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Field Division of Education
Ethnology of Rocky Mountain National Park: The Ute and Arapaho
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The Arapaho are known to be a typical Plains tribe and closely similar to the Cheyenne. In the absence of detailed accounts of the material culture of the Arapaho, the Cheyenne may safely be followed to fill in the deficiency. This is particularly true in the case of the food supply, as no account of the Arapaho use of the buffalo exists.

Buffalo: Like all Plains tribes the Arapaho depended to an enormous extent on the buffalo. Anciently, before migrating to their present location, the Arapaho may have been partially agricultural. One of their sacred objects is a stone resembling an ear of corn, end their traditions speak of agricultural pursuits. (Mooney, 1898, 959). However, in the historical period, the Arapaho depended almost entirely on the buffalo.

A summary of Cheyenne methods of utilizing the buffalo has already been prepared for the historical museum at Scotts Bluff. Consequently it will not be reported here, as the material is already available. (See suggestions for museum case on the buffalo, Scotts Bluff Historical Museum.)

The plant foods of the Cheyenne, which must have been similar to those of the Arapaho, included acorns. They were roasted in the shell, shelled, and the kernels pounded to a meal. This was boiled as a mush with a little buffalo fat. The pods of the knife-scabbard tree (Gynmocladus) were eaten. Sap from the box-elder tree was boiled to make a sort of sugar. Chokeberries, sarvis berries, plums, sand cherries, bull berries, and currants were eaten fresh or dried. They were pounded up and dried in flat cakes of rectangular form, 2 by 2-1/2 inches, stored in rawhide sacks. (illus. Grinnell, 1923, opp. p. 304). The pomme blanche was gathered in the spring and cooked fresh or dried for winter use. The roots and bulbs of several other plants are eaten. Grinnell gives a list of plants used for foods and medicines.

The methods of hunting seem to have been typical Plains methods, although in hunting buffalo the Cheyenne seem to have used a lance in preference to a bow and arrow when hunting on horseback. Buffalo and elk were driven over cliffs. Elk are mentioned specifically as being killed in this way by the Arapaho. Antelope were also driven into enclosures, or into pits, or over cliffs. Mountain sheep wore shot with the bow and arrow. Buffalo were hunted in winter on snowshoes by the Arapaho. Smaller animals were little used. Eagles were caught from pits to secure their feathers.

Turtles and fish were eaten by the Cheyenne, and presumably by the Arapaho, in distinction to many of the Plains tribes who would not eat fish. Fish weirs were usually used. (Grinnell, 1923, 1:247-311; Kroeber, 1902, 22-23).

The usual method of storing food was to dry it and store it, often pounded fine, in bags placed in parbleches and kept in the tipi. These were usually placed behind the mattresses or beds in the lodge. (Grinnell, 1923, 245-6).

Food was usually cooked by boiling in rawhide containers. Hot stones were dropped into these containers. (Kroeber, 1902, 25).


The principal animal foods of the Ute were buffalo, elk, deer, and rabbits. The buffalo were chased on horses. The small part that buffalo played in the diet is attested by the fact that when a buffalo was killed, the meat was divided in small pieces among all the band. There was no buffalo drive, apparently, such as was common in the Plains. Instead, this technique was used on deer. The deer were driven into deep pits between the wings of a sage brush enclosure.

Rabbits played a considerable part in the economy of the Ute. They were hunted communally. The Uintah band had rabbit nets made from bark fiber, but the White River band are said not to have had them. Sometimes jackrabbits were hunted on horseback. This illustrates the intermediate type of Ute culture. The rabbit net and communal rabbit hunt are typical Great Basin traits. The more western tribes often had a special chief of the rabbit hunt who served for a number of years and whose position was one of great honor in the community. On the other hand, chasing game on horseback is a typical Plains trait. Another way of getting rabbits was to set fire to the brush in a circle and kill the animals as they ran out. Probably dogs were used in hunting. At least, most of the other Basin Shoshoneans hunted with dogs.

Eagles were caught by the Uintah for ceremonial usage. The hunter hid in a pit. This is a typical Plains trait. (Lowie, 1924a, 199; 215-216).

Fish weirs were made by the Ute, of willow. The fish were caught in the hands as they became entangled in the weir. Fish were also caught by the Uintah Ute by shooting them with barbed arrows from a raft made of grass. This was not done by the White River Utes. Fish were eaten fresh, or cut up and boiled in earthen vessels, or they were split open by the women, boned, dried on a frame, and stored for fall and winter food in caches. (Lowie, 1924a, 200).

Berries, grass seeds, sun flower seeds, and various roots were gathered in burden baskets supported by a burden strap. Berries were dried and placed in baskets, which were then stored in pits dug in the ground, the whole being covered with earth. Presumably seeds and other vegetable products were similarly stored in baskets, but there are no data. Chokeberries were mashed with the pits and dried into round lumps which were placed in bags for storage. Sunflower seeds were ground, boiled, and then dried for storage in caches. Tule seeds were used for food. An unidentified root wici, was pounded up for food and the seeds of the same plant used as a soap for washing. (Lowie, 1924a, 200-203; Chamberlin, 1909; Palmer, 1870; 1878).

The Utes seem to have used the metate and muller, a Basin rather than Plains trait. They had both flat and rimmed or trough like, metates. At least this is true of the Utah bands; there are no data on the Colorado bands, who naturally would be more Plains-like. (Lowie, 1924a, 204).

There are practically no data on cooking, but, as the Ute all had pottery, it is likely that this was used for cooking purposes generally. When on the march, where pottery would be inconvenient, presumably they were sufficiently Plains-like to use stone boiling in skin vessels, or sufficiently Basin-like to use baskets in the same way.

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