Songs Of The Northern Ute

Recordings and notes by Frances Densmore
Issued from the Collections of the Archive of American Folk Song at The Library of Congress.
The songs presented on the B side of long-playing record L25 are those of the Northern Ute whose home is on a high plateau on north-eastern Utah. North of this plateau rise the Rocky Mountains. The singers were chiefly members of the Uinta and White River bands, but include a few members of the Uncompahgre band who live on the same reservation. These songs were recorded in 1914 at Whiterocks and in 1916 at Fort Duchesne, the work being under the auspices of the Bureau of American Ethnology.*

The Government agency for the Uinta and Ouray Reservations is located at Fort Duschesne which, in 1914,was reached by leaving the through railroad at Mack in Colorado, crossing a range of mountains by a narrow gauge railroad and proceeding 25 miles by stage. Whiterocks was chosen for the beginning of the work and the trip there was made with the mail carrier from Fort Duschesne. This location was selected as it was accessible to the older Indians and was the site of the Government Day School, affording facilities for the work.

The Northern Utes have appeared in history chiefly through the journey away from the reservation by the White River band, in 1906. Red Cap, one of the two chiefs who led this expedition, was living when the Ute songs were recorded and lent his influence to the work. The writer asked him to her "office," explained the work through the interpreter and played a few recordings. He listened, and said that he did not sing but would instruct his best singers to record songs. A few old men were sitting on the grass, outside the room in which the songs were being recorded, and they were summoned. Red Cap conferred with them and Tim Johnson recorded several songs that were suggested by Red Cap or approved by him.

The interpreter throughout the work was Fred Mar, who was a student at the United States Indian School at Carlisle, Pa., from 1903 to 1908. Charles Mack, who also interpreted, was prominently identified with tribal affairs as an interpreter and twice visited Washington with delegations. Both gave excellent service by explaining the work to the Indians and winning their favor, as well as by interpreting when songs were recorded.

The number of songs recorded was 114, of which 14 are presented here. Twenty-five singers recorded songs, 10 of them being represented in this series. As in other tribes, and effort was made to preserve the oldest songs and those most representative of tribal culture and history.

*Densmore, Frances. Northern Ute Music, Bull. 75, Bur. Amer. Ethnol., 1922.

Play song


Performed by


Native Words



Dance Faster Fred Mart SONG OF THE BEAR DANCE

This series opens with a song of the Bear dance which is the characteristic dance of the Ute Indians. It is held every year in the early spring, at about the time that the bear comes from his hibernation, and is an occasion for sociability and general good feeling among the people. The inclosure used for the Bear dance in 1914 was visited by the writer. The walls, about 9 feet in height, were formed of upright poles between which branches of trees were woven horizontally. This inclosure was about 200 feet in diameter and opposite the entrance was a hollow (or "cave") about 5 feet long, 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep which was said to be "connected with the bear." Pieces of zinc were lade over this excavation and on these the singers rested their "scraping sticks." This accompanying instrument consists of a stick about 26 inches long in which notches are cut, and a short stick which is rubbed sharply across the notches, producing a loud, rasping sound. Formerly a shallow basket was placed over a hollow in the ground as a resonator but at present the pieces of zinc are placed over an excavation for that purpose.

At the opening of a Bear dance the men and women dancers are in parallel lines facing each other, then the line of women approaches the men and tries to push them backward. After a time the women succeed in pushing the men across their side of the inclosure and against the wall. This marks the conclusion of the dance.

This song was recorded by Fred Mart, the writer's interpreter. It is a modern song but its origin is like that attributed to songs in the old days. Mr. Mart said he heard the song in a dream, sang it while he was asleep, and was singing it aloud when he awoke. He taught it to the singers at a Bear dance, and when it was sung, the old people mistook it for an old song. In explanation of the words, he said, "Many Utes wear a flat, polished shell suspended around their necks, and at the Bear dance they tie a weasel skin to this shell. The idea of the words is, 'Dance harder so your skin will swing faster.'" When recording the song he shouted between the renditions, "Dance harder, Red Stick," as though addressing a dancer, and "That is the way to dance," it begin customary to urge the dancers in this manner.
Weasel skin,
hard (or fast)
swing (imperative verb).
Northern Ute
Sun Dance Song Eugene Perank SONG OF THE SUN DANCE

The last Sun dance of the Utes on the Uinta and Ouray Reservation was held in June, 1914, against the orders of the Government. The place of the dance was a level part of the high plateau and was visited by the writer, accompanied by several old men who took part in that dance.

