American Indian Area

Learn more about the American Indian Area

Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site’s story begins with the American Indians. The Ute’s oral tradition says that Colorado is their homeland and they have no migration story. After acquiring horses from the Spanish around 1630, the Utes became skilled horsemen. Camp Creek Valley, which today includes Rock Ledge Ranch, provided a base camp for the Utes with abundant water and diverse plant life. The Ute Trail passes through Garden of the Gods and the Ranch site. In the mid-19th century, gold discoveries and further Westward expansion and settlement brought the U.S. government into conflict with the Ute. As a result, the Ute people were removed from this area to reservations in Southwestern Colorado and Utah in the 1870s. At the American Indian Interpretive Area, we interpret the period between 1775-1835. These were good years for the Ute; they had horses with which to travel and hunt, and had little competition for the use of their land. As a result of the abundant natural resources in Colorado and the extensive trade networks that they developed, the American Indian peoples of this area could obtain a wide variety of foods, hides, building materials and manufactured goods. They used these resources to support their families and to honor their cultural traditions. Although many American Indian groups traveled through the Pikes Peak region, we primarily tell the Ute story. Today, many American Indians live, work, and go to school in the Pikes Peak Region, including Ute, Arapaho, and Cheyenne people.

Southern Ute History

"The Ute people are the oldest residents of Colorado, inhabiting the mountains and vast areas of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Eastern Nevada, Northern New Mexico and Arizona. According to tribal history handed down from generation to generation, our people lived here since the beginning of time."

The Ute oral tradition says that Colorado is their homeland and they have no migration story. As a nomadic, mountain people, they relied predominantly on the elk for food, shelter, tools, and clothing. Because of their location in the Southwest, they had contact with Spanish explorers and traders who came through that area in the 1600s. After the Ute people acquired horses from the Spanish around 1630, they became skilled horsemen, and this skill, as well as contact with whites, changed their culture forever.
Ute family groups of 20 to 40 people traveled with the seasons, moving into the high country in the spring and summer to find elk herds. In the winter, they returned to the Garden of the Gods and the lower elevations of the Pikes Peak Region. During the warmer months, families lived in shelters made of tree limbs and brush. Elk hide tipis were their dwellings places during the colder months.
The Ute were skilled at tanning antelope hides and making soft leather garments and pouches, which were sought after by the Spanish and other American Indians. An extensive trade network along the Front range of the Rockies allowed the Ute to acquire items from as far south as Mexico and north into Canada. The Ute did not farm but they could obtain corn, beans, and squash from the Pueblos through trade.


Southern Ute Tales

Read some beautiful traditional stories of the Southern Utes.:

In the ancient times only Sinawav the Creator and Coyote lived on the earth. They had come out of the light so long ago, that no one remembered when or how. The Earth was young and the time had come to increase the people. Sinawav gave a bag of sticks to Coyote and said “Carry these over the far hills to the valleys beyond.” He gave specific directions Coyote was to follow and told him what to do when he got there. “You must remember, this is a great responsibility. The bag must not be opened under any circumstances until you reach the sacred grounds.”
“What is this I carry?” asked Coyote
“I will say no more. Now be about your task” Sinawav answered.
Coyote was young and foolish, consumed with curiosity. “What is this I carry?” he kept asking himself.
As soon as he was over the first hill and out of sight, he stopped. He was just going to peek in the bag. “That could hurt nothing,” he thought. Just as he untied the bag and opened a small slit they rushed for the opening. They were people. These people yelled and hollered in strange languages of all kinds. He tried to catch them and get them back into the bag. But they ran away in all different directions. From how full the bag was after he had gotten it closed he could tell there was only a fraction of the what he had started out with. He went to the sacred valley and dumped them out there. There was a small number of these people. But those few ones were the Utes, the real Utes from around here.
Coyote then returned and told Sinawav that he had completed the task. Sinawav searched Coyote’s face. “I know,” Sinawav sighed. “You foolish thing, you do not know what a fearful thing you have done.”
Coyote finally confessed. “I tried to catch them. I was frightened. They spoke in strange tongues that I could not understand.”
“Those you let escape will forever war with the chosen ones, They will be the tribes which will always be a thorn in the sides of the Utes,” said Sinawav. “The Utes, even though they are few in number, will be the mightiest and most valiant of heart.”
Sinawav then cursed the Coyote “You are an irresponsible meddler. From this time on you are doomed to wander this earth on all fours forever as a night crawler.”

Source: As told by Alden Naranjo, a revered Southern Ute Elder and a member of the Mouache and Capute bands. Ute Indians Art and Culture, from Prehistory to the New Millennium, Edited by William Wroth. Published by the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Copyright 2000

The rain had passed; the moon looked down from a clear sky, and the bushes and dead grass smelled wet, after the heavy storm. A cottontail ran into a clump of wild rose bushes near War Eagle’s lodge, and some dogs were close behind the frightened animal, as he gained cover. Little Buffalo Calf threw a stone into the bushes, scaring the rabbit from his hiding place, and away went bunny, followed by the yelping pack. We stood and listened until the noise of the chase died away, and then went into the lodge, where we were greeted, as usual, by War Eagle. Finally he said:

”You have seen many Snakes, I suppose?” ”Yes,” replied the children, “we have seen a great many. In the summer we see them every day.”

