Ute Spirituality

The Ute Indians were traditionally mountain-dwelling bands whose traditional territory extended from the southern Rocky Mountains in present-day Colorado, west to the Sevier River in Utah. Their traditional territory extended as far south as the upper San Juan River in present-day New Mexico and as far north as southern Wyoming.

As with other Great Basin peoples, the Utes perceived all physical features and elements of the world as being spiritually alive. These spiritual beings have a power which controls the world and thus impacted the fate of human beings. Spirituality was based in large part on the acquisition of power through visions and dreams.

Rituals and ceremonies often focused on curing ceremonies to help the people maintain life, strength, and mobility. Among the Southern Ute, healing powers were received by shamans, usually men, through dreams. According to Robert McPherson and Mary Jane Yazzie, in their essay in A History of Utah’s American Indians:

“The dreams gave secret information concerning power within animals, plants, and natural elements that the shaman could invoke for good.”

There were also rites of passage—ceremonies to mark events such as birth, puberty, and death.

The Ute often used stone circles as a part of their ceremonies. In his essay on the Northern Utes in A History of Utah’s American Indians, Clifford Duncan reports:

“These stone circles are individual ritual sites and are still considered sacred today.”

There was not a standardized way of using these stone circles. Each of the spiritual leaders had their own ceremonies and their own way of using the circles.

Among the Southern Ute, there are supernatural powers associated with the land. Spiritual leaders for each band would go to specific “power points” to leave offerings and to ask for help on behalf of the band. Robert McPherson and Mary Jane Yazzie write:

“The location of specific power sites is not general knowledge and should be discussed only with those who have a need to know.”

Sweat Lodge

Among the Ute, the sweat lodge ceremony is perhaps the oldest of all ceremonies. Traditionally it was a ceremony for the medicine men. However, during the twentieth century it evolved into a separate ceremony with more participants. The ceremony is conducted in a dome-shaped structure formed from curved boughs and covered with hides, blankets, canvas, or other material. Within the lodge, a number of fire-heated rocks provide heat, and water is sprinkled on these to create an intense steam. Traditional Ute songs are used to bring about spiritual enlightenment, purification, and rejuvenation.

Bear Dance

One of the important aspects of Ute spirituality which is expressed ceremonially, is veneration of the bear. Anthropologist Bertha Dutton, in her book The Ranchería, Ute, and Southern Paiute Peoples: Indians of the American Southwest, reports:

“The bear is regarded as the wisest of animals and the bravest of all except the mountain lion; he is thought to possess wonderful magic power. Feeling that the bears are fully aware of the relationship existing between themselves and the Ute, their ceremony of the bear dance assists in strengthening this friendship.”

The Bear Dance is performed in the Spring. During the 10-day ceremony, a group of men play musical rasps (notched and unnotched sticks) to charm the dancers and propitiate bears. According to oral tradition, this dance was given to the Ute by a bear.

The circular dance area represents a bear cave with an opening to the south or southeast. Traditionally, the dance area was enclosed with timbers and pine boughs to a height of about seven feet.

In dancing, women choose male partners and the women lead in the dancing. Spiritual leader Eddie Box says:

“Bear Dance is a rebirth, an awakening of the spirit. It’s a time of awareness. You come to learn from the past in order to arrive at the present with an understanding of the harmony of things.”

Historian Richard Young, in his book The Ute Indians of Colorado in the Twentieth Century, describes the Bear Dance this way:

“Probably the oldest of the Ute Dances, the Bear Dance was a festive, social dance that had always been held in the spring before winter camps disbanded and family groups went their separate ways in search of food.”

Sun Dance

The Sun Dance spread into the Great Basin from the Plains after 1800. Most of the groups who adopted the Sun Dance did so after they were moved to reservations. The focus of the Sun Dance was on healing and community well-being. Writing about the Ute on the Uintah Valley Reservation, attorney Parker Nielson, in his book The Dispossessed: Cultural Genocide of the Mixed Blood Utes, reports:

“Adapted from other Indian groups, the ‘thirsty dance’ went on for three to four days, without food or water, for the health, well-being, and solidarity of the collective group.”

