The Ute Nation, had always lived in the wilderness they called "The Shining Mountains." We now call this area the San Juan Mountains, on the western slope of the Rockies. During the summer, the Ute's ventured to the eastern plains to hunt buffalo. Though regarded as "generally friendly" the Ute Nation sometimes fought with their traditional enemies, the Plains Indians. On other occasions, the Utes met in peace with the Plains Indians at the place where the spirit of the Great God Manitou lived in bubbling springs at the base of Pikes Peak.
The Ute Nation is comprised of several Tribes. One of these Tribes is the Uncompahgre. The
great Ouray was to become it's Chief. Ouray, "The Arrow," was born in 1833, "the year the stars
fell." (Meteors from the constellation Leo were especially heavy in that year; thus it was called
"the year the stars fell.") Ouray's father was a Uncompahgre Ute and his mother a Jicarilla
Apache, thought to be from an area that is now Arizona. Ouray was not raised by his parents
but by a Spanish family in Taos, New Mexico. He spoke Spanish and English, in addition to
the Ute language with its different dialects.
At the age of 17, Ouray became Chief of the Uncompahgre Tribe. Because of his diverse background, and his mastery of 3 languages, Chief Ouray was instrumental to Ute communications, including those with the "Great White Father" in Washington D.C. On occasion, Ouray traveled to Washington for land and treaty negotiations. He met President Grant and his family.
In 1868, the Ute Nation and the United States, entered into a treaty whereby the Ute Nation surrendered most of its claims to lands in the San Luis Valley. In "exchange", the United States
briefly stopped further encroachment into the Ute's ancestral lands in the Shining Mountains, allowing the Ute's to retain ownership of this area. For the Ute Nation to keep this part of the Shining Mountains, was a matter of respect and honor. The
Utes spoke of these matters as the whites spoke of contract law.
For years prospectors had been busy on these Ute lands, blasting huge holes to extract ore. The Ute's interpreted this as direct offenses against their gods. In 1873 the Ute Nation signed a treaty that cost them their best lands, those in the San Juans. Instantly this area became one of Colorado's more famous mining regions.
This time, with the treaty of 1873, the Utes realized they had been given a raw deal. (The U.S. had offered $11,000.00 to the Ute's for their land in the San Juans, but their negotiator, Otto Mears, was unscrupulous, and paid only $2.00 to each person who signed the treaty, there by saving the U.S. almost every dime it was willing to spend.) Chief Ouray worked hard and was able to keep his Uncompahgre Tribe quiet, but was unable to control other Tribes within the Ute Nation. The other Tribes sought revenge for the unfair treaty, and so they dealt terror and fear to the miners and their families.
Trouble brewed to the north with the White River Tribe of the Ute Nation. Nathan C. Meeker was the government agent who was supposed to have negotiated with the White River Tribe. Instead, he insisted the White River Tribe abandon their lifestyle, culture and language to become "good Christian white people." They were forced to send their children to the white schools.
( although I'm not sure of this for the Ute's, many Indian children of this age were sent away to boarding schools in oklahoma and kansas. I don't know if the Ute's were made to suffer this as well. If you know, please e-mail me. I will add this information) When the Indians could not immediately
conform, Meeker plowed the lands of their villages in an attempt to force them to become farmers.
On September 30, 1879, the White River Tribe set fire to the Meeker agency, killing Meeker and ten of his employees. Meeker's wife and daughter, another woman and two other children were taken hostage. (In Rio Blanco County, the town of Meeker is now
situated on the White River.) The "Meeker Massacre" is a sad chapter in Colorado history. The Meeker tragedy caused panic and public outrage against the Ute Tribe and forever changed the Indian War's. The moral to this tale as well as many others in this chapter of America's history, is that if the Indiginous peoples had been treated with dignity and respect, these human tragidies could have been averted.
Six months after the Meeker massacre, Congress declared the Ute Nation's must go. They were forced north to a reservation near the Sawatch Range.