Legend Categories
North America / Great Basin Area
Ute - Chief Ouray Of The Uncompagre


The Ute Nation, had always lived in the wilderness they called "The Shining Mountains." We now call this area the San Juan Mountains, on the western slope of the Rockies.

During the summer, the Ute's ventured to the eastern plains to hunt buffalo. Though regarded as "generally friendly" the Ute Nation sometimes fought with their traditional enemies, the Plains Indians. On other occasions, the Utes met in peace with the Plains Indians at the place where the spirit of the Great God Manitou lived in bubbling springs at the base of Pikes Peak.

The Ute Nation is composed of several Tribes. One of these Tribes is the Uncompagre. The great Ouray was to become it's Chief. Ouray, "The Arrow," was born in 1833, "the year the stars fell." (Meteors from the constellation Leo were especially heavy in that year; thus it was called "the year the stars fell.") Ouray's father was a Uncompagre Ute and his mother a Jicarilla Apache, thought to be from an area that is now Arizona. Ouray was not raised by his parents but by a Spanish family in Taos, New Mexico. He spoke Spanish and English, in addition to the Ute language with its different dialects.

At the age of 17, Ouray became Chief of the Uncompagre Tribe. Because of his diverse background, and his mastery of 3 languages, Chief Ouray was instrumental to Ute communications, including those with the "Great White Father" in Washington D.C. On occasion, Ouray traveled to Washington for land and treaty negotiations. He met President Grant and his family.

In 1868, the Ute Nation and the United States, entered into a treaty whereby the Ute Nation surrendered most of its claims to lands in the San Luis Valley. In "exchange," the United States briefly stopped further encroachment into the Ute's ancestral lands in the Shining Mountains, allowing the Ute's to retain ownership of this area. For the Ute Nation to keep this part of the Shining Mountains, was a matter of respect and honor. The Utes spoke of these matters as the whites spoke of contract law.

For years prospectors had been busy on these Ute lands, blasting huge holes to extract ore. The Ute's interpreted this as direct offenses against their gods. In 1873 the Ute Nation signed a treaty that cost them their best lands, those in the San Juan's. Instantly this area became one of Colorado's more famous mining regions.

This time, with the treaty of 1873, the Utes realized they had been given a raw deal. (The U.S. had offered $11,000.00 to the Ute's for their land in the San Juan's, but their negotiator, Otto Mears, was unscrupulous, and paid only $2.00 to each person who signed the treaty, there by saving the U.S. almost every dime it was willing to spend.) Chief Ouray worked hard and was able to keep his Uncompagre Tribe quiet, but was unable to control other Tribes within the Ute Nation. The other Tribes sought revenge for the unfair treaty, and so they dealt terror and fear to the miners and their families.

Trouble brewed to the North with the White River Tribe of the Ute Nation. Nathan C. Meeker was the government agent who was supposed to have negotiated with the White River Tribe. Instead, he insisted the White River Tribe abandon their lifestyle, culture and language to become "good Christian white people." They were forced to send their children to the white schools. When the Indians could not immediately conform, Meeker plowed the lands of their villages in an attempt to force them to become farmers.

On September 30, 1879, the White River Tribe set fire to the Meeker agency, killing Meeker and ten of his employees. Meeker's wife and daughter, another woman and two other children were taken hostage. (In Rio Blanco County, the town of Meeker is now situated on the White River.) The "Meeker Massacre" is a sad chapter in Colorado history. The Meeker tragedy caused panic and public outrage against the Ute Tribe and forever changed the Indian Wars. The moral to this tale as well as many others in this chapter of America's history, is that if the Indigenous peoples had been treated with dignity and respect, these human tragedies could have been averted.

Six months after the Meeker massacre, Congress declared the Ute Nations must go. They were forced north to a reservation near the Sawatch Range.

Ouray is noted mostly for his unwavering friendship for the whites with whom he always kept faith and whose interests he protected even on trying occasions. When he visited Washington. D.C. in 1880, President Hayes called him "the most intellectual man I've ever conversed with." He was about five feet seven inches tall, and as he grew older he became quite portly. His manner was refined and polished, his face stern and dignified in repose but lighting up pleasantly when he talked. He ordinarily wore the white man's broadcloth and boots, but he never cut off his long hair which he wore in two braids that hung on his chest in the Ute fashion.