With regard to the Southern Ute, historian Richard Young writes:

“the main focus of the dance is the acquisition of power, both spiritual power and physical good health, for the individual dancers as well as for the tribe as a whole.”

A Short Overview of the Ute Indians

The state of Utah is named for the Ute Indians whose traditional territory extended from the southern Rocky Mountains in present-day Colorado, west to the Sevier River in Utah. Their traditional territory extended as far south as the upper San Juan River in present-day New Mexico and as far north as southern Wyoming.

While anthropologists generally classify the Utes as a Great Basin tribe, they were traditionally more of a mountain-dwelling tribe. Carl Waldman, in his book Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, writes:

“The forested slopes of the Rockies offered much more wildlife than the Basin floor and the Basin uplands. And the rivers flowing westward from the Great Divide provided plentiful fish for food.”

With regard to language, the Ute language is a part of the larger Uto-Aztecan language family and within this large language family it belongs to the Southern Numic sub-family which also includes Mohave, Paiute, Kawaiisu, and Chemehuevi.

The Ute were never a single unified tribe. There are several bands of the Ute:

(1) the Weminuche (Weeminuche) or Ute Mountain Ute whose homeland is the San Juan drainage of the Colorado River,

(2) the Tabeguache (also known as Uncompahgre),

(3) the Grand River band,

(4) the Yampa whose homeland is in northwestern Colorado,

(5) the Uintah whose homeland ran from Utah Lake east through the Uinta Basin,

(6) the Muache (Moache) whose homeland ranged south along the Sangre de Cristos as far south as Taos,

(7) the Capote of the San Luis Valley and the upper Rio Grande, (8) the Sheberetch in the area of present-day Moab,

(9) the Sanpits (San Pitch) in the Sanpete Valley in central Utah,

(10) the Timanogots near Utah Lake,

(11) Pahvant who lived in the deserts surrounding Sevier Lake, and

(12) the White River (Parusanuch and Yamparika) in the White and Yampa River systems of Colorado.

Each Ute band had a well-defined territory, but their territorial claims were not exclusive. Attorney Parker Nielson, in his book The Dispossessed: Cultural Genocide of the Mixed Blood Utes, points out:

“Land was viewed as a gift of creation, to be shared in common, and was not an object of private possession.”

Presently, under the administration of the United States the Utes occupy three reservations:

Southern Ute Reservation: located near Ignacio, Colorado, this reservation includes the Mouache and Capote bands.

Ute Mountain Ute Reservation: this reservation includes land in Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah.

Uintah and Ouray Reservation: located near Fort Duchesne, Utah, this reservation is the home of the White River descendants.

The Horse

The domestic horse was brought to North America by the Spanish colonists in New Mexico. Following the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the horse was traded to other tribes and brought many changes to Native cultures.

For the Ute, the adoption of the horse brought about many changes in their lifestyle. While their food preferences and their migrational patterns remained somewhat the same, with the horse they were able to cover more territory and to be more efficient in the use of the resources of their territory. Historian Richard Young, in his book The Ute Indians of Colorado in the Twentieth Century, reports:

“With increased mobility and the ability to transport food over greater distances, previously disperse family groups now concentrated in large band camps. Hunters ventured far out onto the plains and hunted buffalo much more frequently than in the past; food became more plentiful and hunger less of a concern.”

With the horse came an increase in intertribal conflicts. Richard Young writes of the Ute:

“During the seventeenth century, the previously peaceful Utes often waged war on their neighbors.”

One of the prime objectives of Ute warfare was to obtain horses as well as other loot. In addition, the Ute warriors would often capture Indian women and children who they could trade with the Spanish and other settlers for horses.

Trade

As with Indian nations in other culture areas, trade among the peoples of the Great Basin was well-developed long before the coming of the Europeans. In addition, there was also trade with Indian groups from other culture areas. Regarding the Ute, attorney Parker Nielson writes:

“They bartered with the desert tribes to the west, with the Navajo and Pueblo Indians to the south, and with the Plains Indians as far distant as the panhandle of present-day Texas and Oklahoma.”

