As If the Land Owned Us
An Ethnohistory of the White Mesa Utes
Robert S. McPherson
The Ute people of White Mesa have a long, colorful, but neglected history in the Four Corners region. Although they ranged into the Great Basin, Southwest, and parts of the Rocky Mountains as hunters, gatherers, and warriors, southeastern Utah was home. There they adapted culturally and physically to the austere environment while participating in many of the well-known events of their times.
In As If the Land Owned Us, Robert McPherson has gathered the wisdom of White Mesa elders as they imparted knowledge about their land—place names, uses, teachings, and historic events tied to specific sites—providing a fresh insight into the lives of these little-known people. While there have been few published studies about the Southern Utes, this ethnohistory is the first to mix cultural and historic events. The book illustrates the life and times of the White Mesa Utes as they faced multiple changes to their lifeways. It is time for their history to be told in their terms.
Robert S. McPherson is an associate professor at the College of Eastern Utah–San Juan Campus in Blanding, Utah, as well as an adjunct professor at the University of Utah. He is the author of a number of books on the history and cultures of the Four Corners region, including Comb Ridge and Its People: The Ethnohistory of a Rock, winner of the 2009 Utah Book Award for nonfiction.
Table of Contents:
List of Maps
1. White Mesa Ute Origins and Puwá-v: Creating the World, Empowering the Universe
2. “It Was as If the Land Owned Us”: Ties to the Land, Resources for the People
3. Daily Life in an Austere Environment: Weenuche Beliefs and Life Cycle, 1880s
4. The Invasion Begins: Hispanic Entradas, American Trade, and the Mormon Mission, 1600–1855
5. “Enemies Like a Road Covered with Ice”: Expanding Weenuche Dominance, 1855–1870
6. Decade of Decision, 1870–1880: Losing Land, Gaining Restrictions
7. Stemming the Flood, 1880–1882: Miners, Cowboys, and Settlers
8. Winning the Battles, Losing the War: Military Operations and Cowboy Incursions, 1882–1885
9. Agony with Little Ecstasy: Hunting, Travel, and Subsistence Curtailment, 1885–1895
10. The Replevied Present: San Juan County, the Southern Utes, and What Might Have Been, 1895–1900
11. “Only Bullets Talk Now”: Turmoil and Dissent in a Shrinking World, 1900–1915
12. Posey and the Last White Uprising: Ending the Cycle of Violence, 1915–1923
13. Avikan: Remembering the Homeland, 1923–1941
14. Education, Economics, and Integration: Establishing the White Mesa Community, 1923–1960
15. People and Perception: Neighbors’ Views Across a Chasm, 1860–1960
16. Circles, Trees, and Bears: Empowering the Weenuche Universe
17. Adoption, Adaptation, and Abandonment: Changing Weenuche Religious Practices, 1900–2010
18. Ironic Industries and Traditional Ties: Shifting Fortunes of the White Mesa Utes, 1950–2010
Praise and Reviews:
“McPherson successfully places the richly detailed history of a relatively small tribe into the broader context of the themes sweeping through both Indian country and the Intermountain region…all the while keeping the story of the people as his central focus.”
—Western Historical Quarterly
"An essential source on the White Mesa Ute Indians. Setting the tone for each chapter, a moving introductory quotation from a Ute speaker illustrates attitudes and beliefs of the people, and the author offers several personal descriptions of people and places. A remarkable number of photographs, archival and contemporary, complement the narrative."
—Colorado Book Review
"McPherson makes it clear that [the White Mesa Utes] continue to persist as a group with a distinct history, destiny, and geocultural anchor.”
—American Indian Culture and Research Journal