Auray, Chief of the Ute Nation.
The Ute lived in the vast landscapes of the Great Basin and subsisted almost exclusively on big game hunting. This included hunting expeditions to the Great Plains of present-day Colorado and New Mexico to kill American bison (buffalo). The “Ute” did not form “tribes” in the true sense of the word, but were divided into several dozen bands, which were usually subdivided into local bands. The local group in turn consisted of several extended families, so that in one band/group almost every member was related to most.
They did not practise any agriculture. The Ute were one of the first Plains tribes to acquire horses, which they traded for or stole from the Spanish explorers from around 1630. The mobility completely changed by the horses also led to a change in the society of the Ute.
Conflicts as well as alliances with neighbouring tribes arose, as well as expanded trade relations. In the east and northeast, the Ute had mostly hostile conflicts with the Plains tribes of the Arapaho (Sadteetuhkuh – “dog meat eaters”) and Cheyenne (Seeyehnah) who had invaded there at the beginning of the 19th century,
The Ute are a Native American people of the Great Basin cultural area of the United States, characterised by both the humid climate of the high mountains and the semi-arid, often desert-like deep valleys. All tribes and peoples of the Great Basin (with the exception of the Washoe in the west) belonged to the Numic-speaking peoples.
The origin and meaning of the tribal name “Ute” in general use today is not clear, does not originate from the Ute language and could not be convincingly derived from any other indigenous language so far.
The first mention of the name in the form of “Yuta” is found in Spanish documents. However, it could be a Spanish takeover of a Western Apache (in Ute: Ahvahch) name for the Navajo living to the north as yutaháⁿ, yú-dàh (“those who live far up north”); an erroneous transfer of ethnonyms to groups not originally designated by this name was not uncommon, as Europeans often could not accurately distinguish between the individual indigenous ethnic groups.
Their tribal territory, which they called Nootuvweep (“Land of the People, i.e. Land of the Ute”), included eastern present-day Utah, western and central Colorado, and northern New Mexico to the San Juan River (and its tributaries) and headwaters of the Canadian River.
The original hunting and gathering grounds of the Ute, however, extended far beyond into southwestern Wyoming, onto the plains of eastern Colorado and western Kansas, the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandle, and northeastern Arizona and eastern Nevada.
When the Ute-Comanche alliance broke up in 1726/1728 (as the Jicarilla Apache, who had been driven southwest, no longer served as a buffer between the two peoples), the Ute-Comanche Wars (1727-1786) broke out, in which the Ute and Jicarilla Apache often served the Spanish as scouts against the Comanche (and their allies).
Large parts of the Southern Plains now became Comancheria, the domain of the Comanche (and from 1790 also of the Kiowa and Plains Apache), and from 1820 the Plains areas in eastern Colorado and western Kansas became tribal territories of the hostile Southern Cheyenne and Southern Arapaho (who in turn allied themselves with the Comanche-Kiowa-Plains Apache in 1840).
Since then, the Ute could only use the Plains to hunt bison at the risk of possible conflict with the allied tribes of the Southern Plains – the Ko.ma’ntcia, Kɨmantsi, Kohmáhts, Koomahch (“Those who always want to fight me”).
The Ute language, together with the languages of the neighbouring and related Bannock, Comanche, Chemehuevi, Gosiute, Paiute and Shoshone, is one of the Numic languages, all of which belong to the Northern Branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family.
Although considered a rather aggressive people, they were largely friendly to the American government and supported it in the campaigns against the Comanche, Apache or Kiowa. The expulsion of the Ute from their ancestral settlement areas began with the treaty between the Ute and the government on 30 December 1849. In the course of Indian policy, more and more land was bought from the Ute or exchanged for other areas on reservations via treaties, and their habitat was gradually restricted to the reservations allocated to them by the government.