Native American Data


THE GREAT UTE RESERVATION

[Background for this story: In March 1878, Nathan Meeker was appointed as Indian Agent of the White River Ute Reservation in Colorado. A follower of Charles Fourier, Meeker was a strong advocate of cooperative farming. In 1870 he helped form an agricultural colony in Colorado and it was hoped that Meeker would be able to pass on his knowledge on farming to the Utes. Meeker upset the Utes by trying to force them to become farmers. In September, 1879, Meeker called in the army to deal with the troublemakers. On 29th September, 1879, Chief Douglas and a group of warriors killed Meeker and seven other members of the agency. This became known as the Meeker Massacre. The Utes also attacked Major Thomas Thornburgh and his troops heading for the White River Agency. In the fighting Thornburgh and nine of his men were killed. After the arrival of reinforcements the Utes were evicted from Colorado and placed on a reservation in Utah. (Source: http://www.townofredcliff.org/)]

THE GREAT UTE RESERVATION

The White River Agency has control of about 900 Indians, who occupy the extreme northern district of the Ute reservation in Colorado. The entire region is picturesque and mountainous. Colorado contains 63,000,000 acres, embracing an area thirteen times larger than Massachusetts. More than one-half of this magnificent domain is occupied by the Rocky Mountains. When the mines were opened after the famous Pike’s Peak excitement in 1859-60, the Ute Indians were assigned the then unexplored region west of the first range of mountains bordered by the celebrated Northern and Middle parks. The district was considered “out of the world” and it was seldom visited except by a few adventurous hunters and prospectors. But when the mines of Central City, Black Hawk, and Georgetown had been fully opened, and flourishing towns sprang up, railroads were built through the hitherto inaccessible canons, and prospectors pushed their way up to the snowy peaks of the highest mountains. Mining camps were opened on the summit of Mt. Lincoln, 14,000 feet above the sea. From the tops of some of the mountains the most enchanting views of the Ute Country appeared, and in fair weather the smoke of the Indian camp fires could be seen rising from the white tepees in the valleys below. It has long been the opinion of experts that the mountains and streams of the Ute reservation were rich with silver and gold, and a few months ago it was reported that valuable discoveries had been made in the neighborhood of the North Park. Some believed that there was even more wealth in this Northern district of Colorado than there was in the celebrated gulches of the South Park. When reports came “over the range” that gold in paying quantities had been discovered up there, prospectors flocked in from al parts of the state and from Wyoming territory. The Indian agent and the authorities at Washington protected against these invasions of the reservation. But little attention was paid to their complaints, and the Indians soon became jealous and quarrelsome, so that soon afterward, when the agent began to build extensive irrigating canals and to plow large tracts of virgin ground, the chiefs looked upon it as a part of the “white man’s policy” as exhibited by the miners were soon to be taken from them and sold to the settlers. This was the real cause of the present war.

The whole district occupied by these Indians of the White River Agency is a succession of parks, gulches and mountains, and it is almost a copy of the famous regions around Kars and Erzeroum in Armenia, where Moukhtaar Pacha held the mountains all summer against the artillery of the Russians. The mountain passes of the White River country are narrow, tortuous and difficult. The climate is mild and healthful. Beyond this strange and enchanting wilderness lie the alkali desolation of the Bitter Creek Country. The White River district is full of beautiful and clear-running streams, which are fed by the ice-fields of the higher mountains. There are many little parks or meadows lying up there high above the altitude of the New England mountains. Cattle find excellent pasturage and pure water there. The Indians prize these spots of unfailing verdure for “picketing” their ponies on. The old agency at White River was in one of these mountain valleys, which the agent considered to high and too contracted for agricultural purposes.

The department at Washington read his report and gave him permission to remove the buildings to a larger and more open place some twenty miles farther down the valley. The Indians opposed the transfer on the ground that it would destroy some of their grass lands. The agent said that little could be raised at so high an altitude as the old agency site, and he purposed to move where the land could be tilled and irrigated. He took possession of the new location, and discovered, among other things, two extensive beds of coal. Irrigating canals wee built through his persuasion by some of the Indians, while the “hostiles” growled and went off on a hunting expedition. A large tract was plowed and preparations were made for extensive Indian farming. This was the condition of things when Chief Douglas discovered that the plough was turning under some of his ancient pasture lands, and then he rebelled and the trouble began.

From Vernon Clipper, Lamar County, AL, Dec. 26, 1879 - Transcribed and submitted by Veneta McKinney


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