Wyoming

Kapurats

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Hear the narration:

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The majority of my students returned to the university in the fall, leaving Emma and me with funds given to us from the United States Congress and a few mountaineers, scientists and trappers who crossed the mountains into the western slope with us. During the expedition and throughout previous expeditions, I had always heard about unknown lands inhabited by supposedly hostile Native American tribes; however, I was not afraid. My first encounter with Native Americans was when I was a young man. A group of Winnebago Native Americans were camping by a creek that ran through my father’s property, and upon first glance, they looked to be very footsore and disconsolate. Turns out that the land that was ours at the time was once theirs and they were forced, by government officials, to vacate in exchange for extremely low compensation. Something about the way they looked, and the story that they shared with me, has always remained dear to me.

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We set up camp in Ute country, along the White River, where I immediately befriended my Ute neighbors and began to study their culture. I spent many long evenings learning their language, and recording some of their myths and customs. I wrote down some vocabulary that was used by the Ute and it was the first time that any words from their vocabulary or any practices and beliefs from their culture had been written down. We built a friendship, and they called me Kapurats, which meant “One-Arm-Off.” I was able to purchase items of clothing, cooking utensils and ornaments, which the Smithsonian and many other museums were extremely interested in. During this time, my crew and I were able to explore the Grand River, the upper Colorado River and we made other northward journeys with the help of the friendly Ute Indians. After spending a great deal of time exploring the area around the Colorado River and its tributaries, befriending Native Americans and talking with hunters and trappers, I never felt more confident in my ability to navigate the Colorado River in a small boat. I was ready to return to Chicago to have my vessels built, and Emma was going to go back to Detroit to stay with her family for the next year.