The Utes lived in the foothills and valleys of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Utah and New Mexico. This included the Mouache, Capote, Weeminuche, Yampa, Uintah and the Uncompahgre.
The Utes made their first treaty with the United States in 1849. When his father died in 1860, Ouray became chief of the Tabeguache band of Utes. A close friend of Kit Carson, Ouray signed a peace treaty with the United States on 7th October, 1863. Five years later the Utes gave up a large portion of their land in return for a sixteen million acre reservation in Colorado.
As buffalo hunters, the Utes grew increasingly concerned about the increasing numbers of European settlers and gradually became involved in the Indian Wars. In 1872 Ouray went to Washington to complain about the seizure of Ute lands by white settlers. Ouray pointed out that the land had been pledged to the tribe in perpetuity.
Nathan Meeker became the Indian agent of the White River Ute Reservation in 1878. He upset the Utes by trying to force them to become farmers. In September, 1879, Meeker called in the army to deal with the Utes. When he heard what was happening, 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.
Ouray now carried out peace negotiations with the American government. As a result the Utes were moved from Colorado and placed on a reservation in Utah. Ouray was rewarded with a $1,000 a year annuity.
(1) Frances M. Roe, letter (October, 1871)
We went to Las Animas yesterday, Mrs. Phillips, Mrs. Cole, and I, to do a little shopping. There are several small stores in the half-Mexican village, where curious little things from Mexico can often be found, if one does not mind poking about underneath the trash and dirt that is everywhere. While we were in the largest of these shops, ten or twelve Indians dashed up to the door on their ponies, and four of them, slipping down, came in the store and passed on quickly to the counter farthest back, where the ammunition is kept. As they came toward us in their imperious way, never once looking to the right or to the left, they seemed like giants, and to increase in size and numbers with every step.
Their coming was so sudden we did not have a chance to get out of their way, and it so happened that Mrs. Phillips and I were in their line of march, and when the one in the lead got to us, we were pushed aside with such impatient force that we both fell over on the counter. The others passed on just the same, however, and if we had fallen to the floor, I presume they would have stepped over us, and otherwise been oblivious to our existence. This was my introduction to an Indian - the noble red man!
As soon as they got to the counter they demanded powder, balls, and percussion caps, and as these things were given them, they were stuffed down their muzzle-loading rifles, and what could not be rammed down the barrels was put in greasy skin bags and hidden under their blankets. I saw one test the sharp edge of a long, wicked-looking knife, and then it, also, disappeared under his blanket. All this time the other Indians were on their ponies in front, watching every move that was being made around them.
There was only the one small door to the little adobe shop, and into this an Indian had ridden his piebald pony; its forefeet were up a step on the sill and its head and shoulders were in the room, which made it quite impossible for us three frightened women to run out in the street. So we got back of a counter, and, as Mrs. Phillips expressed it, "midway between the devil and the deep sea." There certainly could be no mistake about the "devil" side of it!
It was an awful situation to be in, and one to terrify anybody. We were actually prisoners - penned in with all those savages, who were evidently in an ugly mood, with quantities of ammunition within their reach, and only two white men to protect us. Even the few small windows had iron bars across. They could have killed every one of us, and ridden far away before anyone in the sleepy town found it out.
Well, when those inside had been given, or had helped themselves to, whatever they wanted, out they all marched again, quickly and silently, just as they had come in. They instantly mounted their ponies, and all rode down the street and out of sight at race speed, some leaning so far over on their little beasts that one could hardly see the Indian at all. The pony that was ridden into the store door was without a bridle, and was guided by a long strip of buffalo skin which was fastened around his lower jaw by a slipknot. It is amazing to see how tractable the Indians can make their ponies with only that one rein.
The storekeeper told us that those Indians were Utes, and were greatly excited because they had just heard there was a small party of Cheyennes down the river two or three miles. The Utes and Cheyennes are bitter enemies. He said that the Utes were very cross - ready for the blood of Indian or white man - therefore he had permitted them to do about as they pleased while in the store, particularly as we were there, and he saw that we were frightened. That young man did not know that his own swarthy face was a greenish white all the time those Indians were in the store! Not one penny did they pay for the things they carried off. Only two years ago the entire Ute nation was on the warpath, killing every white person they came across, and one must have much faith in Indians to believe that their "change of heart" has been so complete that these Utes have learned to love the white man in so short a time.
No! There was hatred in their eyes as they approached us in that store, and there was restrained murder in the hand that pushed Mrs. Phillips and me over. They were all hideous with streaks of red or green paint on their faces that made them look like fiends. Their hair was roped with strips of bright-colored stuff, and hung down on each side of their shoulders in front, and on the crown of each black head was a small, tightly plaited lock, ornamented at the top with a feather, a piece of tin, or something fantastic. These were their scalp locks. They wore blankets over dirty old shirts, and of course had on long, trouserlike leggings of skin and moccasins. They were not tall, but rather short and stocky. The odor of those skins, and of the Indians themselves, in that stuffy little shop, I expect to smell the rest of my life!