The Ute would often trade deer and buffalo hides and meat with the Pueblos for corn and other agricultural products. They would also trade hides with the Spanish and other Europeans for horses, knives, and manufactured articles.

It was not uncommon for trade to revolve around human captives. The Ute, for example, would obtain Indian women and children from other tribes either through raids or through trade with other tribes. They would then trade them to the Spanish settlers for horses. Historian Richard Young writes:

“Hispanic settlers who purchased the captives in this illegal but popular form of trade would then either resell the captives or raise them in their own households.”

Political Organization

Among the Ute, as was typical of many gathering and hunting tribes, the primary political unit was the band. Loosely organized, the band leadership had only a limited, non-coercive authority. In other words, leaders led through their ability to persuade. Membership in Ute bands was easily changed. Historian Richard Young writes:

“Families were free to leave bands, and an individual’s band membership was easily changed.”

As with other Great Basin groups, band membership among the Ute was very fluid. Parker Nielson reports:

“Change of Ute band affiliation was a casual affair in which Utes freely intermarried with or adopted members of other bands and tribes.”

With regard to Ute social organization on a larger scale, anthropologist Bertha Dutton, in her book The Ranchería, Ute, and Southern Paiute Peoples: Indians of the American Southwest, reports:

“Defensive war and the social bear dance were the only activities requiring the cooperation of a tribal unit larger than the family.”

Ute villages generally had two chiefs: a chief spokesman and a civil chief. During times of war there might also be a war chief. As with the other Indian nations of the Great Basin, there were no ruling families and no hereditary titles. Status and prestige were based on individual accomplishments, not on family lineage. With regard to the process of selecting a new chief among the Ute of Colorado, historian Richard Young reports:

“The Weeminuche did not have a hereditary chieftaincy; rather, the chief was chosen for his personal character and abilities, often by his predecessor.”

While nineteenth-century non-Indian politicians seemed to believe that Indian nations were somehow lawless since they didn’t have formal police departments, jails, and courts, all Indian nations did have laws which were based on oral traditions.  Among the Southern Ute, for example, crimes such as stealing and murder were not seen as a concern of the band, but of the family. The primary methods of social control were gossip and ostracism.

Many Indians tribes, particularly the Great Plains tribes, had voluntary associations or warrior societies. These tended to be absent among the Great Basin tribes. The only association among the Southern Ute was the Dog Company that functioned as both a warfare training mechanism and as a young men’s elite. Not all young men joined the Dog Company, as often their families could not spare them. When the camp moved, the Dog Company acted as lookouts and lagged behind as a rear guard.

Utah’s Black Hawk War

During 1865 to 1867, American and Mormon settlers in Utah were engaged in a war with a small group of Ute, Paiute, and Navajo warriors under the leadership of Ute chief Black Hawk. As a result of the conflict, the American and Mormon settlers abandoned much of southern and central Utah. At least nine communities were abandoned. The main object of most of the Indian raids was to take cattle for food. The Black Hawk War caused an estimated $1.5 million in losses.

While the Black Hawk War involved only a small group of warriors, Black Hawk’s raiders were so effective that it was a common perception among the Mormon settlers that all of the Indians in the territory were at war.

Setting the Stage:

 The Black Hawk war grew out of a complex set of circumstances which included the loss of Indian farms in Utah and the failure of the United States government to fulfill its treaty obligations. The Utes and the Paiutes had been displaced from their ancestral lands and they had been deprived of their economic base. As a result, they were left with only three options: they could starve, they could beg, or they could fight.

In 1863, Autenquer (Black Hawk), a San Pitch Ute war leader, began to form alliances with other Ute bands, as well as with Paiute and Navajo bands to raid Mormon communities. The Indians blamed the Mormons for stealing their country and fencing it in. One of the causes of the raids is hunger and the Indians raid the communities to get cattle to eat.

