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Field Division of Education
Ethnology of Rocky Mountain National Park: The Ute and Arapaho
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The Rocky Mountain National Park Museum has an excellent opportunity to bring a sharp contrast into its displays of ethnological material, in having at hand a typical Plains tribe, the Arapaho, and a modified Basin Shoshonean tribe, the Ute. While it may not be feasible with the space and materials at present available, it would seem that the main story to be ultimately depicted in the museum is the contrast between these two peoples and, in a larger sense, between the two culture areas involved; the one representing a highly specialized and complex culture, the other, one of the most primitive and simple cultures in the Americas. This contrast can be depicted to a large extent without serious departure from the ordinary forms of museum display and can be built up gradually as materials and information are accumulated.

The method which suggests itself is that of pointing out throughout the display, those items which are typically Plains, by reference to lists of tribes in which similar customs or artifacts are characteristic; on the other hand, items of Ute culture which are Basin and not Plains may be similarly indicated by lists of tribes. Eventually, this should be made graphic by means of small distribution maps accompanying each item, while one or more master maps and tables would make clear what is being aimed at in the smaller distribution maps or lists. Such a master table might list Ute cultural items which are of Basin and not Plains distribution; and also Ute and Arapaho items which are Plains but not Basin. Master maps should show the relation between the Plains cultures and the buffalo, and the forest distributions of the area. A suggestion for one of these maps is appended.

The food quest of the Arapaho is essentially the story of the buffalo; and something similar to that suggested for the Scott's Bluff historical museum, from the Cheyenne, would emphasize this story compactly. On the Ute side, the greater diversity of hunting methods and sustenance can be brought out by showing the communal deer hunts and rabbit hunts, as well as the variety of vegetable food and the special techniques of gathering and preparing.

Dress and ornamentation should justly receive considerable display because of their picturesqueness. The Arapaho, in particular, are one of the few tribes among which genuine symbolism occurs. Kroeber, 1902, 36-150; 1900, and 1901, has dealt with this at length, and almost any degree of elaboration may be used in developing the story of Arapaho symbolism in connection with articles of dress, bags, pouches, tent ornaments, shields, etc. In contrast, of course, this is almost completely lacking among the Ute and Basin Shoshoneans.

Weapons and warfare will afford an opportunity of showing Ute acculturation to Plains patterns. They are rated a war-like people, while the majority of the Shoshoneans are not. In general, their manufactures and artifacts will display Basin affinities, however, while those of the Arapaho will be Plains-like. Basketry will hold a place in Ute displays, while leather working will take its place for the Arapaho.

Arapaho societies are worthy of attention, not only because of their intrinsic interest, but to give significance to the large amount of specialised paraphernalia, A master label should explain the societies briefly, giving ages, grades within the societies, and the functions of the different societies. A series of interesting illustrations can be made showing costumes of the different dances connected with the societies and explaining the no-flight and other military obligations assumed by special groups. This is, of course, specifically Arapaho, and nothing of the sort could be done for the Ute. Relations with the Plains tribes can be shown for the Arapaho material, however.

The Sun dance can also be given effective display, by a model or drawing of the Sun dance of the Arapaho such as is used at the American Museum of Natural History (illustrated by Wissler, 115), together with explanations of the purpose and distribution of the Sun dance as the most characteristic Plains Indian ceremony. Elaboration of almost unlimited extent may be made by including specimens of customs, regalia, sketches of various body paints used, altars, etc. Dorsey's work on the Arapaho Sun Dance is profusely illustrated.

In contrast, the Ute Sun Dance, being a recent acquisition, can be treated more briefly. Little material exists and it can be summarized with a few sketches such as a reproduction of the original of the appended sketch of the Ute Sun dance lodge.

In most cases it is not practical to give much display in museums to phases of culture which deal with religion and social organization, Yet in the case of the Plains tribes, the paraphernalia and costumes of the various society dances and the Sun Dance form such an extensive, varied, and striking portion of the material culture objects that it seems some special effort at display is called for.

map of Arapaho/Cheyenne territory
(After Wissler, with modifications and additions)

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