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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37 comments:

eileeninmd said...

Hello Pat,

What a wonderful post, thanks for the sharing the history of Meeker. The massacre story of the Nathan Meeker and the Utes sounds awful. Our country has a history of mistreating and removing native Americans from their lands. Your photos are beautiful, love the landscapes. Take care.
Wishing you a great day and a happy new week!

Penny from Enjoying The Simple Things said...

Thanks for taking me on this trip with you. I have always thought how awful it was, that the Indians all over the US were forced to leave their land.

Rain said...

That's quite a history lesson, thanks for sharing! I love all the photos, those rocky hills are amazing!

NCSue said...

It's fascinating seeing how the mountains change as one drives through the Rockies. It's a lot less apparent in the Appalachians, as they're more worn down by time.
Thanks for sharing at https://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2020/10/at-aquarium.html

Joanne said...

One of my all time favorite history classes in college was learning about the native Americans, the reservations, and how they were treated. I loved that my teacher assigned a book written from their perspective to really get us thinking and talking. I too often stop and wonder how history books are going to report on our current climate because if it's one thing I have really learned these past 8 years homeschooling it's that our history books teach a really slanted and one sided view of history.

Ruth Hiebert said...

You captured such gorgeous views of the area.

Klara said...

beautiful landscapes, heavy history.

Lydia C. Lee said...

I think I said this last week but the rocky outcrops are amazing!! We went to an exhibition on Cook which showed both sides of the story - this is the first time I've seen a museum exhibition in Australia admit that the white invaders version of history is not exactly as recounted....it was really interesting. I am hoping we continue this over here.

Sylvia said...

Millie, What a history. Very sad. We need to embrace other cultures because every one has something to offer. Thanks for sharing. Sylvia D.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

You did such an outstanding job of relating this sad history ... it’s so very hard to write about. (Among the places we’ve seen and that I didn’t feel I adequately covered at all were Selma, the plantations and other monuments in the southern states, and the place where the forced marches of the Cherokees to Oklahoma began. .... So many things were done wrong, it makes you want to weep (and, as you say, wonder whether as a country we’ve learned anything at all.). But I was always glad we saw these places . it helped to clarify my thoughts, even if I couldn’t express them as well in writing. .... Thank you for this post. I would like to visit the area some day. (Actually of course I would like to visit just about anywhere about now . This traveler has cabin fever, a side effect of the pandemic. But one I’m learning to live with. ).

Rain said...

Oh my gosh, how neat that you stayed at that "Shining" hotel!!! And saw a ghost. That is a once in a lifetime experience! xxx

MarilynsTreats said...

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Thank you for sharing at #OverTheMoon. Pinned and shared. Have a lovely week. I hope to see you at next week’s party too! Please stay safe and healthy. Come party with us at Over The Moon! Catapult your content Over The Moon! @marilyn_lesniak @EclecticRedBarn
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MarilynsTreats said...

********************************************************
Thank you for sharing at #OverTheMoon. Pinned and shared. Have a lovely week. I hope to see you at next week’s party too! Please stay safe and healthy. Come party with us at Over The Moon! Catapult your content Over The Moon! @marilyn_lesniak @EclecticRedBarn
********************************************************

Jeanie said...

Well, the Utes were a bit extreme but I can see why they didn't want to be changed. It seems as though that's a trait of us Americans -- we want people to be like us. What an interesting story -- completely new to me. And I love how you share the history of your beautiful state.

Tom said...

...beautiful country, trees grow where there is water I see.

Angie said...

Pat - there is always something to glean from history. It was interesting to read about the reconciliation pow-wows. Better late than never. Thanks for linking up to Mosaic Monday, as always!

Hazel said...

Oh wow, the museum shot must be like going back in time. I love historical sites too. The older, the better. My son's history lessons this week are on early settlers and yes, the Indians being forced out of their land. Sad, but thanks for this wonderful post.

Hazel
https://hazelceej.com/temple-below-the-train/

stevebethere said...