Two years later, the Treaty of Spanish Fork with the Paiute called for them to give up all lands claimed in Utah and to move to the Uintah Reservation. None of the signers of the treaty represented the Meadow Valley and Virgin River Paiute bands who were contesting Mormon encroachment on their territory.

Like the Paiute, the Ute also signed the Treaty of Spanish Fork in which they gave up all of their land in Utah except for the Uintah Valley. In exchange, the Ute were to receive $900,000 to be paid to them over 60 years and they were to be allowed to fish in all accustomed places and to gather roots and berries. All of the Ute chiefs, except for San Pitch, signed the treaty. San Pitch said: “If the talk is for us to trade the land in order to get the presents, I do not want any blankets or any clothing, if threat is the way they are to be got. I would rather do without them than to give up my title to the land I occupy. We want to live here as formerly.”

Kanosh opposed the treaty saying: “In past times, the Washington chiefs that came here from the United States would think and talk two ways and deceive us.”

Mormon leader Brigham Young, speaking for the United States, told the Ute: “If you do not sell your land to the Government, they will take it, whether you are willing to sell it or not.” Young also told them: “The land does not belong to you, nor to me, nor to the Government. It belongs to the Lord.”

Brigham Young assured them that they would receive houses, farms, cows, oxen, clothing, and other things. Because of his words, the chiefs signed the treaty.

The U.S. Senate refused to ratify the treaty because .of their disagreements with the Mormons. These disagreements with the Mormons had nothing to do with the Indians. The United States Senate wanted to punish the Mormons for their religious beliefs and refusing the treaty would increase the tensions between the Indians and the Mormon settlers.

The War:

 In 1865, the conflicts between the Utes under the leadership of San Pitch subchief Black Hawk and the Mormon settlers intensified. The Indians, driven by hunger, stole some cattle and in the process some Mormons were killed. Mormon leader John Taylor stated: “Some want to kill the Indians promiscuously, because some of them have killed some of our people. This is not right. Let the guilty be punished and innocent go free.”

Black Hawk visited the Elk Mountain Ute to gain allies in his war against the Mormons. Black Hawk’s warriors were soon joined by Ute warriors from other bands as well as by Paiute and Navajo warriors. At most the Black Hawk’s forces numbered only 60 to 100 warriors during the conflict. About half of the warriors were Navajos or Paiutes.

In 1865, a Ute war party under the leadership of Black Hawk ambushed the Sanpete militia near Red Lake. While the warriors produced a heavy rate of fire, they overshot the militia and the bullets struck the lake behind them.

A Mormon militia force of 84 pursued a Ute war party up Salina Canyon. At a narrow point in the canyon, the militia unit was ambushed by Ute warriors who were hidden behind rocks, trees, and bushes. The militia managed to escape with only two men killed and two wounded.

A Mormon militia group fired blindly into a large cedar grove near Burrville, killing more than a dozen Indians, including women and children. The incident was not officially investigated.

Several Indian woman and children were held captive by a Mormon militia unit. One of the women struck one of the guards and in retaliation he shot the woman and the rest of the prisoners. The incident was not officially investigated.

In 1866, Ute chief San Pitch and several of his men were arrested near Nephi because of rumors that he had been involved in violence against the American settlers. San Pitch was told to bring in Black Hawk and his band or be shot. Since San Pitch did not have the power to influence Black Hawk and his warriors, he and his fellow prisoners broke jail rather than await execution. The escapees were hunted down and killed.

In another incident, 16 unarmed Paiutes, including women and children, were killed near Circleville. The Paiutes had been captured by the Mormons and were killed one at a time. Most had their throats slit. Three or four small children were spared and were adopted by Mormon families. While there were pleas for an investigation, federal and territorial officials took no action. This reluctance or inability of territorial and federal officials to follow proper legal procedures with the Indians helped to create a climate that allowed for continued misconduct.

