History of the Colorado Indians 1849-1890

The lands in the present states of Colorado and Nevada and the territories of Utah and Wyoming were in 1850 in the territory of Utah. The Indians claiming this land were the several tribes of Utes and Shoshones who lived west of the Rocky mountains. East of these mountains the Cheyenne and Arapahos claimed the territory north of the Arkansas River and the Kiowas and Comanches the region to the south of that river.

It is stated that when the first emigrant company passed through the territory in 1817 en route to California the Utes had “wheat and corn fields, and the company would have fared badly but for the wheat, corn, peas, and beans purchased from the Indians”. In 1849 a treaty was made with the Ute Indians at Santa Fe, N. M., and in 1850 an agent was dispatched from the Indian department to investigate their condition. The act of February 27, 1851, authorized 1 agent for Utah territory, and the laws regulating trade and intercourse were extended over the Indians of that region.

Emigration flowing toward California demanded protection, and in accordance with the treaty of 1849 military reservations and agencies were established. They were needed not only on account of the encroachments of Mormon settlers on the best lands of the Indians, who often for this took revenge on the innocent, but because of a set of traders called “freemen”, a “mixture of all nations”, “who were settled around and among the Indians, some marrying among them”, and who “induced the Indians to drive off the stock of emigrants, so as to force them to purchase of the ‘freemen’ at exorbitant prices, and, after the emigrants had left, made a pretended purchase of the Indians for a mere trifle, and were ready to sell again to the next passing wagon train, which may have been served in the same manner”.

In 1854 farms were made for the Indians at Twelvemile creek, in the northeast portion of the present territory of Utah, at Corn creek, toward the western part, and at Spanish fork near Utah Lake. At these points and in the valleys scattered along the southwestern part of the territory the Indians were reported to be industrious and willing to learn, but farming among these Indians proved a failure.

Some of the Utes living in that part of Utah territory now covered by the state of Colorado joined certain bands of the Jicarilla Apaches, who lived in the Mountains lying between Santa Fe, Taos, and Abiquiu, in a desultory warfare. They met with a severe defeat after a vigorous campaign, and treaties of peace were made in 1855 with the Capote and Moache hands of Utes, ” each treaty containing a stipulation requiring the Indians to cultivate the land assigned to them”.

In 1856 the Utes were quietly awaiting the ratification of the treaties. Meanwhile they suffered from war parties of Kiowas and Indians from the Arkansas River. Until 1861 the agency for the Southern and Eastern Utes was at Taos, N. M., and the yearly presents voted by Congress were distributed at Abiquiu or Conejos. The failure to ratify the treaties and to assign reservations to these Indians prevented their having an agent with them and receiving encouragement to cultivate the soil. Meanwhile the unsettled state of the country, owing to the discovery of gold in the Mountains of California, brought on conflicts between the Indians and the prospectors, who killed the game or drove it from the country. Mormon missionaries in 1856 sent to the Lamanites, as the Indians were termed, sought unavailingly to bind the Utes to the Mormon Church. In 1861 the territory of Utah was divided and Colorado and Nevada were organized.

After the Ute war in 1880 the 2 principal bands of Utes were taken to Utah, as has been stated, thus leaving but 1 band, the Southern Utes, in Colorado.

For details as to the Uncompahgre and White River Utes, see Utah.

Indians In Colorado In 1890

Colorado was acquired by the United States by cession from Mexico under the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of February 2, 1848, and the provisions of said treaty extend over the Indians therein.

The Utes, Utahs, or Yutas, as the name is variously written, are a large tribe belonging to the great Shoshonean family, who originally occupied the mountainous portion of Colorado and also portions of Utah, New Mexico, and Nevada. Those living in the mountains where game abounds were of fine physical development, were brave and hardy, and fairly well to do. Those who inhabited the sterile plains of the Salt Lake basin were miserably poor and spiritless. The first knowledge of the Utes comes from the early Spanish explorers, who met them on the upper waters of the Rio Grande del Norte, and who reported them as being a brave and warlike tribe. Their country bordered that of the Navajos on the south (the Rio San Juan dividing them), who formerly ranged as far north as the waters of the Grand, but were crowded back by the Utes or Utahs. A continuous warfare was kept up for many years between them, in which the Navajos were worsted. The Utes were employed as soldiers against them by the government in 1803. The Utes were divided into many bands, which were continually changing, but were recognized in 1875 as follows: the Capotes, Weeminuches, Tabeguaches, Grand Rivers, Yampas, Uintahs, Peahs, Goships, and Moaches. They numbered in the aggregate 5,260 in 1877. The Piutes, Piedes, Timpanagos, Sanpitches, or San Petes, and others in Utah are kindred tribes.

The Utes have generally been friendly to the whites, although there was some fighting in 1859 and 1860 about Pikes peak, many emigrants were plundered at various times, and stray miners cut off by disaffected bands. The Capotes, Weeminuches, and others in the southern portion of the territory have at times been more troublesome than those of the north. The treaties made with them from and after 1849 have not always been promptly ratified and acted upon, and in them the Utes claim to have been several times overreached.

In 1879 the Meeker massacre occurred at the White River Ute reservation in Colorado, on the White River, and was occasioned by the effort of N. P. Meeker, the agent, to make the Utes under his charge farmers. In 1880 a treaty was made with the White River Utes, of Colorado, and they were removed to the Uintah and Ouray agency, Utah, where they now are.

The Ute has the reputation of being constitutionally opposed to manual labor.


Department of the Interior. Report on Indians Taxed and Indians not Taxed in the United States, Except Alaska at the Eleventh Census: 1890. Washington DC: Government Printing Office. 1894.

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