Nice post loved all the photos colours a scenery :-)

Have a scenictastic safe week Pat 😷😷😷

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

Our country has a shameful past in our treatment of native people who lived in what is now the USA. It started as soon as Europeans hit the eastern shores of our country and continued all the way to the Pacific. Sad events but beautiful pictures as always.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Beautiful landscape with such a tragic history. We should learn from history, but all too often it seems we don't really

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

I hope and pray we will learn from history and the mistakes made in the past but I wonder. I still pray though! Love your photos! My cousin just went to Denver last week and she had lots of pretty photos to share when she got back. The Aspens were still beautiful. Thanks for this post!

Dawn said...

Such a lovely area.
Dawn aka Spatulas On Parade

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Great post. I would love to read the Ute's view of the affair.
We have treated the Native Americans very poorly over the years and the wounds are not healed.
I remember as a kid in grade school in Arizona and Utah. The Native American children were lined up in the back or along one wall and ignored. Every once in a while we had substitute teacher who tried to engage them and that got everybody upset. To this day, I do not understand how they withstood the boredom of sitting in a seat all day and not doing anything.

Michele Morin said...

Really appreciate this history lesson. We may take this in on a trip to Colorado!

the 4 M's said...

We visited the town of Cherokee this summer and it was good to learn more about the history of the Cherokee Indian. I definitely think it is important to learn about our history.
Those are some beautiful landscapes btw.
www.chezmireillefashiontravelmom.com

betty-NZ said...

Incidents like this make me sad that people couldn't just be left alone to live in peace. *sigh*
The scenery is absolutely stunning out that way! It's so varied, too.

Many thanks for your link at 'My Corner of the World' this week !!

Lowcarb team member said...

Many thanks for sharing the history of Meeker, an interesting read and great selection of photographs.

All the best Jan

Joyful said...

Gorgeous scenery as always. Colorado is such a pretty state.

Tamar SB said...

What amazing rock formations and skies!

Sharon Wagner said...

Sigh. So much injustice. The past is indeed ugly. But beautiful views. We are learning to be better. Slowly.

Yvonne said...

I would think it difficult to reconcile with people who own all their land now, so maybe that is why the pow wow ceased. Anyway, I lived in
Colorado Springs for seven years and still didn't have enough time to visit the entire state. So much beauty and so many places to see. I'm glad you had a good trip and saw a little bit of history that trip.

Barbara Rogers said...

I discovered your blog today(fro a comment on another blog) and enjoyed your post very much Good historic details, which is important in telling these stories. And I loved your photos along the way going west in CO. I visited sw CO last summer about this time, and drove to see Monument Valley in Utah, and passed a Ute Reservation which has a casino on it now. I kind of smile that so many white people love to gamble,and the members of the tribe all benefit with yearly allowances.

Rambling Woods said...

I keep hoping that we realize that we are all one species..no matter color or anything....

Spare Parts and Pics said...

Interesting post with wonderful photos. I'm often shocked and saddened by our violent past and the human species' inability to get along and respect one another. Thanks for sharing your experience.

April J Harris said...

I had not heard this story either and I was very interested to read about it. As always, Pat, your photographs are wonderful! Thank you for being a part of the Hearth and Soul Link Party Community. Take care and have a lovely weekend.

Marilyn @ MountainTopSpice said...

Such a beautiful road trip to take, although such a difficult subject to process. What beautiful scenery you enjoyed along the way, Fall is so beautiful in Colorado!

History is a difficult thing... perspective is everything. We are quite removed today from tribal warfare that took place for thousands of years. We are blessed. But this country is not alone in its mistakes, humanity continues along the same trend. Instead of listening and learning, it desires everyone to see things through its own vision, just as Mr. Meeker thought his way was best, and was unwilling to accept the Indian's lifestyle even though different from his. It would be wonderful if we could learn from the mistakes of the past, wouldn't it! Thank you for sharing this thoughtful and beautiful post, many blessings :)

Michelle said...

Colorado has so much history, and lessons, to offer. Thank you for sharing this post. I hope you and Vinny stay well and have a great week.