At Panguitch Lake, the Paiute bands would not let the Mormons fish in the lake, but they would sell fish to them. In response, the Mormons declared the Paiutes to be involved with Black Hawk’s warriors and attacked a Paiute camp. They then declared a Paiute Mormon convert to be the chief and restored the peace. Following this, the lake became a fishing resort for non-Indians.

In 1866, Mormon leader Brigham Young wrote: “The Lamanites are hostile, let us exercise faith about them and learn what the will of the Lord is. Let us send our Interpreters to them and make presents and tell [them] they must stop fighting. It is better to give them $5000 than have to fight and kill them for they are of the House of Israel.”

In 1867, the body of Simeon, a Paiute, was found near Paragonah with a bullet wound in the back of his head. William H. Dame, president of the Prowan Stake of the Latter Day Saints church and colonel in the militia was instructed by Mormon leaders Brigham Young and George A. Smith that the murder of a peaceful Indian must be dealt with by civil authorities. Subsequently an investigation into the murder was undertaken. When some people questioned whether or not Simeon had actually been murdered, his body was exhumed and the bullet removed from his skull. As a result of the investigation, murder charges are brought against Thomas Jose. Jose was convicted of second degree murder and was sentenced to ten years in the territorial penitentiary. He served one year and was then pardoned by the territorial governor.

After the War:

 In 1867, Black Hawk surrendered at the Uintah Reservation. He came without his men but gave information on those still at large. It was estimated that he had 58-64 warriors under him.

During the Black Hawk War, about 46 Mormon settlers were killed, including 11 women and children. Both sides killed noncombatants.

The primary purpose of most of the Indian raids was to obtain cattle. Black Hawk’s warriors captured about 5,000 cattle. This focus on cattle shows that the warriors were often desperate for food.

In 1869, the San Pitch Ute, once led by Autenquer (Black Hawk), followed the civil leader Tabby-to-kwana to the Uintah Valley Reservation. The Ute had been assured that they would be able to continue to hunt and gather on all public lands.

 Following the war, Black Hawk toured many of the settlements in central and southern Utah, speaking to Mormon congregations and asking for their understanding and forgiveness. In speaking to these communities, Black Hawk emphasized that his people had been destitute and starving. Some of the Mormon settlers greeted him with understanding, while others, remembering the deaths of family and friends, rejected his offer of reconciliation.

Utah’s Black Hawk War

( – promoted by navajo)

During 1865 to 1867, American and Mormon settlers in Utah were engaged in a war with a small group of Ute, Paiute, and Navajo warriors under the leadership of Ute chief Black Hawk. As a result of the conflict, the American and Mormon settlers abandoned much of southern and central Utah. At least nine communities were abandoned. The main object of most of the Indian raids was to take cattle for food. The Black Hawk War caused an estimated $1.5 million in losses.

While the Black Hawk War involved only a small group of warriors, Black Hawk’s raiders were so effective that it was a common perception among the Mormon settlers that all of the Indians in the territory were at war.

Setting the Stage:

The Black Hawk war grew out of a complex set of circumstances which included the loss of Indian farms in Utah and the failure of the United States government to fulfill its treaty obligations. The Utes and the Paiutes had been displaced from their ancestral lands and they had been deprived of their economic base. As a result, they were left with only three options: they could starve, they could beg, or they could fight.

In 1863, Autenquer (Black Hawk), a San Pitch Ute war leader, began to form alliances with other Ute bands, as well as with Paiute and Navajo bands to raid Mormon communities. The Indians blamed the Mormons for stealing their country and fencing it in. One of the causes of the raids is hunger and the Indians raid the communities to get cattle to eat.

Two years later, the Treaty of Spanish Fork with the Paiute called for them to give up all lands claimed in Utah and to move to the Uintah Reservation. None of the signers of the treaty represented the Meadow Valley and Virgin River Paiute bands who were contesting Mormon encroachment on their territory.

