Colorado Indian Tribes

The earliest Colorado Indian Tribes were known as the Basket Makers. They arrived in the region around 1500 BC., and were primarily nomadic hunters.

The Ute were probably among the first native americans to come into possession of the horse. In their native language, Ute means “people of the mountains, and the state of Utah was named after them.

The southern Ute were the first to be called by the Ute name. Paiute means “people who lived near water.”

The Annual Ute Bear Dance which is held every spring is a social dance everyone enjoys.

Origin of the Bear Dance can be traced back to the fifteenth century when the Spanish first came upon the Ute’s in the spring time.

When the first thunder in the spring was heard, it was time for the Bear Dance. Usually, this occurred about mid-March.

Shoshonean speaking peoples separated from other Uto-Aztecan groups about the beginning of the Christian era (1 A.D.). The First Treaty between Utes and Spaniards was in 1670.


(Federal List Last Updated 5/16)

Southern Ute Indian Tribe of the Southern Ute Reservation
Ute Mountain Tribe of the Ute Mountain Reservation (Colorado, New Mexico and Utah)

(Not recognized by the Federal Governemnt)

Munsee Thames River Delaware


Munsee Thames River Delaware. Letter of Intent to Petition 07/22/1977; declined to Acknowledge 01/03/1983 47 FR 50109

Council for the Benefit of the Colorado Winnebagoes. Letter of Intent to Petition 01/26/1993; certified letter returned “attempted, not known” 11/5/1997.


When Spanish explorers came to the area in the 16th century, they found many different tribes of Native Americans. The Ute inhabited the mountain valleys, while the Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Kiowa lived in the Great Plains region.

Warfare between these groups of early inhabitants was continuous. Eventually, the Plains Indians combined forces in an attempt to stop the invasion of their homelands by white settlers.

Today, most of the state’s Native American population is found on the Southern Ute reservation in the Denver area.


Apache – A number of the Apache bands extended their raids from time to time over the territory of what is now Colorado, but only one of them, the Jicarilla Apache, may be said to have been permanent occupants of any part of the State within the historic period. This tribe is considered under the name Jicarilla below; for an account of the other Apache tribes except the Lipan, see New Mexico. See Texas for the Lipan Apache.
Arapaho – The Arapaho hunted and warred over parts of eastern Colorado. (See Wyoming.)
Bannock – This tribe and the Shoshoni roamed over the extreme northwestern corner of the State. (See Idaho.)
Cheyenne – The same may be said of the Cheyenne as of the Arapaho. (See South Dakota.)
Comanche – Like the Arapaho and Cheyenne, this tribe hunted and warred in the eastern parts of the State. (See Texas.)
Jicarilla Apache– A Mexican Spanish word, meaning “little basket,” given to the tribe on account of the expertness of Jicarilla women in making baskets. Also called:

Be’-?ai, or Pe?’-ge, Navaho name.
Kinya-inde, Mescalero name.
Koop-tagúi, Kiowa name, signifying “mountain Apache.”
Pi’-ke-e-wai-i-ne, Picuris name.
Tan-nah-shis-en, by Yarrow (1879) and signifying “men of the woodland.”
Tashi’ne, Mescalero name.
Tinde, own name.
Tu-sa-be’, Tesuque name.

The Jicarilla were one of the so-called Apache tribes, all of which belonged to the great Athapascan linguistic stock, but with the Lipan (see Texas) constituted a group distinct from the Apache proper. Within historic times the homes of the Jicarilla have been in southeastern Colorado and northern New Mexico, though they have ranged into the adjacent parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.(See New Mexico.)
Kiowa – Like the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Comanche, the Kiowa formerly hunted and warred across parts of eastern Colorado. (See Oklahoma.)
Kiowa Apache – This tribe always accompanied the Kiowa. (See Oklahoma.)
Navajo – The Navaho lived just south of the Colorado boundary, entering that State only occasionally. (See New Mexico.)
Pueblos – Most of the Pueblo tribes trace their origin to some place in the north and there is no doubt that the ancestors of many of them lived in what are now the pueblo and cliff ruins of Colorado. In historic times the principal dealings of Colorado Indians with the Pueblos have been with the Pueblo of Taos, which was once a trading point of importance. Many of its people intermarried with the Ute. (See New Mexico.)
Shoshoni – Together with the Bannock, the Shoshoni roamed over the extreme northwestern part of Colorado. (See Idaho.)
Ute – The Ute formerly occupied the entire central and western portions of Colorado. (See Utah.)


1500 BC – Earliest inhabitants of Colorado were known as the Basket Makers.

500 BC – Other Native Americans, ancestors of the Pueblo, entered the area and most probably intermingled with the Basket Makers.

1 to 1299 – Advent of great Prehistoric Cliff Dwelling Civilization in the Mesa Verde region.

1276 to 1299 – A great drought and/or pressure from nomadic tribes forced the Cliff Dwellers to abandon their Mesa Verde homes.

The earliest inhabitants of Colorado were known as the Basket Makers. They arrived in the region around 1500 BC and were primarily nomadic hunters.

The Basket Makers developed a sophisticated practice of basket making, and they created waterproof containers by covering baskets with clay and baking them. Gradually, the Basket Makers developed farming practices and raised corn and squash.

By 500 BC, other Native Americans, ancestors of the Pueblo, entered the area and most probably intermingled with the Basket Makers.

Later inhabitants were probably the Anasazi Indians, who included the cliff dwellers who built multi-storied stone houses in the alcoves of canyon walls in the southwestern corner of Colorado.

At the end of the thirteenth century, these Indians abandoned their cliff dwellings and apparently moved southward.

Sources of records on US Indian tribes
Colorado Indian Boarding Schools


Article Index:

List of Indian Wars fought in Colorado

There were seven major Indian Wars fought in Colorado between 1864 and 1879.

The Colorado region was part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain from 1535 to 1682, New France from 1682 to 1762, Kingdom of Spain from 1762 to 1800, French First Republic 1800 to 1803, and part of the United States of America 1803–present (boundaries were disputed by Spain).

Tribal park set to offer guided tours through ruins on Ute Mountain this summer

Visitors at the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Park, located south of Cortez, have a chance to see a rare location this summer — but spots on the limited tours are filling up quickly.

Veronica Cuthair, director of the tribal park, said the tours occur on four Sundays in July and August and one is already full. Another special occurs on Memorial Day during the seventh annual Tribal Park Open House, which includes trips to several ruins. Regular tours run from March through October.