Before gold seekers and settlers moved into Ute territory in the mid 1800’s, meat was plentiful. The Utes were skilled hunters. Deer, elk, antelope, and mountain sheep grazed on the mountain sides. Great herds of bison roamed the parks (broad meadows surrounded by mountains).
They caught fish in willow baskets and cooked them on a spit over a fire. They also boned and hung them on poles to dry and store for winter. John C. Fremont reported receiving dried fish from the Utes during his travels in 1843. The Utes also trapped river animals. Roasted beaver tail was a special treat.
Wild grass seeds, such as pigweed, lamb’s quarter, and millet, could be ground for flour to make flat bread. There was fruit in the mountains during spring and summer. Strawberries, currants, chokecherries and plums were eaten fresh or dried for winter use.
The autumn buffalo hunt was the major source of winter food. Ute women preserved the meat by cutting it into strips and drying it in the sun. The whole family joined in gathering small nuts of the pinon tree in the late fall. Picking and roasting this treat was a festive family event. (Those tasty nuts are still a great treat today.) Another treat that could be stored for travelling or for winter was made from dried crickets, grasshoppers and cicadas. These were chopped and mixed with berries to small fruit cakes.
After living on a limited diet of stored food during the winter, everyone craved fresh greens. The first sprouts of grasses were especially tasty. Ute women used sticks to dig wild carrots, the roots of sego lily and fritillary. Brake fern, asparagus, bitterroot, wild potatoes and onions grew in the runoff from high mountain snowmelt. They gathered eggs laid by ducks and mud hens. The Utes ate the blossoms and fruit of the yucca plant and used the root for soap.
This series of posts attempts to answer the most frequently asked questions from students who visited this site in 2012. Information from The Handbook of North American Indians, Volume II, Great Basin, Smithsonian Institution