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