Religion in Utah was underlain by a general animistic belief in the spirit personalities of animals and plants. The Ute worshipped a bisexual deity, the He-She, represented by the sun; this power was the creator of all things. There were a number of animal gods, chief among them being Coyote. Many legends were associated with the feats of these creatures, and the Ute made every effort to win their favor. The religion of the Paiute and Shoshoni was probably very much like that of the Ute. The shaman, or medicine man, was an important personage. Perhaps his most important function was performed in the care of the sick, to whom he ministered by driving out the spirit-cause of the illness. Among the Ute and Paiute one type of "doctor" trusted entirely to the supernatural while another used physical restoratives.
Burial was usually in a rock crevice or excavation. The corpse, with a number of his personal possessions, was placed in the branchcovered grave over which a small cairn was sometimes raised. Funeral arrangements and ceremonial mourning were carried on by female relatives. Men did not even attend the funeral; their important function was to destroy the dead person's property. The Gosiute and other Shoshoni sometimes practiced a form of aquatic burial in which the corpse was placed in a spring and weighted down with stones; usually, however, the rock crevice was used.
The Bear Dance, held each April at Whiterocks, is perhaps most characteristic of the Ute. Men and women participate, and the dance, which lasts several days, is the occasion for much courting. The Back and Forth Dance, derived from the Bear Dance, was adopted by the Gosiute and other Shoshoni. The Ute Sun Dance, held in July at Whiterocks is an acquisition from the Plains by way of the Idaho and Wyoming Shoshoni. Its purpose is to acquire shamanistic powers, or relief from physical ills. The singing and dancing take place in a lodge consisting of a brush wall built around a central pole. The ceremony lasts four days, during which participants abstain from food and water and remain in the lodge. In former times the Ute had a number of other dances which provided a large part of their socialized amusement. Among them were the Lame Dance, the Dragging Feet Dance, the Woman's Dance, the Double Dance, and others. Gambling games were a common form of recreation. Horse racing and other strenuous sports were engaged in by young men.
Most Utah Indians showed little of the warlike nature displayed by Plains tribes to the east. They were, to borrow Bernard DeVoto's characterization, "the technologically unemployed, victims of the competitive Indian society which had forced them to the badlands"; the density of population varied from one person to five square miles in the better hunting country east of the Wasatch Mountains to an extreme in the arid western deserts of one person to thirty-five square miles. Padre Escalante found them "gentle and affable," willing to receive his presents, and, so he thought, his preachings.
The attitude of the Mormons toward the Indians, or "Lamanites," was friendly. The Indians differentiated between "Mericats," or Americans, and "Mormonee," as Brigham Young shows in his letter of September 12, 1857, to Indian Commissioner James W. Denver: "Whenever the citizens of this Territory travel the roads, they are in the habit of giving the Indians food, tobacco and a few other presents." Among the things he "most respectfully suggested to be done" was "that travellers omit their infamous practice of shooting them down when they happen to see one." He added: "I have proven that it is far cheaper to feed and clothe the Indians than to fight them," which was a recapitulation of what he had written Commissioner Manypenny in April, 1856: "One fourth part of the money annually expended in fighting the Indians . . . rightly expended in peaceful operations, would not only leave thousands of Indians to cultivate the soil, cause them to raise their own subsistence, but maintain almost, if not entire peaceful relations with them."