing buffalo hides
for items of clothing. The Utes also copied Plains techniques
of using quill, bone, and paint for decoration, and about
1900 they adopted the Plains Indian Sun Dance.
Ute bands became more clearly defined, four laid claim to
the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado: the Muache,
Capote, Weeminuche, and Tabeguache (Uncompahgre). The Muache
lived in the mountains of the Front Range in southern Colorado
and northern New Mexico, ranging as far north as the present
site of Denver and as far south as Santa Fe. The Capotes frequented
the San Luis Valley and the adjacent region of New Mexico,
especially the Chama Valley area, but they and the Muache
hunted as far east as the Texas panhandle. The Weeminuche
were located west of the Continental Divide and north of the
San Juan River and made use in particular of the La Plata
and San Miguel Mountains. The Tabeguache inhabited the valleys
of the Gunnison and Uncompahgre Rivers in Colorado, the northern
part of the San Luis Valley, and the area of South Park. Other
Ute bands inhabited northern Colorado and Utah.
the Utes traveled through this country, they used trails that
subsequently have been replaced by modern highways. They crossed
passes such as Poncha and Cochetopa in the east and Dallas
Divide in the west. Both Vallecito Creek and the Los Pinos
River provided routes to the north, and Baker's Park, which
later became the site of Silverton, was a summer camp area.
In the late nineteenth century the present site of Vallecito
Reservoir was a favorite recreation area, and future tribal
leader Buckskin Charley frequently camped there. The Utes
enjoyed hot springs such as Pagosa Springs and those in the
vicinity of Ouray, Ridgway, Hermosa, and Dunton. They hunted
in the high San Juans, on Grand Mesa, and on the Uncompahgre
Plateau and took refuge in sheltered valleys such as the Mancos
during cold weather. Today much of the route of the San Juan
Skyway follows traditional Ute trails.
1848 and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which transferred
present-day New Mexico, Arizona, southern Colorado, southern
Utah, and southern California to the United States, the Utes
generally were on good terms with the Spanish and then with
the Mexicans, despite suffering from slave-raiding expeditions
by the Spanish. Gradually, however, white settlement in the
vicinity of Taos and up the Chama Valley encroached on land
that the Utes saw as theirs. This trend would accelerate after
the Mexican War, the United States and the Utes signed a treaty
of peace and friendship in 1849 in which the Utes recognized
the jurisdiction of the United States. Soon thereafter settlers
from New Mexico moved north into Ute territory in the San
Luis Valley, and a few years later the 1859 gold rush to Colorado
brought hordes of newcomers to the area. These two events
marked the beginning of a new phase in Ute history and established
what would become the major theme in Ute-U.S. relations in
the nineteenth century: constant pressure by the United States
on the Ute land base. The first mining camps developed in
areas that had not been purchased from any Indian tribes,
and thus mining interests were constantly demanding that Indians,
including Utes, be removed from those areas. The resulting
series of treaties and agreements, negotiated over approximately
twenty years, reduced the Ute land base to a thin sliver along
the Colorado-New Mexico border.
1863, at the behest of Coloradans, the United States negotiated
with the Utes for the acquisition of the San Luis Valley and
other areas of Colorado. The treaty provided an indication
of things to come: only the Tabeguache Utes signed the treaty,
whereas the Capote Utes, to whom the San Luis Valley actually
belonged, did not sign the treaty. Virtually all subsequent
agreements would be marked by some kind of chicanery by the
United States and its representatives.
for Ute land continued, and in 1868 a Ute delegation was taken
to Washington and encouraged to agree to a second cession.
By the Treaty of 1868, the Utes were restricted to a rectangular
reservation that lay mostly west of the Continental Divide.
The Utes retained the area west of approximately Pagosa Springs
and south of the present-day Moffat County line. The government
promised to exclude all non-Utes except for government officials
and pledged to create two agencies, one of which would be
located on the Rio de Los Pinos The government wished to encourage
the Utes to become farmers, but it established the Los Pinos
Agency on a previously unnamed creek in the Cochetopa Hills
at a high elevation rather than in the more fertile Rio de
Los Pinos region in present-day La Plata County. Moreover,
the new agency was not even within the boundaries of the reservation.
almost immediately violated the terms of the treaty by participating
in a mining rush into the San Juan Mountains. Soon miners
were active in the vicinity of the present-day communities
of Lake City, Silverton, Ouray, Rico, Durango, and Hesperus.
The Utes protested the presence of miners; some tribal leaders
attempted to persuade the miners to leave the reservation,
whereas others threatened to drive them out. Colorado officials
sought to solve the problem by reducing the size of the reservation,
but efforts to do so in 1872 failed; the Utes insisted that
the government enforce previous treaties and prevent trespass
on their lands. At one point federal officials were preparing
to use the army to expel non-Ute trespassers, but howls of
outrage by Coloradans caused the government to cease such
efforts and to seek instead a new agreement to reduce the
size of the reservation.