(2) Frances M. Roe, letter (January, 1873)
Fancy our having given a dinner party at this sand-bag castle on the plains, miles and miles from a white man or woman! The number of guests was small, but their rank was immense, for we entertained Powder-Face, Chief of the Arapahoe Nation, and Wauk, his young squaw, mother of his little chief.
Two or three days ago Powder-Face came to make a formal call upon the "White Chief," and brought with him two other Indians - aides we would call them, I presume. A soldier offered to hold his horse, but he would not dismount, and sat his horse with grave dignity until Faye went out and in person invited him to come in and have a smoke. He is an Indian of striking personality - is rather tall, with square, broad shoulders, and the poise of his head tells one at once that he is not an ordinary savage.
We must have found favor with him, for as he was going away he announced that he would come again the next day and bring his squaw with him. Then Faye, in his hospitable way, invited them to a midday dinner! I was almost speechless from horror at the very thought of sitting at a table with an Indian, no matter how great a chief he might be. But I could say nothing, of course, and he rode away with the understanding that he was to return the following day. Faye assured me that it would be amusing to watch them, and be a break in the monotony here.
They appeared promptly, and I became interested in Wauk at once, for she was a remarkable squaw. Tall and slender, with rather a thin, girlish face, very unlike the short, fat squaws one usually sees, and she had the appearance of being rather tidy, too. I could not tell if she was dressed specially for the occasion, as I had never seen her before, but everything she had on was beautifully embroidered with beads - mostly white - and small teeth of animals. She wore a sort of short skirt, high leggings, and of course moccasins, and around her shoulders and falling far below her waist was a queer-shaped garment - neither cape nor shawl - dotted closely all over with tiny teeth, which were fastened on at one end and left to dangle.
High up around her neck was a dog collar of fine teeth that was really beautiful, and there were several necklaces of different lengths hanging below it, one of which was of polished elk teeth and very rare. The skins of all her clothing had been tanned until they were as soft as kid. Any number of bracelets were on her arms, many of them made of tin, I think. Her hair was parted and hung in loose ropes down each shoulder in front. Her feet and hands were very small, even for an Indian, and showed that life had been kind to her. I am confident that she must have been a princess by birth, she was so different from all squaws I have seen. She could not speak one word of English, but her lord, whom she seemed to adore, could make himself understood very well by signs and a word now and then.
Powder-Face wore a blanket, but underneath it was a shirt of fine skins, the front of which was almost covered with teeth, beads, and wampum. His hair was roped on each side and hung in front, and the scalp lock on top was made conspicuous by the usual long feather stuck through it.
Chief Powder-Face, who is really not old, is respected by everyone, and has been instrumental in causing the Arapahoe nation to cease hostilities toward white people. Some of the chiefs of lesser rank have much of the dignity of high-born savages, particularly Lone Wolf and his son Big Mouth, both of whom come to see us now and then. Lone Wolf is no longer a warrior, and of course no longer wears a scalp lock and strings of wampum and beads, and would like to have you believe that he has ever been the white man's friend, but I suspect that even now there might be brought forth an old war belt with hanging scalps that could tell of massacre, torture, and murder. Big Mouth is a war chief, and has the same grand physique as Powder-Face and a personality almost as striking. His hair is simply splendid, wonderfully heavy and long and very glossy. His scalp lock is most artistic, and undoubtedly kept in order by a squaw.
(3) J. Ross Browne, Harper's New Monthly Magazine (January, 1861)
Upon fairly reaching what might be considered the centre of (Virginia City) , it was interesting to observe the manners and customs of the place. Groups of keen speculators were huddled around the corners, in earnest consultation about the rise and fall of stocks; rough customers, with red and blue flannel shirts, were straggling in from the Flowery Diggings, the Desert, and other rich points, with specimens of croppings in their hands, or offering bargains in the "Rogers," the "Lady Bryant," the "Mammoth," the "Woolly Horse," and Heaven knows how many other valuable leads, at prices varying from ten to seventy-five dollars a toot. Small knots of the knowing ones were in confidential interchange of thought on the subject of every other man's business; here and there a loose man was caught by the button, and led aside behind a shanty to be "stuffed;" every body had some grand secret, which nobody else could find out; and the game of "dodge" and "pump" was universally played. Jew clothing-men were setting out their goods and chattels in front of wretched-looking tenements; monte-dealers, gamblers, thieves, cut-throats, and murderers were mingling miscellaneously in the dense crowds gathered around the bars of the drinking saloons. Now and then a half-starved Ute or Washoe Indian came tottering along under a heavy press of fagots and whisky. On the main street, where the mass of the population were gathered, a jaunty fellow who had "made a good thing of it" dashed through the crowds on horseback, accoutred in genuine Mexican style, swinging his reata over his head, and yelling like a devil let loose. All this time the wind blew in terrific gusts from the four quarters of the compass, tearing away signs, capsizing tents, scattering the grit from the gravel-banks with blinding force in every body's eyes, and sweeping furiously around every crook and corner in search of some sinner to smite. Never was such a wind as this - so scathing, so searching, so given to penetrate the very core ef suffering humanity; disdaining overcoats, and utterly scornful of shawls and blankets.