Monday, October 19, 2020

The Meeker Incident in the White River Valley

I've always been interested in history, and since moving to Colorado almost eight years ago I have been fascinated with reading the history of our new state and traveling to see points of interest that correspond to what I've read. When my husband and I were in Steamboat Springs last year to celebrate our anniversary--click here--and--click here--to read those posts--I asked my husband if we could take a day trip over to the town of Meeker to visit a historical site in the White River Valley that I read about called the Meeker Massacre or more recently the Meeker Incident.   Being ever willing to please me he agreed, and early one morning we drove on US 40 West past the town of Craig and then on CO13 south towards the town of Meeker, about 90 miles away from Steamboat Springs.

This was early in October 2019, and I was pleased to see there was still some pretty autumn color along the way.

We passed many ranches.

The further west we traveled the topography began to change into sparse rocky hills and buttes...

...and some very volcanic looking structures.

I liked the shape and red color of this mesa.

We finally entered the town of Meeker.  The Town of Meeker is located along the famed White River near the base of the iconic Flat Tops Wilderness in Northwestern Colorado’s Rio Blanco County.  It is an area comprised of beautiful and vast wilderness which gives visitors the opportunity for many outdoor recreational pursuits. 

In town, we visited the White River Museum to look at their exhibits and learn about the man for whom the town was named, Nathan Meeker.  White River Museum, housed in an actual 1880s U.S. Army officer quarters, showcases the early pioneers and the stories and artifacts they left behind, including clothing, household goods, an original 1885 hand printing press, Native American Ute artifacts, and much more.  Chief Colorow's peace pipe is one of the objects on exhibit.  Chief Colorow was also a frequent visitor to the area where I live---I blogged about him and a red rock cave he often frequented near us in this post Reading about his life made me learn about the "Meeker Massacre" of which he was a part of, and that piqued my interest to visit the site of this incident.

The incident site is located on Colorado Highway 64, about three miles west of Meeker. It is indicated by a wooden marker on the south side of the highway but the battle actually took place in a privately owned meadow on the north side of the White River.

Nathan Meeker was the Indian Agent at White River Reservation, appointed in March 1878. He wanted to change the lifestyle of the Utes, the last indigenous people to inhabit Western Colorado before Europeans and Americans arrived. They had lived many hundreds of years, and possibly many thousands of years, as nomadic hunters in Colorado and the northern band lived and hunted in the White River Valley. Meeker wanted the Utes to become like the white man and be educated, church-going farmers. Meeker wanted them to raise livestock, discontinue their pony racing and hunting forays, and send their children to school.

The Utes did not like the changes that Meeker was making and they also resented the settler encroachment on their reservation and the poor management of the Indian Bureau. Meeker wanted the Utes to get rid of their horses, as he thought that if the Utes did not have their horses, they would be more willing to become farmers. To the Utes, their horses were their wealth. He also wanted them to plow up the horse racing track they used for recreation and horse training to use it instead as farmland. The Utes would not do it so one day Meeker did it on his own, which made the Utes very angry.

When Meeker claimed he had been assaulted by a subchief during a petty quarrel, the government sent approximately 150-200 soldiers, led by Major Thomas T. Thornburgh, commander of  Fort Steele, Wyoming, to settle the affair.

On September 29, 1879, before the soldiers arrived, the Indians attacked the agency, burned the buildings, and killed Meeker and ten of his employees. Meeker’s wife, daughter, and another girl named Josephine were held as captives for 23 days.  This event became known as the Meeker Incident or Massacre.

In the meantime, the Utes attacked the approaching troops from Fort Steele, in what is known as the Battle of Mill Creek Colorado

Afterward, Shawsheen (sister to Chief Ouray of the Southern Uncompahgre Utes) who lived on the White River Agency land, told the Utes it would be best to free the women and children to the soldiers. Both Mrs. Meeker and Josephine said that Shawsheen was kind to them and saved their lives. The soldiers returned the women and children to freedom, but the Utes were doomed. 