Like the Paiute, the Ute also signed the Treaty of Spanish Fork in which they gave up all of their land in Utah except for the Uintah Valley. In exchange, the Ute were to receive $900,000 to be paid to them over 60 years and they were to be allowed to fish in all accustomed places and to gather roots and berries. All of the Ute chiefs, except for San Pitch, signed the treaty. San Pitch said:

“If the talk is for us to trade the land in order to get the presents, I do not want any blankets or any clothing, if threat is the way they are to be got. I would rather do without them than to give up my title to the land I occupy. We want to live here as formerly.”

Kanosh opposed the treaty saying:

“In past times, the Washington chiefs that came here from the United States would think and talk two ways and deceive us.”

Mormon leader Brigham Young, speaking for the United States, told the Ute:

“If you do not sell your land to the Government, they will take it, whether you are willing to sell it or not.”

Young also told them:

“The land does not belong to you, nor to me, nor to the Government. It belongs to the Lord.”

Brigham Young assured them that they would receive houses, farms, cows, oxen, clothing, and other things. Because of his words, the chiefs signed the treaty.

The U.S. Senate refused to ratify the treaty because of their disagreements with the Mormons. These disagreements with the Mormons had nothing to do with the Indians. The United States Senate wanted to punish the Mormons for their religious beliefs and refusing the treaty would increase the tensions between the Indians and the Mormon settlers.

The War:

In 1865, the conflicts between the Utes under the leadership of San Pitch subchief Black Hawk and the Mormon settlers intensified. The Indians, driven by hunger, stole some cattle and in the process some Mormons were killed. Mormon leader John Taylor stated:

“Some want to kill the Indians promiscuously, because some of them have killed some of our people. This is not right. Let the guilty be punished and innocent go free.”

Black Hawk’s warriors were soon joined by Ute warriors from other bands as well as by Paiute and Navajo warriors. At most the Black Hawk’s forces numbered only 60 to 100 warriors during the conflict. About half of the warriors were Navajos or Paiutes.

In 1866, Ute chief San Pitch and several of his men were arrested near Nephi because of rumors that he had been involved in violence against the American settlers. San Pitch was told to bring in Black Hawk and his band or be shot. Since San Pitch did not have the power to influence Black Hawk and his warriors,  he and his fellow prisoners broke jail rather than await execution. The escapees were hunted down and  killed.

In another incident, 16 unarmed Paiutes, including women and children, were killed near Circleville. The Paiute had been captured by the Mormons and were killed one at a time. Most had their throats slit. Three or four small children were spared and were adopted by Mormon families.  While there were pleas for an investigation, federal and territorial officials took no action. This reluctance or inability of territorial and federal officials to follow proper legal procedures with the Indians helped to create a climate that allowed for continued misconduct.

At Panguitch Lake, the Paiute bands would not let the Mormons fish in the lake, but they would sell fish to them. In response, the Mormons declared the Paiutes to be involved with Black Hawk’s warriors and attacked a Paiute camp. They then declared a Paiute Mormon convert to be the chief and restored the peace. Following this, the lake became a fishing resort for non-Indians.

In 1866, Mormon leader Brigham Young wrote:

“The Lamanites are hostile, let us exercise faith about them and learn what the will of the Lord is. Let us send our Interpreters to them and make presents and tell [them] they must stop fighting. It is better to give them $5000 than have to fight and kill them for they are of the House of Israel”

In 1867, the body of Simeon, a Paiute, was found near Paragonah with a bullet wound in the back of his head. William H. Dame, president of the Prowan Stake of the Latter Day Saints church and colonel in the militia was instructed by Mormon leaders Brigham Young and George A. Smith that the murder of a peaceful Indian must be dealt with by civil authorities. Subsequently an investigation into the murder was undertaken. When some people questioned whether or not Simeon had actually been murdered, his body was exhumed and the bullet removed from his skull. As a result of the investigation, murder charges are brought against Thomas Jose. Jose was convicted of second degree murder and was sentenced to ten years in the territorial penitentiary. He served one year and was then pardoned by the territorial governor.

After the War:

In 1867, Black Hawk surrendered at the Uinitah Reservation. He came without his men but gave information on those still at large. It was estimated that he had 58-64 warriors under him.  

