BLM Colorado | WRFO Cultural Resources | Cultural History of Northwest Colorado | Protohistoric / Historic Ute
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History of Northwest



Historic Era


The Protohistoric Era (c. AD 1,300-1881), as it is termed by archaeologists, refers to the span of time from the end of semi-settled, horticultural adaptations in the region to the end of permanent Native American occupation in Northwest Colorado. The term “Historic Period” would be more technically correct, though as a label, “Protohistoric” is used to differentiate Native American and EuroAmerican sites as the former are poorly represented in our written histories. 


According to contact-period written records, the Shoshone and the Comanche occupied the northern areas of the Yampa River drainage, though the Ute unquestionably dominated all of western Colorado. In the White River Resource Area, Utes appear to have been the only long-term inhabitants since at least the end of the Formative Period. They had a nomadic lifestyle with hunting-gathering traditions while retaining use of ceramics and small unnotched or side-notched projectile points. Later identifiers include equestrian rock art motifs, presence of European trade goods, wickiups, and an increased use of obsidian. 


The Protohistoric Ute time period has been defined as ending in 1881, when the Uncompahgre and White River Utes were removed to Utah by a detachment of United States cavalry. However, recent research has dated wooden features attributed to the Ute into the early 1900s.  These dates correspond with oral histories and historic accounts that at least some Ute continued to use the Resource Area after being removed to reservations.


(Left) An intact Ute wikiup in the Piceance Basin.

Last updated: 03-20-2014