After this event, the Utes were eventually banished from Colorado, as in 1880 the US Congress passed legislation requiring the Ute population to relocate to reservations in Utah.

Plaque for Nathan Meeker and the men of the Indian Agency placed in 1927--Click on to enlarge to read

The White River

In July 2008, the Meeker historical society, Meeker Chamber of Commerce, US Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management organized the Smoking River Pow Wow, a local reconciliation event that marked the first time Ute Indians were officially invited to the White River Valley since their removal. An estimated 600 people attended, including Utes whose descendants were forced out in 1881.   It was held again the next year but seems to have ended after that as an annual event.

After visiting the historical site we drove back to our hotel in Steamboat Springs, enjoying the scenery again along the way. I was also deep in thought about all I saw that day.  I thought much about the misguided actions of Nathan Meeker who did not try to learn more about the customs and traditions of the Utes.  I thought about the forced diaspora of a race of people who had loved what they called the "Shining Mountains" and their ancestral hunting grounds in Colorado. I thought about our government which at the time thought of Native Americans as a problem to expansion and whose lands could be taken away from them.  I remembered our visit to the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in SE Colorado a few years before to learn the story of the 500 plus women, children, and elder Cheyenne and Arapaho people that were ambushed in their village in 1864 and killed and mutilated by soldiers--click here--to read that post
I wondered what we as a nation have learned since then and how would we be judged a hundred years from now on actions that we are taking today.  There is so much to learn from history and I am glad that these places have been preserved for all to see.

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Sunday, October 11, 2020

Steamboat Lake, Hahns Peak and the Sleeping Giant

One of the places we like to visit when we drive to Steamboat Springs is Steamboat Lake ParkThe 2,820-acre (1,140 ha) park, established west of Hahns Peak in 1967, includes a 1,101 acres (446 ha) reservoir.  Park facilities include a visitor center, marina, boat ramps, campsites, cabins, picnic sites, and 5.5 miles (8.9 km) of hiking trails.

The reflections of the autumn trees in the water were beautiful!

Imposing Hahn's Peak is located east of the lake.  The peak has an elevation of 10,774 feet (3,284 m)/
Hahns Peak was named after Joseph Hahn, a gold miner who, with companions William Doyle and George Wray came to the area in the 1860s. Once a thriving gold mining camp, the town of Hahns Peak is the oldest permanent settlement in northwest Colorado’s Routt County and served as the county seat from 1877 to 1912.

Please click on the photo to enlarge it to read.

This placard tells how this area was a favorite hunting ground for the Native American Utes. They were nomadic hunters and found the valleys here full of elk, deer, bison, and beaver.  Sadly, most of the Utes were moved to a reservation in southwestern Colorado and Utah after the Meeker Massacre that took place in 1879.  I'll show you more about that in my next post.

Even though we made our visit to this part of Colorado about a week after peak autumn color, in early October, there was still much to be seen and enjoyed.

There are quite a few old and abandoned structures in the area that are interesting to photograph.

It takes a bit of imagination but do you see the Steamboat Springs "Sleeping Giant"? It's also known as Elk Mountain.

According to Steamboat Magazine

"As the legend goes, a long, long time ago, a gentle giant protected the Yampa Valley. He was to live forever, as long as he never harmed another living thing. One day, an evil ogre attacked the people of the valley. To protect them, the giant lured the ogre to Steamboat Lake, and tricked him into falling into the quicksand. The valley’s inhabitants were saved, but the giant had broken his one rule by killing the ogre, and the punishment was eternal sleep. When he was laid to rest, everyone came to pay their respects and surrounded the giant’s resting spot with rattlesnakes to keep him from being disturbed. Still today, these snakes protect the giant’s slumber. Some say this giant created the 'Yampa Valley Curse,' which draws people to return to the valley."
I'd say the Sleeping Giant has certainly worked his magic on us and has lured us back to Steamboat Springs many times! 

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