During the Black Hawk War, about 46 Mormon settlers were killed, including 11 women and children. Both sides killed noncombatants.

The primary purpose of most of the Indian raids was to obtain cattle. Black Hawk’s warriors captured about 5,000 cattle. This focus on cattle shows that the warriors were often desperate for food.

In 1869, the San Pitch Ute, once led by Autenquer (Black Hawk), followed the civil leader Tabby-to-kwana to the Uintah Valley Reservation. The Ute had been assured that they would be able to continue to hunt and gather on all public lands.

Following the war, Black Hawk toured many of the settlements in central and southern Utah, speaking to Mormon congregations and asking for their understanding and forgiveness. In speaking to these communities, Black Hawk emphasized that his people had been destitute and starving. Some of the Mormon settlers greeted him with understanding, while others, remembering the deaths of family and friends, rejected his offer of reconciliation.

Utah’s Walker War

( – promoted by navajo)

The Walker War was a conflict between the Mormon settlers in Utah and Utah’s aboriginal peoples, the Ute. The leader of the Utes was Wakara, called Walker by the Mormons, and the conflict became known as the Walker War.  

Some Background:

In 1850, Ute leader Wakara invited Brigham Young to attend the annual Indian trade gathering in Utah Valley. Young and a delegation of Mormons met with the chiefs in council. When a Shoshone group raided a Ute camp, Wakara asked Brigham Young for Mormon militia support in the retaliation raid. The support was refused.

While angry with the Mormons for refusing aid, Wakara led his Ute warriors against the Shoshone. Upon his return after effecting bloody retaliation on the Shoshone raiders, Wakara and his band demonstrated in front of the settlement fort at Manti, showing off their war trophies. Walker then decided to move north and attack the Mormon settlement at Provo. However, Ute chief Sowiette persuaded him to call off the attack.

The War:

In 1853, the Mormons killed a Ute man and wounded two others near Springville. The fight originated over a trade of flour for fish. The slain man was one of Wakara’s relatives. Wakara demanded that the killers be turned over to him. When Indians had killed Mormons, the Mormons had always demanded that the chiefs turn the killers over to Mormon authorities for punishment. The Mormons, however, refused to turn the killers over to the Utes for punishment.

Tensions between Mormons and Utes culminated in the Walker War. Wakara, the chief of the Tumpanuwac band of Utes, led a series of effective raids against Mormon communities to obtain food and livestock.

In response to the raids, the Utah Territorial Militia was mobilized. Behind this organization stood the full power of the Mormon church. Many of the highest ranking militia and civil leaders were also ranking church officials.

At Clover Creek a Mormon group driving cattle was attacked by a Ute party, but their militia escort drove them off. The militia reported killing as many as five Ute warriors.

Acting in direct violation of general orders a Mormon militia unit attacked a Ute camp near Goshen, killing four or five people. The Ute survivors escaped death by hiding in the marshes until the attacking militia left.

When a group of Ute came to the fort at Nephi seeking protection, the townspeople killed them “like dogs.” One eyewitness wrote:

“Nine Indians coming into our camp looking for protection and bread with us … were shot down without one minute’s notice”

Another eyewitness writes:

“They were shot down like so many dogs, picked up with pitchforks [put] on a sleigh and hauled away”

In 1854, the Walker War ended when Ute chiefs Ammon and Migo indicated that they were ready for peace.  The Ute warriors recognized that they were hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. When Wakara returned from the Navajo country he also agreed to peace. He asked for food, guns, and ammunition.

The peace negotiations were carried out at Chicken Creek. Initially, Wakara refused to leave his tent, but Brigham Young entered the lodge. Young laid his hands upon Wakara’s sick daughter and gave her a blessing. After a long and patient negotiation, Walkara was able to accept defeat without humiliation.  

