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Who are Ute People?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Ute people are a Native American tribe that originally lived across a wide area of the western United States, including Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado. The tribe members call themselves the Nuciu, which means “the people” in their original language, and the name Ute is originally derived from the Spanish name for the tribe, which was “Yuta." Historically, the Ute tribe had a rocky relationship with the religious Mormon settlers, and the conflicts were sometimes violent. The Ute people have reservations in Utah, where most of them live with their own local governments and tribal businesses.

Before the arrival of European settlers, the Ute people were generally nomadic. They usually moved on a seasonal basis to different areas in order to exploit food opportunities as they became available. The men did most of the hunting, focusing primarily on deer and antelope, along with smaller animals like rabbits. Women normally gathered plant foods like nuts, berries and roots. The Ute people also did a fair amount of fishing, and they would often turn fish into jerky in order to preserve it for eating later.

Like many other spiritual traditions, the Ute people had religious beliefs built around a respect for the natural world. Their religion involved animal spirits, and many of their rituals were based on seasonal changes. Overall, they considered themselves to be part of the larger natural scheme of things and had many rules about how they should interact with nature in a respectful way.

Contact with the Spanish brought horses into the Ute culture, and that had a wide impact on many aspects of life. Horses allowed them to hunt more easily and fight better. They also picked up cultural habits from the Mormons, including the raising of livestock and growing vegetables. The Ute people eventually became involved in slave trading with the Spanish. These slaves were generally enemies from other Native American tribes that the Ute had defeated in battle, and the Spanish bought them for use as forced labor.

The Ute relationship with the Mormons was mostly very rocky. There was a general feeling that the Mormons were encroaching on important Ute lands, and this led to raids and war. In the end, the Ute people generally took the worst of this fighting. This fighting was especially common among the Ute tribes that lived in the Colorado area, and many Ute people were forced to move from there onto reservations in Utah.

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Discussion Comments
By Emilski — On Oct 30, 2011

I have never heard of the Utes outside of watching University of Utah basketball games and I kind of wish that their culture would be represented more.

I have never been to the University of Utah, but I have to wonder if the University goes well out of their way to educate the students as well as the public on the culture of the Utes.

I went to a University that had an Indian mascot and they really went out of their way to educate the people in the area about the culture of the tribe and made sure that the culture of the tribe was celebrated and the history of the tribe was integrated into the school.

By JimmyT — On Oct 29, 2011

Usually when looking at this period in history in the West what Indian tribes are known is the fighting involved in the Indian Wars. This is quite unfortunate, but this is how history remembers them and it is only recently that Indian culture has started to become studied in extreme detail.

The Utes may not have been written a lot about because although they did participate in Indian War they did so with the Mormons that came to the West from Western Illinois.

Because of the animosity that people had towards Mormons, people probably did not pay as much attention to the Indian Wars going on between the Utes and the Mormons, except for the people in the area. This is just a theory and there could be a variety of reasons why the Utes are not as well known as other tribes. Could even be that they stayed in the West and were nomadic and never established their culture fully in one area because fo their constant movements.

By TreeMan — On Oct 29, 2011

@matthewc23 - I agree with you. Most of the Native American tribes in the Southwest have some claim to fame and this is why people outside of the Native American culture know about them so much. However, tribes like the Utes, who were like any other Indian tribe, were not as famous as the others. This is not at all to detract from their people or their culture, but people remember Indian tribes for various reasons and usually they have to remember them for something extraordinary. Unfortunately for a tribe like the Utes it is hard for people to know about them on a national level. However, they are famous enough to have a sports mascot at a major college named after them.

By matthewc23 — On Oct 28, 2011

I hear a lot about Native American Indian tribes in the Southwest, but I have never heard of the Ute people with the exception of the University of Utah being called the Utes.

With the Anasazi, Navajo, and Comanche tribes in the Southwest they take away most of the fame of other Native American tribes in the area. The Utes are people that unless you live out west in the area they lived in you probably have never heard of them or do not hear very much about them.

By LisaLou — On Oct 28, 2011

I have spent a lot of time visiting and touring around Colorado Springs and have become familiar with the Ute history in that area.

I remember reading this group of people is one of the last native American tribes to be confined to reservations.

When I tour the Garden of the Gods in Colorado, there is some history and artifacts from this tribe.

They had to rely on themselves to hunt and gather all their own food. I find it very interesting when I read how resourceful they were with what they had to work with.

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