on-line book icon

table of contents

Field Division of Education
Ethnology of Rocky Mountain National Park: The Ute and Arapaho
NPS logo



Of minor elements of material culture, we have no specific Arapaho data. Musical instruments of the Cheyenne are given by Grinnell, and include drums, rattles, whistles, and flageolets. See Grinnell, also, for horse equipage and pipes. Culin and Kroeber also have data on games. Kroeber notes in connection with horse equipage that the Arapaho formerly used the horse travois and earlier the dog-travois. The Arapaho had light willow cages in which children were transported on the travois. (Grinnell, 1923, 202-209; 312-335; Kroeber, 1902, 23-24; Culin; Kroeber, 1907, 368-397; Mooney, 1896, 964).

Leather work played an important part in plains economy. Skins were used for clothing, lodge covers, etc., and tanning was a much used art. The method was to remove the blood, fat, and flesh from the inside with a scraper which was made of slate or quartzite and had an edge. The flasher, commonly a chisel-shaped instrument made from the buffalo leg-bone, was then used to thin the hide. The hide was then roughened or abraded with the rough part of the proximal humerus of the buffalo, cut off just below the. articulation. Sometimes the hair was taken off with a bone implement something like a spoke-shave. A mixture made of pounded soaproot, brains, liver, and grease, was rubbed into both sides of the hide and it was wrapped up over night. Then it was dried and softened by pulling back and forth over a rope or through a hole in a buffalo shoulder blade.

Leather was used for clothing, and commonly was sewed with sinew thread taken from the back sinew of the buffalo. Leather or rawhide was used for such purposes as making shields, saddles, ropes, moccasins, and the various bags and containers, particularly the parfleche, a rawhide "trunk," more or less like an envelope, which was used as a container for almost everything. It was in the decoration of these parfleches that some of the most typical and best studied decoration of the Plain's people occurred. (Kroeber, 1902, 26-7; 46 et seq.; Grinnell, 1923, 187-219).

Cradles were of no specialized Plains type; they were skin covered, end elaborately and symbolically decorated. (Kroeber, 1902, 66-69).


Basketry is remarkable in that it has very few twined types. Biconical or pear-shaped bottles and a crude openwork gathering basket are the only twined examples. The rest of the basketry is coiled. The baskets also are coiled and apparently the distinctive conical shape of the Basin people is lacking. The berrying or burden baskets are flattish or rounded at the bottom and are of a peculiar two rod coiling which is the one peculiarly Ute type of basket (Lowie, 1924a, figs. 27 a, 28 a, c).

No data on materials or techniques exist. Shapes and designs seem to suggest Apache affinities. Bowls, plaques, and possibly basketry hats comprise the list of Ute baskets, all in coiled technique. The distinctive Basin Shoshonean twined seed beaters and trays are lacking.

(Lowie, 1924a, 241. For illust. see same, pp. 255, fig. 27; 259, figs. 28 and 30; 263, fig. 31. Mason also has some basketry illustrations but his proveniences are uncertain. The same are true of those shown by Powell).

Weaving: There is no mention of any weaving among the Ute. The rabbit skin blanket was probably made as it was used (see Clothing) and was characteristic of the Basin.

Pottery: The Ute formerly made pottery, but the art has long been forgotten. It seems to have been crude and undecorated ware. There are no data on shapes or techniques. Basket boiling with hot stones seems to have been at least as common as boiling in earthenware pots, probably more so. Only a few women are said to have known the technique, trading the pots to others.

Miscellaneous manufactures: The Ute tanned hides, first removing the flesh with a serrate flesher, then scraping the hair off with a beaming tool made of deer shin-bone. The hide was then wetted, stretched, and dried. Wet deer brains were rubbed into the dry hide, or the hide was soaked in them. It was then sewn together, hung over a tripod, and staked to the ground, a smouldering fire of willow inside the tipi-like structure smoking the hide. It was reversed when smoked, and the opposite side smoked. Sometimes the smoking was omitted and the hide smoothed and softened by rubbing with a stone. (Lowie, 1924a, 227).

Porcupine quill embroidery was made by the Utes, a non-Basin trait. String was made of deer sinew or from sage brush bark. The latter string was three-ply, a somewhat unusual feature, as most primitive string is two-ply. (Lowie, 1924a, 228-229).

The Uintah Ute made a raft of grass to use for fishing. These rafts would hold from two to five men, who shot fish from them with the bow and arrow. When not in use, they were inverted and allowed to dry. These were evidently somewhat similar to the tule balsas of other regions. (Lowie, 1924a, 249).

The Ute employ two types of cradle. One is sometimes called the California type, which is used with minor modifications among all the Basin Shoshoneans, and is made of basketry. The other type is a distinctively Plains cradle and is made of buckskin stretched over a wooden frame, with a sort of awning over the head. The shape is rounded at the top, tapering toward the bottom (Lowie, 1924a, 251-2; 267, fig. 33 for illustrations).

Lowie describes the handgame as played by the Ute. Culin has additional data on Ute games. (Lowie, 1924a, 257-8; Culin).

Previous Next

top of page

History  |   Links to the Past  |   National Park Service  |   Search  |   Contact

Last Modified: Sat, Feb 9 2002 10:00:00 am PDT

ParkNet Home