Member of an American Indian people who inhabited the Great Basin region of Utah and western Colorado by the 16th century. They speak a Southern Numic dialect of the Uto-Aztecan family, and are related to the Paiute. The northern or mountain Ute hunted big game and shared cultural similarities with the Plains Indians; the southern or desert Ute were wide-ranging nomads. After acquiring horses around 1675 they became skilled horse-warriors and raiders, but were kept off the Great Plains by the Comanche and Cheyenne. From the late 1860s the Ute were settled on reservations in Colorado and Utah, the state named after them. They now number about 7,300 (2000).
The Ute were originally divided into 12 loosely affiliated bands, each made up of family groups of 20–100 people. They would gather for special ceremonies such as the bear dance in the spring, or at an abundant food source, but had no political organization. They lived in brush houses or tepees, and Ute couples usually stayed with or near the bride's family. Apart from the Paiute, they also intermarried and mixed with other peoples of the Great Basin, including the Bannock and the Shoshone. When horses were introduced to their culture, hunting became easier and they formed larger and less nomadic bands. They also became middlemen in the southwest's horse and slave trade with the Spanish, and conducted raids on livestock. Farming, ranching, leasing, and the leisure and gaming industry provide their main income today, but many retain traditional customs and beliefs and speak the native language.
The Ute had moved into Utah and western Colorado by AD 1500. Only a few explorers ventured into their territory in the 17th and 18th centuries, but in the early 19th century trappers began to work the region and established trading posts. When the Mormons moved into Utah in the 1850s, they competed for the scarce resources and the Ute retaliated by raiding their livestock. The conflict escalated into the Black Hawk War 1863–68, after which some northern Ute settled on the Uintah Reservation in Utah. Other bands joined the Uintah and the adjacent Ouray Reservation in the 1880s. In Colorado the southern Ute helped the US Army to subdue the Navajo, but were eventually settled on the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain reservations. In 1905 their landholdings were reduced by over 85% when the reservations were allotted into individual plots with some communal grazing; the remainder was opened to non-Indian settlement. In the 1970s and 1980s oil and gas exploitation on the Utah reservations contributed to their income, and there have been improvements to water storage and irrigation. In 1986 the Supreme Court upheld the right of the Ute to have jurisdiction over all their pre-allotment reservation lands. In 1988 the Dolores Irrigation Project returned water supplies to the Ute Mountain reservation that had been diverted in the 1950s.