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Field Division of Education
Ethnology of Rocky Mountain National Park: The Ute and Arapaho
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MATERIAL CULTURE: Weapons and Warfare


Bows were always sinew backed. Those of cedar had sinew on both sides. Though not specifically mentioned, the Arapaho probably made bows of horn, also, as did the Cheyenne. The bow string was probably of sinew.

Arrows: The Cheyenne made arrows of shoots of the cherry or currant. Some used "red-willow." Each arrow-maker cut these shoots to a length which he carefully measured but which varied from one arrow-maker to another. After drying, they were straightened through straighteners made by drilling holes in bones or horns. The shaft was rubbed down with grooved sandstone slabs. Another bone implement with a hole in it and a slight projection was used to make a groove in the shaft after it was straightened. Sometimes a notched flint with a projection in the notch was employed. The shaft was then pushed back and forth in a "standardizer," a bone implement with a hole which rubbed the shafts down to uniform size. The shaft was then feathered with three feathers which had been split in half, and carefully trimmed to the standard size. It was glued and wrapped at the ends with sinew. A notch was cut to receive the point of stone, bone, horn, or of the sole of a buffalo hoof, which was fastened on with sinew. At the opposite end was cut a notch for the string, and a slight groove was cut around the arrow below this, and the space to the end roughened to give a firm grip on the arrow. Some arrows had detachable foreshafts. Arrows were painted with ownership marks.

Knives were made of stone or bone, particularly the bosse rib or dorsal spines of the buffalo. Stone axes were sometimes used, and war clubs were made of stones encased in skin and had long flexible handles.

Lances were much used. The ordinary type was a wooden shaft six to seven feet in length with a chipped stone point, often leaf-shaped. It was bound to the shaft with rawhide or sinew. There were also various forms of ceremonial lances.

Shields were of great importance in the armament, not so much because of their actual protection but because they had magical and ceremonial significance of great importance. The shield was made of a circular piece of dried and toughened bull hide. Certain ceremonies were connected with the making of them, and not everyone could carry one.

(Kroeber, 1902, 24-25; Grinnell, 1923, 172-202).

So much has been said about Plains Indian warfare that it need not be described in detail. War was the way of achieving social distinction. With few exceptions, a man who had not accomplished certain prescribed actions in war could have no social rank of importance. The actions were stereotyped so that they made war into something of a game in which the more killing of an enemy was the least important aspect. Touching an enemy, alive or dead, was more meritorious than killing him, and stealing a horse from a camp, taking away an enemy's gun or, earlier, his bow and arrow, were far more important deeds than slaying a warrior.


Practically no data are given on Ute weapons. They had bows of cedar, pine, or other woods. They, in all probability, were armed, and practiced the same war customs as the Plains tribes. The Shoshoni to the north evidently did, in any case. Reed gives some indication that Plains customs were followed, but Lowie's characterization of his volume as "fanciful" should be considered, when utilizing any of the material. (Lowie, 1924a, 245; Reed, 28, 79, 83).

The Ute are known to have been a war-like people. According to Lowie's material they fought the Navaho, Kiowa, Apache, Comanche, and Shoshoni. They must also have fought the Arapaho, although that was not mentioned by Lowie. The Arapaho told Kroeber they preferred to fight the Ute because they were the bravest of all their enemies. (Lowie 1924a, 194; Kroeber, 1902, 8).

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