There was no element of physical suffering in the Sun dance of the Utes beyond the effects of fasting and long-continued dancing. The purpose of the dance was the curing of the sick, and many accounts of remarkable cures were related. The disease most frequently mentioned in this connection is rheumatism which is prevalent on the reservation. Teddy Pageets, a Ute medicine man, explained the curative effects by saying, "They get better because they don't eat and drink for awhile." The dancers did not look at the sun, as among the Sioux, but at a willow branch fasted in a crotch of the Sun dance pole. This had remained in position after the last dance and was photographed. The women sat with the men at the drum. A "parade" was held before the beginning of the Sun dance. In this, as in other parades, the participants were on horseback, the men preceding the women and beating hand drums as they sang.

The man who recorded this song belongs to the younger generation of Utes. He is known as Eugene Perank, his surname being a mispronunciation of the English name "Frank." He recorded only two songs. The present song was sung with a "jiggling" tone that was heard in the dancing songs in connection with the Sun dance among the Sioux.
Northern Ute
Turkey Dance Song Chigoop SONGS OF SOCIAL DANCES 3-songs

The Utes of the present time have numerous social dances that are less important than the Bear dance. Songs of seven such dances were recorded, only three being represented in this series.

The Turkey dance is one of the principal social dances, and was witnessed by the writer in 1914. the accompanying instrument was a large drum placed on the ground at the right of the entrance to the dance circle, the drummers being seated around the drum and singing as they beat upon it. Women seldom take part in this dance. The leader of the dancers sits at the left of the entrance, and in beginning the dance he rises and dances around the entire circle, the other dancers following him. After completing the round of the circle he moves in an erratic manner, the dancers following close behind him in all sorts of irregular curves, within the dance circle. The step of the dance consists in putting the feet to the ground alternately, the point of the foot touching the ground first, after which the heal is "put down with an accent." The dancers imitate a turkey by thrusting their heads forward and wagging them from side to side, while their arms hang loosely from the shoulders. This song was recorded by Chigoop who was one of the younger members of the Uncompahgre band of Utes, living on the Uinta reservation. The song has the unusual compass of thirteen tones.
Northern Ute
Dragging-feet Dance Song Tim Johnson Men and women take part in this dance, not alternating but standing side by side as convenient and facing the middle of the circle. The motion of the dance is sideways "with the sun." This dance is common to many tribes under various names, and was photographed among the Sioux by the writer. The dance has fallen into disuse among the Utes but its step was remembered and demonstrated. This step was the same as that used in other tribes, one foot being advanced sideways and the other foot lifted and placed beside it. The drumbeat with the songs of this dance was in quarter notes synchronous with the voice, not following it as in the Lame dance songs. This song was recorded by Tim Johnson, an old warrior of the tribe. According to John Star, another old warrior, the Dragging-feet dance was formerly held after a Scalp dance. Northern Ute
Lame Dance Song A Charlie Saritch The action is this dance was that of a man whose right leg was so crippled that he dragged it. The dance has not been in use by the Utes for many years but its action was remembered and demonstrated. Only women took part in the dance, and in old days it was not unusual for 100 women to join in it. The accompanying instrument was a hand drum, and the drummers, usually four in number, stood in a row facing the east, with the men singers behind them. The dancers were in two long parallel lines more than 30 feet apart, facing the drummers. They danced forward until they were near the drummers, when the leaders turned and danced toward each other, followed by the dancers. Then the leaders turned again and the dancers formed a double line, moving away from the drummers toward their original position.

In all the recorded songs of this dance the tempo of the drum is the same as that of the voice, but the drumbeat follows slightly after the voice. This was not noted in any other class of Ute songs. The songs of the Lame dance, like those of the Turkey dance, are characterized by a large compass and prominence of small intervals.

