Wakara was a Ute Indian leader who was born about the year 1815 near the Spanish Fork river in Utah, an area which was a meeting ground for the many bands of Utes based in the eastern Utah canyons area. Kinship ties connected him to other Ute leaders such as Sowiette and Arapeen. From his father, a Ute leader, and other older make kin, Wakara learned skills of hunting and horsemanship. At an early age, Wakara became known for his prowess and came to lead groups of young men in hunting and raiding expeditions. He was also skilled in learning languages--Spanish and English, and so became a trader and negotiator with the non-Indians invading Ute lands.
In the 1820s Wakara was one of the Ute leader who established trade relations with intruding Euro-American fur traders--relations which proved profitable on all sides. After the 1829 opening of the Old Spanish Trail, Ute leaders regularly stopped the caravans and demanded tribute for crossing Ute lands. Wakara formed an alliance with mountain men Thomas "Pegleg" Smith and James Beckworth and began regularly raiding for horses from settlements at both ends of the trail, in New Mexico and California. By 1837 Wakara and his followers were getting wealthy through tribute and trade, and Wakara was becoming legendary, often reported in several places at the same time.