Ute (yōōt, yōō´tē), Native North Americans whose language belongs to the Shoshonean group of the Uto-Aztecan branch of the Aztec-Tanoan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). In the early 19th cent. the Ute occupied W Colorado and E Utah. Ute culture was typical of the western part of the Plains culture area (see under Natives, North American); they lived in tepees, which were frequently decorated with brilliantly colored paintings, or in brush or sod shelters. The bear dance and the sun dance were important features of their culture; the Ute also became adherents of peyotism.
The Ute were fierce, nomadic warriors, who, after the introduction of the horse, ranged into New Mexico and Arizona, menacing and sometimes destroying the villages of the Pueblo. Once they discovered that the Spanish were conducting slave raids against Native Americans, they entered the market, taking their captives to sell in New Mexico. Early in 1855 the Ute began to attack Mexican settlements in the San Luis Valley of Colorado; they were put down by U.S. troops, and a treaty was extracted. Retaining their hatred for their traditional enemies, some of the Ute fought with Kit Carson during the American Civil War in campaigns against the Navajo.
In 1868 they were placed on a large reservation in Colorado. A group of Ute killed (1879) the Indian agent Nathan Meeker and several employees of his agency, but serious repercussions were avoided, mainly through the peaceful efforts of Chief Ouray. By a treaty signed in 1880 the Ute were moved from rich mineral and agricultural lands to areas less desirable to white settlers. Today, although some Ute own land individually, most live on reservations in Colorado and Utah; their income is derived largely from lucrative oil and gas leases and farming and raising livestock. In 1990 there were over 7,500 Ute in the United States.
See W. Rockwell, The Utes: A Forgotten People (1956); L. Tyler, The Ute People (1964); G. Fay, Land Cessions in Utah and Colorado, by the Ute Indians, 1861–1899 (1970).