Troubled Trails: The Meeker Affair and the Expulsion of the Utes from Colorado

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Troubled Trails: The Meeker Affair and the Expulsion of the Utes from Colorado
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Troubled Trails: The Meeker Affair and the Expulsion of the Utes from Colorado
Decker, Peter R.
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Denver, CO
Center for Colorado and the West
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Auraria Library
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Auraria Library
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Troubled Trails: The Meeker Affair and the Expulsion of the Utes from Colorado | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/8/2015 11:15:46 AM] Home Troubled Trails: The Meeker Affair and the Expulsion of the Utes from ColoradoTroubled Trails: The Meeker Affair and the Expulsion of the Utes from ColoradoSubmitted by nwharton on 12-6-2011 09:13 AMAuthor: Robert Silbernagel Publishing: Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah Press, 2011. 304 pages. Photographs, maps, illustrations, bibliography, notes, index, appendices. 6 x 9. $24.95 paperback. Reviewer: Dr. Peter R. Decker How could the actions of one man, Nathan Meeker, result in the expulsion of almost 3,000 Utes from Colorado in 1880-81? Robert Silbernagels thoroughly researched and fast-moving account of the Meeker Affair attempts to answer this question. Meeker came to the White River Indian Agency (near present-day Meeker) from the Union Colony, which Meeker had founded in honor of his mentor Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune The utopian agricultural experiment failed and, with ever-growing debts, the colony gave up on Meeker and his puritanical rules and expensive projects. Afterwards, Meeker, in his self-appointed role as reformer, sought and gained an appointment as an Indian agent, a position that would allow him to carry the values of Christian civilization to Indians and pay off his financial debts to Horace Greeley. It soon became clear: Meeker was the wrong man for the position, He referred to the Utes under his supervision as savages who needed to be educated in the ways of white Christian civilization. They must, Meeker insisted, give up their horse culture for farming. By doing so, and under the guidance of Meeker and his agency staff, the Utes would become self-sufficient farmers and stockmen rather than primitive hunters and gathers. Problems arose. Meeker proved to be in the eyes of the Utes an inflexible, arrogant, and untrustworthy dictator. The Indians were made to feel like prisoners on their own reservation. The agent failed to understand their culture and made no effort to learn it. Without the authority to do so, he withheld rations as punishment and charged the Utes trust account for tools, equipment, and materials normally funded by the Indian Bureau. When in 1879 Meeker sent a telegram to Washington claiming that his life and those of his workers were endangered, the Army sent 200 hundred troops under the command of Maj. Thomas Thornburg to the White River agency to protect Meeker and make arrests. Indian leaders failed to convince the major that the trouble at the agency was the fault of Meeker, and his lies, not the Indians. Thornburg would not be deterred. A battle broke out when the troops entered the reservation. Quickly the violence spread to the agency, thirty miles to the south, where Meeker and his staff were instantly killed. The Utes burned the buildings and took five white hostages: Meekers wife Arvilla, his daughter Josephine, Mrs. Flora Price (the wife of an agency worker), and her two young children. The hostages and their captors headed south into desolate country to avoid the pursuing army. It is from this point in his book that Silbernagel devotes most of his attention and makes a significant EXPLORE BY MEDIABook Reviews Photographs Video Biographies New Publications Resource Guides County Newspaper HistoriesEXPLORE BY TOPICLand & Natural Resources Government & Law Agriculture Mining Commerce & Industry Transportation People & Places Communication Healthcare & Medicine Education & Libraries Cultural Communities Recreation & Entertainment Tourism ReligionEXPLORE BY CULTUREHispanic Native AmericanThe Ute people have lived in Colorado longer than anyone else.


Troubled Trails: The Meeker Affair and the Expulsion of the Utes from Colorado | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/8/2015 11:15:46 AM] Auraria Library 303-556-4587 1100 Lawrence Street Denver, Colorado 80204 In the News Partners & Donations About Us Contact Us contribution to the Meeker story. The author details the heroic efforts of Charles Adams, a former agent and respected friend of the Utes, to halt the Army in its pursuit of the hostages. Chief Ouray, the leader of the Utes, sent messages from his farm in Montrose to the tribal warriors on the White River to halt their fighting, all the while encouraging a peaceful solution between the warring parties in order to protect the lives of the hostages. Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz also played a key role in the delicate negotiations to free the hostages. Through the use of new sources, Silbernagel addresses the charge that the women had been outraged (raped) by their captors. As the author points out, a tenet of nineteenth-century racism held that all Indians were savages, and that the males could not control their primitive urges when around white women (112). The testimony of the women and Indian witnesses before investigating committees provided verbal evidence that rather than being outraged, the hostages were well treated. Whether guilty of not, the public demanded The Utes Must Go. After months of negotiations, and trips back and forth to Washington, peace was finally achieved when the Utes agreed to relocate to new and smaller reservations. The White River band were forced to relocate onto the Uintah (Ute) reservation in Utah; Chief Ourays band on the Uncompahgre River was marched under military guard to a new reservation in Utah; and the southern Ute bands agreed to move onto a thin strip of land along the New Mexico border. The Indians also agreed to locate and bring to the authorities for trial those tribal members responsible for the killing of Meeker and his staff at the White River Agency. The Utes made a good faith effort to capture the perpetrators, but failed to do so. The government in the end, with other Indians uprisings on their hands, turned its attention elsewhere, but not before it located and trapped the Utes war chief, Captain Jack, and blew him apart with a mountain cannon. The Utes survived despite the best efforts of the Army and Colorado Governor Pitkin to have them exterminated. Reviewer Info: Peter Decker, who earned a PhD in history at Columbia University, taught at Duke University before becoming a Colorado rancher on the spread next to Ralph Laurens in Ridgway. He is the author of four books: The Utes Must Go;Fortunes and Failures;Old Fences, New Neighbors; and Saving the West (fiction). He has served as a trustee of the National Western Stock Show, Fort Lewis College (2001present), and the Federal Reserve Board (Denver) 1996. He served as Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture (1987-89) and is currently a Commodore in the Ridgway Yacht Club. Add new comment