Legends and Children's Stories of the Ute Tribe


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Legend of the Sleeping Ute Mountain The Sky People
Mountains, the Land, and the Animals Life in the Early Times
Spring Time and the Bear Dance Summer Time
Horses A Horse Raid

Legend of the Sleeping Ute Mountain

In the very old days, the Sleeping Ute Mountain was a Great Warrior God. He came to help fight against the Evil Ones who were causing much trouble.
A tremendous battle between the Great Warrior God and the Evil Ones followed. As they stepped hard upon the earth and braced themselves to fight, their feet pushed the land into mountains and valleys. This is how the country of this region came to be as it is today.
The Great Warrior God was hurt, so he lay down to rest and fell into a deep sleep. The blood from his wound turned into living water for all creatures to drink.
When the fog or clouds settle over the Sleeping Warrior God, it is a sign that he is changing his blankets for the four seasons.  When the Indians see the light green blanket over their "God", they know it is spring. The dark green blanket is summer, the yellow and red one is fall, and the white one is winter.
The Indians believe that when the clouds gather on the highest peak, the Warrior God is pleased with his people and is letting rain clouds slip from his pockets. They also believe that the Great Warrior God will rise again to help them in the fight against their enemies.


The Sky People

Hundreds of years ago, long after the cliff dwellers left their canyon top and cliff dwellings, native people cane from the south into the vast area we call Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico. These people, now known as Utes, lives here long before the Spanish explorers arrived with their large expeditions and herds of horses. The Ute families, bands, and encampments were spread out across this large area. Their customs were very similar and all spoke the same language even though they didn't often see each other.
The Utes believed that the mountains were put there by Manitou. He was the Great Spirit who lived all alone in the center of the sky. He grew lonesome and wanted to create something new so he made a hole in the sky and swept all the stones and dirt from the sky's floor through the hole.
Manitou looked down and saw the great mountains he had made from the dirt and rocks. Some of the dirt became the rolling plains that stretched as far as he could see. He was so pleased with his landscape that he poured down snow and rain to make the earth more beautiful. Manitou created the trees, flowers and finally the Ute Indians to live in this new world.
The Utes believe that Manitou had also made all of the animals as well as the birds. It is said he made the birds by taking handfuls of leaves and throwing them in the air. Then the leaves became birds and flew away.
But the worst thing of all happened. The animals soon began to fight and kill each other and that made Manitou mad, so he created the strongest animal to rule over all the others to see that they lived in peace. This was the grizzly bear, the king of all beasts.


The Mountains, the Land, and the Animals

The Utes have many trails through the steep mountain passes that they used when the seasons changed. They traveled to the land where the weather and the climate would provide food and game for their large families. In the spring and summer, the Utes traveled by foot to the mountain valleys where they could grow corn, harvest wild onions, and pick good berries.
During the warmer seasons, they would fish the swift clear streams, and hunt the game to feed their families through the long winters. The Utes dried the meat of the wild game that made it easy to carry from camp to camp and to use it later in the year.
On the narrow ledges, steep cliffs, and mountain peaks high above timberline lived the bighorn sheep. On the sides of the beautiful pine covered mountains, the elk, deer, and mountain lion lived. Antelope, deer, rabbits, and beavers lived below in the valleys and parks. After the Utes acquired the horse from the Spanish explorers, they hunted the plains to the east for buffalo.


Life in the Early Times

Life was very hard for the Ute people; they did not grow corn and squash in large fields like the ancient cliff dwellers. Their food came mostly from the wild animals that they hunted and from plants and berries that they gathered. The Utes spent much of the year moving from place to place looking for food. When the high mountain passes became covered with drifts of snow, the Utes left the mountains to look for food in the valleys and hills, and sometime even traveled east to hunt on the plains.
Before Utes had horses, moving from camp to camp during the winter was hard work. The only way to carry their possessions was on their backs. When the new camp was set up, the men hunted while the women looked for plants and berries. They did not always find enough food to eat. The Ute bands were often hungry during the long winters of the Colorado high desert plateau.
During these hard times, the families often traveled alone. Each family had its own favorite trails down through the mountains with its own hidden berry patches and hunting grounds. Ute families were larger then than most families of today; besides the father, mother, and children, there would be at least one pair of the children's grandparents and maybe an aunt and uncle along with their children and some adopted cousins. A family of this size was very useful. The grandparents could take care of the children while the fathers hunted the mothers looked for berries, onions, and other types of food. It was important to have the grandparents living with the family. The Utes believed that the grandparents were the wisest of the elders and could teach their children the ways of the Ute people.
At mealtime, the oldest person of the family was the first to be served. To take a drink before an older person did so or speak before he did was considered to be bad manners. When it was time to move camp, it was the grandfather who would say, "We must go on the next place. There is no more food here."
Camp life was good for the children. Their grandparents spent all day watching them play and often spoiled them. Ute parents did not believe in spanking their children when they ere bad. they thought it was enough to warn them that an evil spirit would come to get them if they misbehaved. After all, in that hard life, they would not be children long. Everyone know that the young children would soon begin to help the family.
From the time a Ute girl was very young, her grandmother would teach her how to search for food and help her mother. Some of the chores for the little girls were to dig roots, find berries, and gather wood for the fire. The boys would learn, usually from an uncle or grandfather, how to hunt deer and antelope or clear a new campground for the teepees. By the time the children were fourteen or fifteen, they could do most of the work a grown-up could do.