‘Well,” continued the storyteller, “once there was only one Snake on the whole world, and he was a big one, I tell you. He was pretty to look at, and was painted with all the colors we know. This snake was proud of his clothes and had a wicked heart. Most Snakes are wicked, because they are his relations.

“Now, I have not told you all about it yet, nor will I tell you tonight, but the Moon is the Sun’s wife, and some day I shall tell you that story, but tonight I am telling you about the Snakes.

”You know that the Sun goes early to bed, and that the Moon most always leaves before he gets to the lodge. Sometimes this is not so, but that is part of another story.

”This big Snake used to crawl up a high hill and watch the Moon in the sky. He was in love with her, and she knew it; but she paid no attention to him. She liked his looks, for his clothes were fine, and he was always slick and smooth. This went on for a long time, but she never talked to him at all. The Snake thought maybe the hill wasn’t high enough, so he found a higher one, and watched the Moon pass, from the top. Every night he climbed this high hill and motioned to her. She began to pay more attention to the big Snake, and one morning early, she loafed at her work a little, and spoke to him. He was flattered, and so was she, because he said many nice things to her, but she went on to the Sun’s lodge, and left the Snake.

‘The next morning very early she saw the Snake again, and this time she stopped a long time – so long that the Sun had started out from the lodge before she reached home. He wondered what kept her so long, and became suspicious of the Snake. He made up his mind to watch, and try to catch them together. So every morning the Sun left the lodge a little earlier than before; and one morning, just as he climbed a mountain, he saw the big Snake talking to the Moon. That made him angry, and you can’t blame him, because his wife was spending her time loafing with a Snake.

She ran away; ran to the Sun’s lodge and left the Snake on the hill. In no time the Sun had grabbed him. My, the Sun was angry! The big Snake begged, and promised never to speak to the Moon again, but the Sun had him; and he smashed him into thousands of little pieces, all of the different colors from the different parts of his painted body. The little pieces each turned into a little snake, just as you see them now, but they were all too small for the Moon to notice after that. That is how so many Snakes came into the world; and that is why they are all small, nowadays.

Our people do not like the Snake-people very well, but we know that they were made to do something on this world, and that they do it, or they wouldn’t live here.

“When the world was young, all the animals could talk. They would talk and walk like humans do today, and would gather together and discuss matters of importance. One day, the Council of Birds got together. They wanted to know why Buzzard sits alone. They talked and talked and tried to figure out why Buzzard just sits there with no friends around or with no smile on his face. Hummingbird said he could make the buzzard laugh. So, he went to Buzzard and started to fly around. He flapped his wings faster and faster and made himself look very silly. But, Buzzard would not laugh. Not even a small smile lit up his face.

It was then that Duck said he wanted to try to make the Buzzard laugh. Duck did diving tricks into the water and swam upside down with his legs sticking straight up. But, Buzzard acted like he did not even see duck acting so crazy. All the birds were getting frustrated, so they pushed Sparrow to where Buzzard was sitting and told him to make him laugh. Sparrow started flying real fast around Buzzard’s head and doing some wild maneuvers. But, buzzard just sat there like a bump on a log. This only made Sparrow fly harder, faster, and wilder.

All of a sudden, there was a big gust of wind that came and blew little Sparrow aaawwwaaayyy. All the birds looked at Buzzard and saw that he had a small smile on his face. They told Sparrow to go back and do it again.

Sparrow went back to Buzzard and did more flying tricks and maneuvers. But he did not smile. All of a sudden, a bigger gust of wind came and blew Sparrow aaawwwaaayyy. Again. Sparrow was doing cartwheels in the sky when he was blown away. His little body tumbled round and round as he screamed for help. The Buzzard sat and watched all the commotion. A small smile formed at the corners of his mouth. The smile got bigger and bigger and before anyone realized, a full blown smile graced his face.

Everyone saw this and were amazed. This was the first time any of them saw Buzzard smile. Suddenly, they could hear a sound coming from Buzzard’s belly. Every bird could hear the sound moving from Buzzard’s belly, into his throat, and up to his mouth. All they could do was watch and wait to see what happened.

It was then that Buzzard released a big, belly laugh. It shook his entire body with such a force. The wind from Buzzard’s laugh caused every bird to be blown into the daytime sky. Feathers were flying everywhere and everyone was screaming for help. After the birds heard Buzzard’s laugh, they all knew why he sits alone … He had BAD BREATH. His breath stunk from all the animals he eats and other leftovers. From that day on, all the other birds left the Buzzard alone.

I tell no lies.”

Sources: Utes – The Mountain People Revised Edition by Jan Pettit Johnson Printing Co., Boulder, CO c 1990. The Friends of the Southern Ute Cultural Center Museum Newsletter, Nov/Dec 96/Jan 97 issue, Ignacio, CO

Indians setting up Teepee

Southern Ute Dances

Below you can find information about Southern Ute traditional dances.

Further Resources for the American Indian Area

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