The archaeological and ethnographic record of Ute and Paiute entrance into the Four Corners area is vague. Campsites and material remains are difficult to find and differentiate from those left by earlier peoples because of the small amount of pottery, nondescript dwellings, and limited artifacts necessitated by a hunting-and-gathering lifestyle.
The Utes followed the deer in much the same way the Plains tribes traveled after the buffalo, returning each year to the best croplands and hunting grounds. Their early shelters were brush structures.
When the Utes began using horses, they were able to travel further and saw the teepees used by the Plains tribes. Utes created a teepee style of their own, with four main poles tied together and others laid against them. They used deer and elk hide for their teepee coverings, which a skilled woman could wrap and pin in fifteen minutes, standing on horseback.
During the winter, an inner skin was also hung around the inside wall so that a dead air space between skins created a layer of insulation. In the summer, the teepee’s sides could be rolled up, providing shade while allowing the breeze to flow through. Flaps at the top of the teepee could be adjusted to control the smoke flow. When these skins became hardened by smoke, they were replaced and used for moccasin soles.
The brush arbor, or shade house, is still used by both Navajos and Utes as a summer kitchen, dining area, family room, or sleeping area. These arbors are also built to provide shade for large gatherings, including the hand-game tournaments and other activities held during the White Mesa Utes’ annual Bear Dance celebration held in September every year.
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