Spring Time and the Bear Dance

When spring came and the last of the snows were falling in the mountains, the Utes prepared for the special time of the year. This was the time when each family and band met together for celebrations. It would be a happy time of visiting, dancing, wedding celebrations, story telling, and playing games. Many of the people in the seven Ute Bands may not have even seen the others during the harsh winter unless they were attacked by an enemy tribe. So springtime would be the time for a great celebration  It would all begin with the Bear Dance.
The Utes had a story about how they first learned the Bear Dance. They said that a man went to sleep and had a dream about a bear. He dreamed that if he would go the a place in the mountains, a bear would teach him something of great strength. When he woke up, he went up to the mountain and saw al bear dancing back and forth. The bear spoke to the man who listened to his words of wisdom and then the bear taught him how to do this dance and to sing the Bear Dance song. The man came home and taught the dance and song to his people.
Every spring after that, the Utes gathered for this important celebration. The Utes have always loved to sing and dance and play games. They often danced before traveling to a new camp and then again when they arrive at the new encampment. In the early days the Bear Dance was their favorite, but they knew many other dances. They liked the Bear Dance because they felt it was a dance of strength which usually lasted for several days and which always ended with a great feast.
For the Bear Dance, the Utes played and sang to the music of the morache or rasp. The music of the morache is supposed to sound like a bear waking from his long winter nap.
The Bear Dance became a favorite of other Indian tribes, who learned it from the Utes.


Summer Time

When the snow began to melt in the mountains, the Utes would return to their summer homes. They went back to the valleys and parks where the wild flowers were blooming and the streams ran clear and cold. This was a good time of the year for the people for they more to eat during the summer. Besides the wild onions and small potatoes, they could also eat the fruit of the yucca plant. It was shaped like a banana and was later called the "Ute Banana." They also found ripe berries, chokecherries, and grass seeds. These were sometimes dried, ground up, and mixed with other foods.
Yet even spring and summer had their dangers. When the snow melted in the mountain passes and trails, the Utes' enemies also came to the mountain valleys. The Utes had to watch out for the Plains Indians who wanted their mountain hunting grounds and lands.



The Utes were not always so strong and feared by others. In the years before the introduction of the horse, they were nomadic bands who roamed the mountain and valleys of the west. The horse allowed them to become proud people feared by other Indian tribes. If their own harvests weren't large enough to feed their people, the Utes would often raid other Indian villages taking their goods and horses.
When the Spanish came to America, they brought the horse with them and introduced it to the native people who had never seen a horse. The Utes quickly learned how the horses could be very useful to them.
When they moved from camp to camp, the horses could carry their load. With horses, they could ride out on the plains to hunt buffalo. Then the people would have plenty to eat. When the enemies came to find them in the mountains, the Utes could either stand and fight or get away quickly with fast horses. This was very important as their enemies would soon have horses, too.
How did the Utes get horses? The Spanish and the other Indians would not give their horses away. And the Utes did not have gold or silver to buy horses. The Utes saw that they had to trade things in order to get what they wanted from the Spanish. But the Utes were poor Indians and often had only enough meat and hides for their own needs. When they could, they traded these items for the valuable horses.
The Spanish needed people to care for their horses and sheep on their huge ranches. Sometimes the Spanish captured Ute children and sometimes the children voluntarily worked on the ranched so they could learn how to ride and to take care of the horses. And, sometimes these Utes stole the horses and took them back to their families.
Chief Ouray, one of the most famous Ute chiefs, was one of these children who worked on the Spanish ranches. While he worked on theses ranches, he learned to speak four languages and later in his life became a statesman for his people in the treaty negotiations in Washington, D.C.


A Horse Raid

After many days traveling, a Ute war party would find a Cheyenne, Comanche, or other tribal village with a lot of horsed. The Utes would rush in and chase off as many horses as they could. When the Indians of the village came after them, they would try to get away as fast as they could, but sometimes they would have to stop and fight with their bows and arrows. If the Utes killed an enemy, they would scalp him take his bow and arrows and his clothes.
Sometimes they would return from a raid with many things they could use besides horses. When they arrived back in camp after a big raid, many people would dome to meet them. After a raid or hunt, the Utes would give away what they did not need. They gave horses and clothing to the Indians who were poor.
After a hunt, anyone could send a child over when fresh meat was brought in. He would sit down to wait and not say a word. Everyone knew what the child had come for. A Ute hunter always gave meat to those who need it. Someday that hunter might need something, too. If a man gave away many horses and much meat, he might be asked to be Chief someday. It meant that he could take care of his people.
As the Utes got more and more horses, their way of life began to change. They hunted buffalo on the plains and had plenty to eat. With more food they could live with their other families of their band in a big camp all year long. Sometimes these camps spread out for half a mile along a river or stream. Life was no longer so lonesome during the long winters. They also had warm buffalo robes to wear and strong buffalo hides for covering their teepees.
The Utes also found a better way to get horses. With fast horses of their own, they could raid other Indian tribes and steal horses from them. They no longer had to let their children work for the Spaniards. The Comanche Indians to the south were very rich in horses. So many of their horses were stolen by the Utes that two tribes became bitter enemies. The Arapahos and the Cheyenne Indians of the plains were also victims of Ute raids.
Life in a big camp was very exciting. In the morning, one of the leaders of the band would announce what was to be done that day. Each band now had a chief or camp leader. Only the leaders wore bonnets made from eagle feathers that streamed down the back. One chief might announce a buffalo hunt. Another time, the war chief might decide to lead a raid. All the men who wanted to join the raid would get the fastest horses and join him. Sometimes the Ute women went along to tend the camp.
When they lived in the big camps, the Utes learned many new dances. They did not have to wait until spring; they could dance together any time of the year. After a raid, the women would perform the Lame Dance. In the dance, they would drag their right foot to show how heavy the load was that they carried home from a raid. They would also do a Scalp Dance or a War Dance after a raid.


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