Introduction Patagonia Andes Amazon Mesoamerica / Caribbean Southwest Plains / Plateau Woodlands California / Great Basin Northwest Coast Arctic / Subarctic Contemporary Art
Chief blanket

Diné (Navajo) first phase chief blanket
ca. 1840–1850
New Mexico
Wool, dye
179 x 145 cm
Presented by S. W. Woodhouse, Jr.

For countless generations, Ute and Navajo communities have bordered one another in what we now call the Four Corners region. Expert weavers, the Navajo possessed a remarkable herding economy that included hundreds of thousands of sheep, while the Utes combined hunting and seasonal gathering with a migratory equestrian lifestyle within their beloved Colorado Rocky Mountain homelands. It is not surprising that one of the earliest-known Navajo trade blankets was acquired among the Navajo’s Ute neighbors during a U.S. government expedition through Arizona in 1851.

In September of that year, Captain Lorenzo Sitgreaves, with a small crew of topographers and an escort of thirty infantrymen, set out from the Zuni Pueblo with instructions to explore and map the Zuni and Colorado rivers and evaluate their navigability in light of the possibility of war with the Mormons in Utah. Prepared for both war and research, early U.S. expeditions in the Southwest were charged with the collection and documentation of countless natural and ethnographic elements, including the presence of trade goods in Indian communities. Spanish governors in New Mexico had traded cloth and other wares to Ute delegations beginning in the 1600s, and the presence in Ute society of European-American trade goods, as well as goods produced by other Indian tribes, was commonplace by the end of the U.S.–Mexican War in 1848. This blanket dates to a time before reservations and wars confined the peoples of the Southwest, an under-recognized period of Indian autonomy and exchange in American history.

—Ned Blackhawk (Western Shoshone)
Professor of history, Yale University

Back to Top
Back to Top