The Ute tribe is a group of Native American Indians who originally lived in portions of what are now the U.S. states of New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. The Ute originally were made up of seven groups: Mouache, Capote, Weeminuche, Tabeguache, Grand River Utes, Yamparicas and Uintah Utes. The Mouache and Capote groups comprise the modern Ute tribe. In the late 1800s, after a series of wars with Mormon settlers in the area, the tribe was forced by the U.S. government to leave their ancestral lands and relocate to a reservation in Utah.
These Native American Indians were a forest-dwelling band of nomads. Since they were constantly relocating, the tribe did not farm, but rather lived off of whatever was available to them at the time. The Ute men hunted buffalo, elk, and deer, while the women gathered nuts, fruits, and insects for food. When traveling, the tribe used sleds pulled by dogs to carry their possessions and portable houses.
In the early 1600s, Spanish explorers arrived, bringing with them horses, which the Indians called “magic dogs.” The acquisition of horses meant that the Utes were able to travel farther and faster than before. The Indians also became more prolific hunters, resulting in the near extinction of the buffalo in that region. The Spanish taught the natives to raise livestock and to make slaves out of conquered enemies as well.
In the 1800s, Mormon settlers arrived in Ute territory and conflicts with the tribe immediately began. The settlers preferred to set up communities and farm the surrounding land, while the Indians had always moved from place to place and utilized the available resources. The Mormons also wanted to call the territory Deseret rather than Utah. The only thing the two had in common was the practice of polygamy.
As the number of Mormon settlements began to increase, the Ute tribe’s hunting and pasture lands began to decrease. The Indians eventually found themselves without sufficient food or clothing, and began to raid the settlements in an effort to preserve their own lives. These raids became known as the Blackhawk War and Walker War. In 1861, at the request of the Mormon settlers, U.S. president Abraham Lincoln issued an executive order establishing a reservation for the Ute tribe on 2 million-acres (8,094 square kilometers) of land in the Uintah Basin of Utah.
Today, the Ute tribe is located on three different reservations. The Uintah-Ouray Reservation, the second largest Indian Reservation in the U.S., is located in northeastern Utah and is home to 3,500 members. Ute Mountain Reservation lies in parts of Utah, Colorado and New Mexico and is home to 2,000 members. The Southern Ute Reservation is located in Colorado, with 1,500 members.
In an effort to preserve their heritage, the Indians hold two annual festivals. One, which is held in the spring, is called the “Beardance” because their ancestors believed the Ute tribe was a close relative of the bear. The other, held in the summer is known as the “Sundance” since the name of the tribe literally means, “land of the sun.”
The Ute tribe also has its own government, which oversees over a million acres of land. The Utes raise cattle, operate casinos, and mine oil and natural gas. The tribe claims assets of nearly $3 billion U.S. Dollars.