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David Fisk (Lens of
Chief Ouray - A Man of Peace
between 1865 and 1880.This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
"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."
Born near Taos,
about 1833, Ouray would grow up to become the leader of the
Uncompahgre band of the Ute tribe and known
as a man of peace.
According to oral
history passed down by Ute elders, he was
born on a gloriously clear night when a magnificent display of meteor
showers streaked across the black winter sky. The elders believed it
was a sign; a message from above of good things to happen.
Ouray’s mother was a
member of the Uncompahgre band of
his father, Guera Murah, was half
grew up in the Taos area where Spanish and English were the prevalent
languages and would not learn to speak the Ute
languages until later in life. He spent most of his youth working for
Mexican sheepherders and fighting against rival
When he was about 18
Ouray traveled into
and became a member of the Tabeguache Ute
band, where his father, despite his
heritage, had become the leader. In 1859, he married a Tabequache
Ute maiden by the name of Chipeta, who was
Apache who had
been adopted by the
Ute as a child.
When his father died
in 1860, Ouray became chief of the Ute
Indians, including the Uncompahgre band. In Ouray’s role as chief, he
was considered one of the Utes' greatest
leaders with strong characteristics of patience and diplomacy. He was
often referred to as "The White Man’s Friend,” as he sought to work
with the white settlers and the government.
In October, 1863, Ouray negotiated a
treaty in which the Tabeguache
assigned a reservation, but, unfortunately for the
Utes, the vast majority of their lands east
of the Continental United States, ended up in government hands. In
1868, he traveled to Washington, D.C. to represent his people and was
appointed "head chief of the Utes" by the
government. A new treaty created reservation lands in
the Tabeguache, Moache, Capote, Wiminuche, Yampa, Grand River, and
Uinta, but again, more land was relinquished.
Though Ouray always tried
to secure the best possible conditions for his people while still
remaining friendly to the whites, each subsequent treaty brought
increasing losses of land for the Utes. For many
Utes building resentments began to form and a
number of attempts were made on Ouray’s life. However, he survived and
maintained his conciliatory attitude.
With the discovery of
conditions for the
Ute changed dramatically as
miners flocked upon their lands. As a result, relations between the
Indians and the whites deteriorated. In the spring of 1878, Nathan Meeker
assumed the role of Indian Agent at the White River Agency. "Dictatorial”
in his brand of management, Meeker undiplomatically tried to force the
Ute to farm, raise stock, discontinue their pony
racing and hunting forays, and send their children to school. Meeker,
determined to convert the
Ute from primitive
savages to hard-working, God-fearing farmers, persisted in forcing his
reforms, even when warned that he was making the
Utes furious. But Meeker ignored the warnings and ordered that a horse
racing track be plowed under to convert to farmland. He also suggested to
one that there were too many horses, and that they would have to kill some
of them. The Ute, whose land Meeker was plowing
under, resisted and a fist-fight occurred.
As a result, Meeker wired
for military assistance, claiming that he had been assaulted by the
Ute man, driven from his home, and severely
injured. The government responded by sending 200 troops led by Major T.T.
However, perceiving this
action as an "act of war,” the Utes revolted. On
September 29, 1879, before the troops arrived, the
Indians attacked the agency, burned the buildings, and killed Meeker
and nine of his employees. The incident is known as the
Meeker's wife, daughter, and another girl were held as captives for 23
days. After the massacre, relief columns from Forts Fred Steele and D. A.
Wyoming, defeated the
Utes in the Battle of
Colorado, and ended the uprising.
Though Ouray had sent
orders to the Ute band involved in the attacks
to stop, his orders were ignored. Afterwards, he did his best to keep the
peace but it was too late. Area settlers demanded the
Utes’ removal. One headline in the October 30,
1879 issue of Harpers Weekly screamed "The
Utes Must Go.”
Ouray found himself
explaining to his people why they must leave their land. On March 6, 1880,
the Southern Ute and the Uncompahgre
acknowledged an agreement to settle respectively on La Plata River and on
the Grand near the mouth of the Gunnison, while the White River
Ute agreed to move to the Uinta reservation in
Ute Braves, 1874, photo by Timothy H. O'
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
In the summer of 1880,
Ouray and his wife, Chipeta, journeyed to the Southern
Ute agency at Ignacio with the intent to
negotiate once again with the white man. Though Ouray completed the
journey, he was a sick man by the time he arrived. He died of Brights
Disease on August 24, 1880.
He was buried secretly at
Ignacio. Chief Ouray's obituary in The Denver Tribune read:
"In the death of Ouray, one of the historical
characters passes away. He has figured for many years as the greatest
Indian of his time, and during his life 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 alike.”
Forty-five years later,
Ouray was re-interred in the cemetery southeast of the White River
Agency and the grave appropriately marked.
His wife, Chipeta,
continued to work for the Utes. When sufficient
agricultural land was not found for the Uncompahgre in southern
new reservation was established in 1882. Chipeta then relocated to the
reservation in northeast
Utah, where she was highly valued and always sat
in on the chief’s meetings. She passed away in 1924.
of America, updated December, 2012.
The Ute Tribe - Roaming the Rockies
Ute Tipi, 1915, by William J. Carpenter.
This image available for
photographic prints and
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