Most Western Ute Indians lived in wickiups. Wickiups are small round or cone-shaped houses made of a willow frame covered with brush. Eastern Ute people preferred Plains-style tipis. Tipis (or teepees) are tall, tall, cone-shaped buffalo-hide houses that can be put together or taken apart quickly, like a modern tent.
The Utes came to inhabit a large area including most of Utah, western and central Colorado, and south into the San Juan River watershed of New Mexico. Some Ute bands stayed near their home domains, while others ranged further away seasonally.
The Utes were skilled hunters. Deer, elk, antelope, and mountain sheep grazed on the mountain sides. Great herds of bison roamed the parks (broad meadows surrounded by mountains). They caught fish in willow baskets and cooked them on a spit over a fire.
In the Ute language, Towaoc, pronounced TOW-ay-ock, translates into English as “thank you.”
Ute were organized into extended family groups or small independent bands led by a chief, who was chosen for his wisdom or skills. Families were held together by their respect for their chief. Those who lost their respect left and moved in with relatives.
The Creek people lived in settled villages of single-family houses arranged around a village square. Creek houses were made of plaster and rivercane walls with thatched roofs.
The Ute people lived in harmony with their environment. They traveled throughout Ute territory on familiar trails that crisscrossed the mountain ranges of Colorado. They came to know not only the terrain but the plants and animals that inhabited the lands.
The Ute call themselves Nuche meaning “mountain people.” They call their language Nuu-a-pagia. The word “Ute” is apparently a corruption of the Spanish word Yutas, which is possibly derived from the term Guaputu.
Etymology. Historically, the term “ute” (short for ‘utility vehicle’) has been used to describe a 2-door vehicle based on a passenger car chassis, such as the Holden Commodore, Australian Ford Falcon, Chevrolet El Camino and Subaru BRAT.
Cultural Utes practice the religion of Shamanism, which is based on a belief of healing and nature. Shamans perform their healing through dance and songs that are learned through dreams. In the Ute culture, both men and women practice Shamanism. The shamans are believed to have supernatural powers.
Anthropologists argue that the Utes began using the northern Colorado Plateau between one and two thousand years ago. Historically, the Ute people lived in several family groups, or bands, and inhabited 225,000 square miles covering most of Utah, western Colorado, southern Wyoming, and northern Arizona and New Mexico.
Bear Dance is a Native American ceremonial dance that occurs in the spring. For the Utes, it is a ten-day event of dancing, feasting, games, horse racing, and gambling. It is one of the oldest Ute ceremonies. The bear symbolizes leadership, strength, and wisdom. A group of men have played musical rasps for the dance.
Two ceremonies have dominated Ute social and religious life: the Bear Dance and the Sun Dance. The former is indigenous to the Ute and aboriginally was held in the spring to coincide with the emergence of the bear from hibernation. The dance was held in a large brush enclosure or dance plaza and lasted about ten days.
Utes were often buried in rock crevices or caves with rocks covering the spot. Many personal possessions to be used in the afterlife were buried with the bodies. Some items were given away as gifts while other possessions, even the lodge, were destroyed.
Like the Pueblo people, the Utes have maintained their language, customs, and religion even as they have become important participants in the local economy and broader American society. The Ute Mountain Ute Farm and Ranch Enterprise has allowed the development of commercial agriculture on tribal lands.