Did the Utes Use Sign Language?

Rushing Bear demonstrates sign for "now"

Rushing Bear demonstrates sign for “now”

In his book Our Wild Indians Richard Irving Dodge shared what he learned about the Indians’ use of sign language.
          “Plains Indians,” according to Dodge, “used sign even to accompany speaking among themselves. Talking with their hands was just habit to them.”
         But Dodge noticed that other tribes made far less use of sign language.
          Dodge once asked Chief Ouray about Ute sign language. “Ouray told me his people never used the sign language among themselves,” Dodge reported. “Most of the [Ute] warriors had picked up a little smattering of this language and used it in their [communication] with the Plains Indians or with the whites.”
          Similarly, “most of [the Utes] had acquired a slight knowledge of Spanish by and for use in their trade with Mexicans and Apaches.”

From: Our Wild Indians: Thirty-three Years of Personal Experience Among the Red Men of the Great West by Richard Irving Dodge, A.D. Worthington and Company, Hartford, CT, 1882, page 384.

Photo from Smithsonian collection

Published in: on April 14, 2014 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Indian Communication

Ute Scout 1899“All persons who have been among Indians are astonished at the wonderful speed and accuracy of Indian rumors,” reported Richard Irving Dodge, longtime western military officer in the 1800s. “Something occurs today; it is known tomorrow at distances that appear incredible.”
          “In September, 1880 an outbreak occurred at Fort Reno, sixty miles from this post (Cantonment, Indian Territory). The Indian scouts here knew and informed me of it before I heard of it by the telegraph line between the two posts.
          “So, also, when Ouray was sick; his condition was known every day by us, though we were quite a hundred miles away, and the country between us exceedingly difficult.” [Dodge probably refers to Ouray’s final illness in 1880.]

Photo Courtesy Denver Public Library, Western History Collection 

Quoted material from: Our Wild Indians: Thirty-three Years of Personal Experience Among the Red Men of the Great West by Richard Irving Dodge, A.D. Worthington and Company, Hartford, CT, 1882, page 344.

An April Fool about Chipeta

In honor of Chipeta’s recognition this month by the National Women’s History Project, here is a story about Chipeta that originally appeared on this blog on April 1, 2009

On April 1, 1883, The Denver Republican newspaper offered a tongue-in-cheek report that, after Ouray’s death and the Ute relocation to Utah, Chipeta married a White River Ute with the image-laden name “Toomuchagut”. The humorous piece was taken as fact by some, but it carried a shred of truth.
          Chipeta did have a second mate after Ouray’s death. She was counted with her husband, Accumooquats, in the 1885 Indian census taken at the Ouray Agency, Utah.


          Oddly enough, the 1885 Indian census also records a Ute man named Occuptoomuchakut living on the Ouray Agency with his wife, Tahveeah, and three small children.

Caswop’s Chickens

Shan Kive in Garden of the Gods 1912

Shan Kive in Garden of the Gods 1912

In honor of Chipeta’s recognition during National Women’s History Month, here is another little story about Chipeta. It reveals her long held friendships and her appreciation of kindness offered.

In August of 1912, Chipeta joined a group of Utes who were invited to participate in an event called Shan Kive which was held in the Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs. They travelled by horseback.
          On their return trip to the Utah reservation, the Utes camped along the Gunnison River near Delta, Colorado. When a local man named Newton Castle learned that Chipeta was with the group, he rode out to see her. He had made friends with Chipeta when he worked as a trader in the 1880s.
          Chipeta welcomed “Caswop,” as she had always called him. Castle took Chipeta and her ten-year-old neice to his home to spend the night with his family. The Utes were leaving for Utah the next morning and the Castles gave Chipeta a few live chickens in a wire cage. They thought she could roast the chickens at the next camp and eat them on the trip back to Utah.
          As they watched Chipeta ride away on her horse with only a blanket for a saddle, the Castles thought they had seen and heard the last of the old Indian woman.
          The following spring, Mrs. Castle was surprised to greet three young Ute women at her front door. They said Chipeta had sent them to thank the Castle’s and to report on the chickens. The birds were all alive and well and producing eggs and offspring.

Photo courtesy Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

Published in: on March 24, 2014 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

Named By Chipeta

In honor of Chipeta’s recognition during National Women’s History Month, here is one of my favorite stories about Chipeta. It reveals her love of children, and a sense of humor.

On visits to the town of Ouray, Utah, Chipeta often stopped in at Matt Curry’s trading post. One day a white man known as Buckskin Shirt came toward her, pushing along in front of him a small boy. The man introduced his nephew, George Emery Stewart. He said the boy wanted to meet her.

          Chipeta bent her face down close to the boy’s and stroked his cheek. She spoke to him in English and the poor boy looked like he might cry.

          Reverting to speaking Ute, Chipeta commented to herself about “the poor little frightened boy.”

          George responded in Ute and said he was not frightened. He had picked the language from his Ute playmates.

          After that meeting, George went out of his way to speak to Chipeta whenever he saw her in town.

          And Chipeta always smiled and greeted him with, “Hello, little frightened boy.”

          George hated that name. One day he got up the courage to tell Chipeta that he hoped she would not always call him a frightened boy.

          Chipeta smiled and nodded in understanding. She thought for a moment, then said she would give him a new name. “From now on I will call you Uviev.”    

          George was pleased but he had to ask what the name meant.

          “Walks like a turkey,” Chipeta said with a smile.

