Ute Exhibit

Winds of Change: Utes of the High Country

Special Exhibit June 28, 2014 through 2016

Grand County Historical Association (GCHA) presents a new exhibit, Winds of Change: Utes of the High Country at Cozens Ranch Museum in Fraser.  The multi-media exhibit explores factors — from environmental to historical and cultural — that effected change for Native Peoples of Middle Park, from their earliest roots dating to 10,000 B.C. to the present. Sponsors include Fraser Valley Lions Club, the Town of Winter Park, and the Grand Foundation.

For thousands of years, the First People — ancestors of the Utes — lived in Middle Park feasting on the bounty of nature in plentiful game, fish and plant resources.  Archaeologists have documented over 75 important and ancient sites, including some with astronomical alignments that mark the seasons.  A warmer climate allowed the First People of Middle Park to live year-round in the High Country. As climactic shifts brought icier temperatures, the First People migrated to lower altitudes to survive. Unlike many other Native peoples in the Americas, the Utes do not have a migration story — they are from the Rocky Mountains. As the Ute Creator said, “I’m going to place the Utes here on these mountains so they can be closer to me. And they will be courageous people.”

Utes crossing the river

Southern Ute crossing Los Pinos River, Colorado, ca. 1890. Photograph by H. S. Poley, Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

Dramatic historic photographs illustrate that America’s Westword Ho! movement beginning in the 1850s was unkind to Native peoples, and especially to the Utes. Winds of Change presents the impact that battles at Sandcreek(1864) and Little Big Horn (1876) had on the Utes, even isolated as they were in the Rocky Mountains. The rush for gold and land led to the infamous call in the Denver newspaper in 1876, “The Utes Must Go!”  In Middle Park, Ute leaders of Ouray, Chipeta, Tabernash, Yarmony, Colorow and others sought to reach accord with well-intentioned Indian Agents, but the Winds of Change blew against the Utes. Following the Meeker Massacre of 1879, the Utes of the High Country were permanently ousted from the fruitful and lush High Country onto desolate, arid reservations of Utah. Historian Peter Decker will address this topic on Friday evening July 25 and sign copies of his book, “The Utes Must Go!”

The exhibit explores how despite the harsh Winds of Change — the arts endure among the Ute people, helping to preserve their culture.  Ute artistic expressions on display include imagery of their painted and carved rock art, exquisite examples of their beadwork on loan from History Colorado, historic tales told in ledger art, and a look at their unique Bear Dance.

Bear Dance Hide

Bear Dance Hide, 1899 – E.1894.170, Scan #10031682, HIstory Colorado, Denver, Colo

The Bear Dance — performed from ancient times to the present — is dedicated to the bear — the Utes’ most sacred animal. GCHA is pleased to present a series of black and white photographs of Ute dancers at Fort Duchesne, Utah by photographer Brandon Allen. These stunning contemporary portraits of Ute Bear Dancers are juxtaposed with early depictions of the Bear Dance ceremony.  A family-friendly, free drum and music program on Saturday July 12 will explore The Bear Dance with Skyler C. Lomahaftewa of Ute/ Hopi ancestry.

GCHA invites everyone to learn about the Utes of the High Country and how, despite the Winds of Change, they endure as a people, ensconced now on reservations in Utah and Southern Colorado.  As the Utes say, “We were always here…and we’re still here.”

For information, please call Cozens Ranch Museum at 970-726-5488 or visit the museum located at 77849 US Hwy 40, Fraser, across from the Grand Park Rec Center.