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 Uncompagre 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 Uncompagre 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, Ouray 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 doctors 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. THE UTES -- LOS INDIOS DEL VALLE

The San Luis Valley was inhabited at different times by numerous Indian tribes. Early paleolithic hunters killed now extinct ice animals in the valley. Indians from the upper Rio Grande Pueblos also hunted in the valley at times. Before the Utes finally established their dominance in the valley, it was frequently raided by Plains tribes such as the Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and Kiowa. Jicarilla Apaches lived in peaceful harmony with the Utes and frequently camped in the southern end of the valley. The first contact with the Utes was in the period 1630-1640. The Utes were called "QUERECHOS" by the early Spaniards in the area.

The Capote band of Utes occupied the southern end of the valley at the time of the first contact. Another band, the Mohuache, also lived in southern Colorado and the Weeminuche band also ranged in the western end of the valley, generally west of the San Juan Mountains.

Chipeta (shown above) was wife of the paramount Ute chief Ouray. She was almost hanged by a lynch mob in Alamosa, Colorado, on January 7, 1880, when she and ten Ute chiefs arrived there to board a train for Washington to resolve reservation resettlement matters. Early Colorado settlers were irate at the Utes for the killing of eleven cavalrymen and the wounding of forty three others in the massacre at Meeker, Colorado.

The Ute nation, for whom the present state of Utah is named, are found today on three reservations spreading across Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. The Southern Ute reservation is a 310,000 acre area stretching along Colorado's border with New Mexico and is home to about 1,000 Ute tribes people. The Utes residing on this reservation are mainly from two different bands, the Mouache Band and the Capote Band.

The information concerning the flag, and seal of the Southern Ute Tribe comes from two Ute tribal artists, Mr. Ben Watts and Mr. Russell Box Sr. It was provided to the author by Mr. Eugene Naranjo of the Southern Ute Executive Office. The tribal flag was designed by Ben Watts and Stanley Reed Frost.

The exact date of adoption can no longer be found in tribal records. It is assumed by the Executive Office that the flag and seal were adopted around 1970 or 1971 when a contest was held to choose a name for the "Pino Nuche" Lodge and Restaurant, one of the major businesses on the reservation.

The flag of the Southern Ute tribe is light blue and bears the name "Southern Ute Tribe" in white capital letters across the top third of the flag. Centered on the lower two-thirds is the tribal seal.

The seal is circular, representing the "circle of life," a theme that has run through many tribal flags. Everything within this circle is a facet of the life of the Southern Ute people. Immediately within the circle is the identifying legend in red "Great Seal of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ignacio, Colo."

Centered in the circle is the profile of a Ute chief shown in the colors of red, orange, black, blue and white. The Indian represents the whole tribe; a colorful individual representing a colorful people. The colors represent the colors of the rainbow and the colors of nature.

Surrounding the Indian head are various representations of natural resources to be found within the Southern Ute Reservation and cultural icons meaningful to the Ute people. Directly below the bust of the Indian is a calumet or peacepipe from which hang two feathers. The pipe shows that the Ute are a peaceful and peace loving people. The two feathers represent the "Great Spirit" and the "healing power" that comes from being a single peaceful people. Below the pipe are two leafed branches that recall the green things of the earth and the harmony that the people share with nature.

Below the pipe and branches is a small representation of the flag of the state of Colorado. The inclusion of the Colorado emblem is unique. Many of the tribes do not include state symbols in their seals or flags, except for some instances where a map of the state may appear. Many, like the Nez Perce of Idaho and the Muskogee of Oklahoma do not even include the state flag amongst the flags carried during parades and similar events. To them, the inclusion of the state flag can be viewed as an infringement or weakening of their sovereignty.

Obviously, the Southern Ute do not fear any imposing by the State of Colorado or it may be a realization that a map of Colorado would not be a particularly striking symbol - the state is a perfect rectangle!

To the viewer's left of the Indian bust, are a gas well and a pair of grazing sheep. These, along with the tractor and the grazing steer to the right of the chief represent the main pursuits of the Ute tribe and its members, agriculture, ranching and industry.

Above the chief's head is a mountain space with an elk and bear, animals that share the land with the Ute people. The sun watches over the tribe while the river represents the six rivers that cross the reservation, the Piedra, Animas, La Plata, Pine, San Juan Florida, and the Navajo.

The Mountains represent the actual mountains that lie to the north of the current reservation. In past times, these mountains were part of the homeland of the Ute nation. The reminder of their past homeland in the seal of the Southern Ute is a way of reminding themselves that their past and their tradition are also a component of the "circle of life" that is the Southern Ute Tribe.

http://lib.colostate.edu/research/colorado/co_hist_topic.html