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"By 1861, the gamble for gold brought prospectors, surveyors and hoards of miners to the Colorado high country. On the west side of the Continental Divide, the San Juan mountains were most inviting to gold seekers. The government ordered prospectors to stay away from the San Juan country, but to no avail.
The San Juan country was Ute Indian country. With the onslaught of the miners, the Ute Indians began a war... a war with words against the United States government.
An Uncompahgre Ute Chief, Ouray, led this movement to seek peace with the white men. Chief Ouray, the Ute name meaning "Arrow", had dealt with the white men for years. He sought peace and land for his people.
Ouray was a very unique Indian. He was raised as an Apache (his mother’s tribe), although his father was a Ute. His childhood was spent near Taos, New Mexico, where he mastered the Spanish and English languages with ease, and attended Catholic Mass regularly. His broad education in English, Spanish, Ute and Apache, prepared him for later life. His intellect would impress the great white leaders of Washington D.C., as well as his own people.
In 1859, Ouray married a Tabequache Ute maiden by the name of Chipeta. Chipeta was a Kiowa Apache adopted by the Utes as a child. A smart woman, however, Chipeta spoke very little English, preferring the Indian way of life.
By 1860, Ouray, not yet thirty years of age, became chief of the Ute Indians, including the Uncompahgre band. The respect he had gained among the Utes, due to his character and ability to lead, proved to be a power in dealing with the white man. Ouray saw the increasing mass of gold prospectors heading over the Continental Divide into Ute territory, and knew the White Man would soon take over their land.
"We do not want to sell a foot of our land that is the opinion of our people. The whites can go and take the land and come out again. We do not want them to build houses here." Ouray
A keen, observant man, Ouray understood the extreme differences between the Indian and white man. Learning the politics of the white man and knowing the traditions of the Ute Indian, Ouray knew the Utes might win the battle, but never the war. As chief of the Ute Mountain Tribune, Ouray chose the diplomatic approach, rather than a war with the white man.
On March 2, 1868, he struck a deal with his friend, Kit Carson, a Government Indian agent. The Kit Carson Treaty gave some six million acres of land to the Utes. In return Ouray and his people were guaranteed that "no one would pass over the remaining Ute land." An exception added to the agreement was that roads and railways would be authorized on the Ute land. So much for the agreement.
"The Utes Must Go", was the headline in Harpers Weekly, October 30, 1879.
Ouray found himself explaining to his people why they must leave their land. By 1880 the Ute Mountain Indians were moved to reservations by the United States government. Gold had been discovered in Ute territory and the government pushed the Indians aside, once again.
The Ute Mountain Indian reservation stretched from the Four Corners area, east to Pagosa Springs; approximately one hundred ten miles. From the New Mexico border north, the distance was roughly twenty miles; a mere slip of the original land. The Ute Mountain Casino occupies part of the land, near present day Cortez.
The Utes for their part, had dealt in good faith. Now they were confined to a reservation.
In the summer of 1880, he and his wife, Chipeta, journeyed to the Southern Ute agency at Ignacio. Their intent was to negotiate once again with the white man. Ouray completed the journey, but not the mission. Suffering from what the doctor’s called Brights Disease, Ouray arrived at Ignacio, a very sick man. Chief Ouray died on August 24, 1880. The Denver Tribune obituary read:
"In the death of Ouray, one of the historical characters passes away. He has figured quite prominently. Ouray is in many respects... a remarkable Indian... pure instincts and keen perception. A friend to the white man and protector to the Indians."
Today, Ouray, Chief of the Ute Mountain Indians, is immortalized by a southern Colorado town, a mountain, parks, and memorial gardens. In death, Ouray found the peace he sought to achieve in life."
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