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


The Arapaho were typical Plains tipi dwellers. Their tipis must have been very similar to those of the Cheyenne. In the ceremonies connected with a new lodge, if a properly qualified Cheyenne were not available to dedicate the lodge, an Arapaho might do it, and vice versa, an indication, incidentally, of the close relations between the two tribes. Grinnell gives a lengthy description of the Cheyenne lodge and the making and ceremonies connected therewith, together with some Arapaho data. The Arapaho evidently sometimes built windbreaks beside the tipi. (Grinnell, 1923 224-235; Mooney, 1896, 957. Illus. of tipi and windbreak.).

The most important items of tipi furniture among the Arapaho, as among other Plains tribes, were the beds or back-rests. These were made of slender willows strung on cords running through holes at either end. The Arapaho form was similar to the general Plains type, with the backrests tapering toward the top and fastened to a tripod of poles. Their use, however, was sometimes different, for Mooney illustrates them as being sometimes on a framework of poles raised from the ground on forked posts instead of resting on the ground or on a straw or grass mattress. Back of the beds were stored the various possessions of the family, usually in rawhide cases or bags. This included the surplus food.

Pottery was formerly made by the Arapaho, but it has been abandoned for many years. It appears to have been most crudely made. The rawhide cooking vessels were placed in holes dug in the ground, not supported on sticks. Plates were made of rawhide also. Bowls were hollowed out of spherical cottonwood knots. Spoons and cups were made of horns of mountain sheep. Formerly basketry cups were made, as well as basketry trays. At present small trays of coiled basketry are made for throwing dice. Stone mauls, wooden root diggers, combs or porcupine tail or buffalo tongue, formed part of the household equipment. (Kroeber, 1902, 25; Grinnell, 1923, 209-246; Mooney, 1896, 964; illus. opp. 962).


Ute dwellings recall the fact that their nickname among neighboring tribes was "bad lodges." They used a form of the Plains tipi, but it appears to have been smaller, less carefully made, and, although sometimes painted, was without pictures. Their tipi was always erected on a four-pole foundation and usually had a total of eleven poles with two additional poles for regulating the smoke hole. Poles measured seem to be about 17 feet long, which is shorter than is common on the plains. Among the Uintah, and perhaps ethers, twelve rather than eleven poles are common. About ten elkskins or buffalo hides were used to make the cover.

The Ute of Ignacio, Colorado, remembered a brush or bark-covered structure as preceding their use of the plains tipi. At Ouray, the Ute, as late as 1912, were using a structure which differed from the tipi in having a brush cover and which was said to be the old style. The tipi was abandoned and often burned, at death.

In summer a shade is used, simply a frame work roofed with brush. (Lowie, 1924a, 219-220; shade and tipi illustration, Lowie, 1924a, 209; Powell, 43; tipi illustration, opp. 43).

A special temporary structure made of poles and brush is used for a variety of purposes. Chiefly it is intended for the sequestration of women during the menstrual period. (Lowie, 1924a, 273).

The Ute used a sweat lodge, but no detailed description of its appearance or construction exists.

No specific data exist on the household equipment and furnishings of the Ute. Pottery, baskets, the metate and muller are known to have been used, and so, of course, formed part of the household furniture.

Ute Sun Dance Lodge
Ute Sun Dance Lodge
After drawing by native schoolgirl
Lowie, 1919, 406.

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