          Now you might think George would not be happy with this name either. But, he was. He was very proud of this name that Chipeta had bestowed upon him. From that day on he was known as Uviev among his Ute friends.

Adapted from Tales from Indian Country by George Emery Stewart, Jr. (compiled by his granddaughter-in-law MaryEllen Stewart Gardner), SunRise Publishing, 1997. 
About George Emery Stuart: http://www.pennygardner.com/uintah_basin_history.html

Published in: on March 17, 2014 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Chipeta – Woman of Character, Courage and Commitment

In honor of Chipeta’s recognition during National Women’s History Month, here is a post about her 1880 testimony before a Congressional Committee investigating the Meeker Massacre in Colorado. This post originally appeared on this blog March 24, 2009.

Chipeta by Mathew Brady, Washington, D.C., 1880

Chipeta by Mathew Brady, Washington, D.C., 1880

On March 19, 1880 Chipeta entered the Capitol building and took the witness stand facing a group of Congressmen seated behind a long table. Not yet 40 years old, she had lived her entire life in the Rocky Mountains. She was the wife of Chief Ouray and his most trusted advisor and confidant. She travelled to Washington, D.C. with a group of Ute chiefs. Secretary of Interior Carl Schurz welcomed her as a member of the delegation rather than as a tag-along wife.

Her upcoming testimony was announced by The Washington Post, describing her as “a fat, good-humored looking squaw.” The reason for her appearance in the capitol city was an event that had captured national attention the previous year. A group of Northern Utes attacked a column of soldiers, murdered their Indian agent, Nathan Meeker, and all male employees of the agency. They spirited three white women and two children into the high mountains as hostages. Newspapers across the nation followed the unfolding events for the next 30 days until the hostages were safely released.

In the Congressional hearing, Chipeta responded (through an interpreter) to ten questions about where she was when the massacre took place and what caused the events. Most of her answers amounted to “I don’t know” because she had not been present at the massacre. She told the committee some of the Indians said Agent Meeker “was a bad man, that he talked bad…Some of them claimed that he was always writing to Washington and giving his side of the case, and all the troubles at the agency…I do not know whether that is what they killed him for, or what they did it for.”


Source: Testimony in Relation to Ute Outbreak, 46th Congress, 2nd Session, House Miscellaneous Documents no. 38, 1880, 91.

Chipeta Honored

207px-Chipeta_(Ute_Tribe)National Women’s History Month 2014
Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment
          Each year, March is designated as National Women’s History Month to ensure that the history of American women will be recognized and celebrated in schools, workplaces, and communities throughout the country.
          This year’s theme, Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment, honors the extraordinary and often unrecognized determination and tenacity of women. Against social convention and often legal restraints, women have created a legacy that expands the frontiers of possibility for generations to come.
          The lives and work of the 2014 Honorees span the centuries of American history and come from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. 
          Chipeta is one of the women honored this year.          
          Chipeta (1843 – 1924)
          Indian Rights Advocate and Diplomat
Chipeta was a Ute Indian leader, diplomat, and peacemaker who used her influence with Chief Ouray (her husband) to avert a war between the Ute tribe and the White settlers. In 1880 she was included in a Ute delegation to negotiate a reservation resettlement treaty in Washington DC.

Read about all the honorees

Published in: on March 3, 2014 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Chief Ouray

cc0307aTo learn more about Chipeta’s husband, Chief Ouray, read a brief bio on the Denver Public Library blog or the full biography Ouray Chief of the Utes by P. David Smith.

          This photo was taken in the 1870s by William Chamberlain in the Denver studio of William Henry Jackson.

Ouray’s Pipe and Pipe Bag


This photo of Ouray was taken about 1863. He holds the ebony cane given to him by President Abraham Lincoln during his first trip to Washington with a delegation of Utes. Ouray also wears the Lincoln Peace Medal which was given to a few chiefs at the conclusion of the 1863 treaty conference held in Colorado.            
          History Colorado, Denver, has in it’s collection Ouray’s ceremonial pipe and pipe bag. You can see a picture of these items and read the description at: https://collectioncare.auraria.edu/content/ourays-pipe-and-pipe-bag-ute-indian-leader
Chipeta made Ouray’s clothing, mocassins, and pipe bag from deer or elk hides and decorated them with trade beads and possibly some natural materials such as seeds or quills.

Life of one Indian Child

portrait Zitkala-SaHere are a couple of brief excerpts from “Impressions of an Indian Childhood – Mother” by Zitkala-Sa (Gerturde Bonnin). The full story is found in  American Indian Stories, available free online at www.gutenberg.org

“I was a wild little girl of seven. Loosely clad in a slip of brown buckskin, and light-footed with a pair of soft moccasins on my feet, I was as free as the wind that blew my hair, and no less spirited than a bounding deer. These were my mother’s pride,–my wild freedom and overflowing spirits. She taught me no fear save that of intruding myself upon others.”  

About learning beadwork she wrote… “When I became a little familiar with designing and the various pleasing combinations of color, a harder lesson was given me. It was the sewing on, instead of beads, some tinted porcupine quills, moistened and flattened between the nails of the thumb and forefinger. My mother cut off the prickly ends and burned them at once in the centre fire. These sharp points were poisonous, and worked into the flesh wherever they lodged. For this reason, my mother said, I should not do much alone in quills until I was as tall as my cousin Warca-Ziwin.”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.