This song was recorded by Charlie Saritch who recorded 10 Ute songs of various classes. Another of his recordings is a Parade song.
Northern Ute
Lame Dance Song B Tim Johnson Tim Johnson recorded this song which contains only one word (Tsiyuta) said to be the Shoshoni term applied by them to the Utes. The melody has a compass of 11 tones and more than half the intervals are smaller than a minor third. Northern Ute
Parade Song A Charlie Saritch PARADE SONGS 4-songs

In former times when the Utes were gathered in a large camp, a "parade" took place every morning. Both men and women were on horseback, the men preceding the women. At the head of the procession rode two leaders, side by side, beating on hand drums, while all the people sang the Parade songs. These songs were numerous and popular. Eleven were recorded and are characterized by a particular slow temp.

This song was recorded by Charlie Saritch, a man in middle life who was employed by the government as policeman at the Whiterocks Indian Boarding School in 1916 when this work was concluded.
Northern Ute
Parade Song B Little Jim This is one of several Parade songs recorded by an old man known as Little Jim, who was a subchief under Red Cap, chief of the White River Band of Utes. Northern Ute
Parade Song C Tim Johnson Tim Johnson, one of the old warriors, recorded this interesting song which has the unusual compass of 12 tones. The drumbeat was tremolo in the opening measures, after which it was in quarter-note values, synchronous with the voice. Northern Ute
Parade Song D Jim Kolorow This song, recorded by Jim Kolorow, has a compass of 10 tones, beginning on the highest and ending on the lowest tone of the compass. Northern Ute
Song Used In The Treatment Of The Sick A Teddy Pageets SONGS USED IN THE TREATMENT OF THE SICK

Two methods of treating the sick were in use among the Northern Utes when this material was collected. Singing was used in both methods, and songs of each were recorded by persons who were using them in their treatment of the sick. In both methods there was a reliance on supernatural aid, but material remedies were used in only the second. Teddy Pageets was the representative of the first method, while the second was represented by a woman know as Mrs. Washington, whose Ute name means white bear.

Teddy Pageets, who recorded this song, said that he was entirely independent of material means in his treatment of the sick, not even using a rattle nor wearing "charms." The source of his power was a "little green man," seen first when he was a boy and seen by him at intervals ever since. A few years ago he fell asleep in the mountains and heard the little green man singing the songs that he used in his treatment. Nine of these songs were recorded but only one is presented. He said that he never undertakes a treatment unless he is certain that he can cure the sick person, saying, "We believe that if a doctor begins on a case which he is not sure that that he can cure, he will certainly fail." Continuing, he said, "I always tell the sick person that he will get well because I know it is true." When he was treating a sick person, the little green man told him what to do and he sang five times in one evening.
Northern Ute
Song Used In The Treatment Of The Sick B Mrs. Washington Mrs. Washington, who recorded this song, believed that she was aided by supernatural power in her treatment of the sick, but also gave herb medicines in connections with the treatment. She said that she usually sang these songs when the sun was at a height corresponding to about ten o'clock in the morning. A spirit "represented by an eagle" appeared to her about four years prior to this time and told her what to do. A request for her services was brought to her by a messenger who gave her a downy eagle feather. She held this in her hand while treating the sick person, and believed it increased her power. The roots of various herbs were used in her medicines and she "prayed to the eagle" when administering them. Like Pageets, she said the patient was certain to recover after her treatment. Northern Ute

The Utes have not been at war with another tribe for many years. Their former enemies were said to have been the Sioux and Arapaho, one purpose in war being the capture of horses from those tribes. Several aged warriors recorded war songs but recalled them with difficulty and none of their recordings are in the present series.

No information was obtained concerning this song which was recorded by Dave Weetch. The drum was slightly slower than the voice in all renditions of the song.
Northern Ute
Song When Begging For Tobacco Tim Johnson In the explanation of this song it was said, "When an Indian had a little tobacco which he had gotten from a white man, the other Indians went to his house and sang this song. Then he would give them some of the tobacco, and afterward they would go and sing somewhere else." The song was recorded by Tim Johnson, one of the oldest Ute singers. Northern Ute