1873 the United States renewed its efforts to purchase the
San Juan mining country and succeeded in negotiating the Brunot
Agreement, which was ratified in 1874. By this agreement,
the United States acquired a block of land with a northern
boundary approximately at present-day Ridgway and a southern
boundary just south of present-day Durango. However, the Brunot
Agreement was blatantly fraudulent; the Utes thought they
were selling only the mines, but by the terms of the pact
they lost an entire block of territory. The testimony of Utes
and reliable Anglo observers unanimously supports the Ute
position. The agreement also specifically reserved for the
Utes an area between Ouray and Ridgway known as Uncompahgre
Park. However, soon thereafter non-Indians moved into the
area, and the Utes were never able to retain possession. During
the 1870s the government also closed the Ute agencies in New
Mexico and removed the Utes from the vicinity of Cimarron
and from the Abiquiu and Tierra Amarilla areas of the Chama
Valley, placing them all in southern Colorado.
continued to seek further reductions of the Ute reservation,
and the Meeker Massacre in 1879 gave them an excuse to accomplish
that objective. Under the terms of an agreement concluded
the year following the uprising, the Northern Utes, who had
participated in the affair, were moved to Utah. The treaty
provided that the friendly Tabeguache or Uncompahgre Utes
should be moved to the junction of the Colorado and Gunnison
rivers if sufficient arable land was available there. However,
the government chose to ignore this provision and sent these
Utes to Utah as well. These people once inhabited the area
crossed by the northern part of the San Juan Skyway, and their
leader, Ouray, had houses near the hot springs on the eastern
side of the present-day town bearing his name and in the vicinity
of Montrose, Colorado.
events left the Weeminuche, Capote, and Muache as the only
remaining Ute bands in Colorado, and they occupied a narrow
strip of land that was 15 miles wide and 110 miles long on
the southern boundary of Colorado. In the fifteen years following
the agreement of 1880, Coloradans attempted to have the remaining
three Ute bands removed from their state. Every session, the
Colorado congressional delegation introduced bills to secure
the expulsion of the Utes. In 1895 legislation finally passed
to provide for the allotment of land to Utes on the reservation.
In keeping with the general thrust of federal Indian policy,
the bill provided that land would be allotted to individual
adult Indians and would be held in trust for them for twenty-five
years, at which time a fee simple patent would be issued.
Because many Utes opposed the agreement, the government decided
to make the allotments on the eastern part of the reservation
and leave the western half for those who wished to live in
traditional communal camps.
1896 land had been allotted to 371 Utes, and soon thereafter the
unallotted land on the eastern part of the reservation was made
available to white settlers. As a result, the eastern portion of
the, reservation, now known as the Southern Ute Reservation, is
a checkerboard of Indian and non-Indian ownership. The Utes who
opposed allotment, largely members of the Weeminuche band under
the leadership of Chief Ignacio, moved to the western portion of
the reservation. In time a subagency was established for them at
Navajo Springs, although eventually it moved to the present location
at Towaoc. In time, the western part of the reservation was established
as a separate jurisdiction and became known as the Ute Mountain
early twentieth century was a time of transition for the Southern
Utes. They had to adjust not only to reservation life but
also to the shrinkage of their land base caused by the allotment
and the sale of surplus land to non-Indians. Gradually they
began to rely on agriculture and stock raising to replace
the traditional activities of hunting and gathering. The goal
of federal Indian policy was to "civilize" American
Indians, to destroy traditional culture and replace it with
the culture of white Americans. The Bureau of Indian Affairs
agency at Ignacio provided the focal point for these programs.
Schools were located at the agency and at Fort Lewis (south
of modern Hesperus, Colorado), which was transferred from
the army to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1891.
these years, Buckskin Charley and Severo were the principal leaders
of the Southern Ute Reservation. Severo died in 1913, and Buckskin
Charley continued to fill that role until his own death in 1936.
That same year the Southern Utes formally accepted the Indian Reorganization
Act and adopted a constitution that provided for a chairman and
a tribal council. In subsequent years the Southern Utes developed
an efficient tribal government with administrative departments to
manage fish and wildlife, oil and gas, irrigation, and so forth.
Today the tribe operates a modern motel and restaurant, the Southern
Ute Cultural Center, and Sky Ute Downs, a modern equestrian facility.
The council sponsors social programs for tribal members and maintains
close ties with nearby Fort Lewis College, which has educated many
Utes. Those interested in Ute culture can attend the annual Bear
Dance and Sun Dance at Ignacio.
has been more difficult in the twentieth century for the Ute Mountain
Utes because of the lack of resources on their reservation. The
lack of water, in particular, has inhibited the development of agriculture
and stock raising. Although Bureau of Indian Affairs officials recognized
in the nineteenth century that the absence of water was a significant
problem, little was done about it. The Ute Mountain Utes accepted
the Indian Reorganization Act and adopted a constitution in 1940.
Exploration for oil and gas in the 1950s provided needed revenues,
and McPhee Reservoir, completed in 1986 near the town of Dolores,
will provide desperately needed water for the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation.
the 1990s the Utes rely heavily on revenues from oil and gas,
and both Southern Utes and Ute Mountain Utes have established
casinos to increase their income. Today Ute leaders seek to
develop economic and educational opportunities while preserving
the Ute language and traditional culture.
R. W., 1989. The Ute Mountain Utes. Albuquerque: University
of New Mexico Press, 134 pp.
R. W., 1974. The Southern Ute People. Phoenix, AZ:
Indian Tribal Series, 102 pp.
R. N., 1989. The Ute Legacy. Ignacio, CO: Pinon Press,
J. D., 1977. American Indians in Colorado. Boulder,
CO: Pruett Publishing Co., 143 pp.
J., R. W. Delaney, and G. C. Thompson, 1972. The Southern
Utes: A tribal history. Ignacio, CO: Southern Ute Tribe,
R., 1940. Acculturation in seven American Indian tribes.
New York: Appleton- Century Co., 526 pp.
C. S., 1982. People of the Shining Mountains. Boulder,
CO: Pruett Publishing Co., 190 pp.
J., 1990. Utes, the mountain people. Boulder, CO: Johnson
Books, 174 pp.
P. D., 1990. Ouray, Chief of the Utes. Ouray, CO: Wayfinder
Press, 222 pp.
G. C., 1972. Southern Ute lands 1848-1899. Durango,
CO: Fort Lewis College, Center of Southwest Studies, Occasional
papers, 62 pp.
N., 1980. When buffalo free the mountains. Garden City,
NY: Doubleday, 293 pp.