The Bear panel at Shavano Valley Petroglyph site near Montrose, Colorado, is an intriguing example of Ute symbolism. The panel incorporates glyphs from recent times overlaid on very ancient ones. Look closely and you can see a faint line coming out of the crevice in the rock face (bottom right). The line goes up and then branches. Part way up on the line is a woman or man carrying a back pack and a planting stick. The line and the figure were pecked into the patina of the rock face. It is a classic case of using rock incorporation of cracks and crevices in the story being depicted. Here the person has emerged from the underworld, represented by the crevice, and is travelling along the trail provided by Sinauf, the creator, with a basket of seeds and a planting stick. Also, part of this era are more branching trails and animal tracks. This story is the oldest depicted on the panel.
The second episode depicted here is the bear holding the tree (center) and the larger bear above it. Note that bear tracks come out of the crevice representing the bear coming out of hibernation (or the underworld). The bear “dancing around the tree” represents the bear celebrating its emergence in the spring and symbolizes the origin of the Ute Bear Dance. The bear above was designed to present the fierceness of the bear. The claws are extended and spit (or blood) is spraying out of its mouth. “Sometimes during the Bear Dance, the Utes would apply red paint around their mouth to look as though blood were dripping from the jaws, suggesting the ferocity of the bear.” (Shavano Valley Petroglyph Trail Guide)
The third episode, and most recent, is the crudely pecked tree with bear and a Ute style horse. The horse appears to have antlers, however the antlers are actually an animal track pecked into the stone many years before the horse was added. The track’s toes touch a crack in the stone and probably represents the weasel descending into the underworld. The crudely pecked tree with the bear is not the classic representation of the tree. There are no roots and the three limbs represented the trail in earlier glyphs.
“Goshutes have a story of two youths, hunters who went out [when] they heard the bears in an open space surrounded by pine trees. They watched from the hill. They heard the songs, the bears were singing; rum rum rumm. They listened to that, and caught it. They picked up another song the bears were singing. They sang the songs and then created a spring celebration. Then one year during the time of the dance, the bear comes looking for that song. A woman is singing it and gave it back to the bear”. (Clifford Duncan 2010)
The “rum rum rumm” sound of the bear growling and clawing is created for the dance by the Ute Morache or Rasp instrument. Instead of beating a drum, the Ute use a “rasp” for background rhythm in the Bear Dance. The rasp is a long, notched, board or stick (originally the jaw bone of the bear) that is rubbed vigorously with a short, round cylinder or bone to create the sound of a growling bear. The end of the instrument is often rested on metal or tin to create a thunder-like echo. Usually, there are several men singing and playing the rasp together during the dance.
“[another] story of the Ute Bear Dance is about two brothers out hunting in the mountain and while they stop to rest, they see a bear clawing and singing as he dances around a tree. One brother ‘steals’ two songs and takes them back to the village. The next year, the bear visits the village looking for the songs.
“The people appeased the bear by performing the dance. It is in respect for the bear, their brother, with whom they share the mountain resources during the summer months. It is held in the spring at the first sound of thunder; about the middle of March. The bear is waking up and will lead the people to gather roots, nuts, and berries in the high country. During this four-day festival the women choose partners, and this often leads to marriage.
“The Bear Dance is called “mo-waka-wi”, literally “forward/back” dance. In the old days, a man in a bear skin would enter the danced circle. He represented the bear looking for his stolen songs. A woman danced toward the bear and gently lead it away. Then the dance would begin when the women pick a partner and they form a line.” (Clifford Duncan 2009)
The petroglyph panel drawn here is like an instruction panel for how to do the Bear Dance. The line coming down with the “rake-like” end represents the formation of the dancers, men facing the women, dancing forward and back in unison. The bear paws show the steps. The bear paw, “A”, has a bar extended to the right of the toes and represents “holding”. It explains that in the dance the left foot steps in place while the right foot steps forward and then back. The wavy line represents the up and back motion of the dancer.
“Bear dance is open to the public. Around 2pm dancers arrive. The women move toward the door. The men sit on the side and the singers sit back towards the far end of the enclosure. An important person talks about the Bear Dance ritual. The Utes are very close to the bear. In rock art, the bear and ritual is symbolized by they bear paw. The songs for the dance were inspired from the sound of thunder in the sky. The singing is about that. The women select a partner. On the last day is the appearance of the bear, a man with a cape and bear head. People dance to one side and say “the bear is coming”. Kids hide behind their parents. The bear comes into the corral and moves all around while the dance is going on. Then a man comes to the center of the circle to east, singin a song, rhythm and sound. A woman dresses up in the buckskins goes to the center of the enclosure and gold her hands up. She becomes the “bear” and the bear is the “gree”. The woman dances around the man (bear), several times. The song ends and the bear/man goes away.
“The last night of the Bear Dance, they dance all night into the morning. The sun comes up and they all line up and face the East. The medicine man says prayers and fans each one and then excuses them. Our parents mother go home. They take a branch of willow to light and walk around the house, talking to the “little ones’ the crawling things. They say “bugs, we are going to live here with you. You help us, and we help you. We all live close to nature.” (Clifford Duncan 2010)