Indians 101: Utes Held by Army

( – promoted by navajo)

The United States acquired what would become Colorado and Utah from Mexico following a brief war in 1848. In the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States agreed to recognize Indian land holdings and to allow Indian people to continue their customs and languages. At this time, the primary Indian tribes in Colorado were the Ute, Comanche, Arapaho, and Cheyenne. It was not long, however, before the American settlers in Colorado began to advocate that all Indians be removed from the territory so that the land could be developed for cattle, farming, and mining by non-Indians.

In 1880, the American government forced the Whiteriver Ute to agree to move to the Uintah Reservation in Utah where they were to live with other Ute bands. Under the agreement with the federal government, the bands were to have a perpetual trust fund created from the sale of their Colorado homelands. The United States, however, makes no attempt to sell the Ute lands and they remain in government possession.  

American greed for land and minerals caught up with the Ute in Utah. Soon American settlers were advocating the opening of the Uintah Reservation to non-Indian settlement. Without consulting the Ute, in 1903 Congress passed an act to allot the Uintah Reservation. Under allotment, tribal members would be given parcels of land for “farming” and the remainder of the reservation opened for non-Indian settlement. The Ute protested the act.

In 1905, a non-Indian commission selected the allotments for the Ute in the Uintah Valley. The least valuable lands on the reservation were allotted and the remaining lands, the best farm lands, were opened for homesteading by non-Indians. The Utah Mormons met and held a drawing for the best lands in the valley.

In addition to opening the reservation, a Presidential proclamation took 101,000 acres from the Ute and added it to the Uintah National Forest. An additional 60,120 acres were set aside for reclamation and reservoir purposes.  

Many of the Utes, particularly those from the Whiteriver bands, were upset about the allotment of their reservation and the increase of non-Indian settlers. Red Cap spoke to the Ute who had gathered for the 1906 Bear Dance:

“The white people have robbed us of our cattle, our pony grass, and our hunting grounds”

As a result of his encouragement, between 300 and 600 gathered with their wagons, supplies, and horses near present-day Bridgeland.  They planned to travel to Montana and  South Dakota, where they hoped to form an alliance with the Sioux and with the Crow and to stop the allotment program.

Initially their journey took them into Wyoming where one dispatch reported:

“Seven hundred Utes are slaughtering cattle and sheep, robbing ranches and committing other depredations in the vicinity of Douglas, on the Platte River 150 miles north of Cheyenne. They are in an ugly mood and refuse to return to their reservation at White Rocks, Utah.”

The governor of Wyoming telegraphed the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to have them removed. The Commissioner replied:

“As long as they [the Indians] are peaceful and do not threaten hostility it does not seem that the Federal government would be justified in interfering with them.”

A special inspector from the Bureau of Indian Affairs met with the Ute and persuaded 45 of them to return to the reservation. He reported that about 100 were planning to go to the Big Horn Mountains to settle and the rest were bound for Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

On their journey, the Utes were peaceful. They killed game, but they felt that the game belonged to Indian people. In spite of the newspaper accounts, there was no violence toward non-Indians. The governor, however, reported that the Indians were drinking, insulting and stealing. He demanded federal help. The President sent his request to the War Department. Two detachments of the Tenth Cavalry were sent to meet with Red Cap.

The army made a strong show of force and the Indians saw the hopelessness of their situation. The military then escorted them to Fort Meade, South Dakota. In spite of court rulings indicating that Indians were entitled to due process of law, the army assumed that the Utes were prisoners of war.

In South Dakota, the Ute found that the Sioux have no interest in entering into an alliance with them. The Sioux were facing difficult times. The army placed the Ute band on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

With regard to the Ute situation, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs recommended not feeding them. In a speech to the Lake Mohonk Conference he said:

“It was not the government’s fault that they took the course they did in order to get into a place where they could live in idleness and eat the bread of charity. If they persist in that course they will be made to understand what the word ‘must’ means.”

His words are met with a round of applause.

In 1908, the Ute who had gone to the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota were returned to the Uintah reservation in Utah under military escort. The Ute leaders were defeated and discouraged. They were unable to control the destiny of their people. The American government dictated their destiny with no concern for possible Constitutional rights, even though the courts had consistently ruled that Indians were entitled to those rights.

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