Chipeta – Woman of Character, Courage and Commitment

In honor of Chipeta’s recognition during National Women’s History Month, here is a post about her 1880 testimony before a Congressional Committee investigating the Meeker Massacre in Colorado. This post originally appeared on this blog March 24, 2009.

Chipeta by Mathew Brady, Washington, D.C., 1880

Chipeta by Mathew Brady, Washington, D.C., 1880

On March 19, 1880 Chipeta entered the Capitol building and took the witness stand facing a group of Congressmen seated behind a long table. Not yet 40 years old, she had lived her entire life in the Rocky Mountains. She was the wife of Chief Ouray and his most trusted advisor and confidant. She travelled to Washington, D.C. with a group of Ute chiefs. Secretary of Interior Carl Schurz welcomed her as a member of the delegation rather than as a tag-along wife.

Her upcoming testimony was announced by The Washington Post, describing her as “a fat, good-humored looking squaw.” The reason for her appearance in the capitol city was an event that had captured national attention the previous year. A group of Northern Utes attacked a column of soldiers, murdered their Indian agent, Nathan Meeker, and all male employees of the agency. They spirited three white women and two children into the high mountains as hostages. Newspapers across the nation followed the unfolding events for the next 30 days until the hostages were safely released.

In the Congressional hearing, Chipeta responded (through an interpreter) to ten questions about where she was when the massacre took place and what caused the events. Most of her answers amounted to “I don’t know” because she had not been present at the massacre. She told the committee some of the Indians said Agent Meeker “was a bad man, that he talked bad…Some of them claimed that he was always writing to Washington and giving his side of the case, and all the troubles at the agency…I do not know whether that is what they killed him for, or what they did it for.”


Source: Testimony in Relation to Ute Outbreak, 46th Congress, 2nd Session, House Miscellaneous Documents no. 38, 1880, 91.

Government Accounting 1880

Chipeta went shopping in Washington, DC on January 27, 1880. Accompanied by Henry Andrews of the Indian Bureau, she visited Trunnel, Clark & Company located in a market on Pennsylvania Avenue. She purchased $27.99 worth of fabric and sewing notions. The purchase was charged to the Indian Bureau.

Approving the bill for payment involved at least fifteen people dipping pens in ink to complete, sign or initial the required documents: 

January 29, 1880 – Clerk Jesse Arnold noted receipt of the bill by the Office of Indian Affairs. Indian Agent W.H. Berry signed his approval of the charge. Clerk Arnold completed Office Form No. 58 stating the purpose of the appropriation: “Fulfilling treaty with Tabauache, Muache, Capote, Weeminuche, Yampa, Grand River and Unitah Bands of Utes 1880.”

February 2, 1880 – Clerk J.C. Brown noted receipt of the bill by the Department of Interior, Indian Division.

February 4, 1880 – E.J. Brooks, Acting Commissioner of the Office of Indian Affairs, signed a statement (prepared by a third clerk) that the bill was “correct and just; that the articles named were required for immediate use of Mrs. Ouray;” and the goods were “purchased in open market at the lowest attainable rates.” To be perfectly clear, Brooks also noted “I have certified this single voucher only.” In an additional statement in his own handwriting, Brooks further certified “the articles charged for this account were delivered to Chipeta, Mrs. Ouray, in this City.” Someone named Burnett signed the bill as “Examiner.”

February 11, 1880 – The bill was reviewed and approved by William Stickney and E. M. Kingsley, Ex. Commissioner.

February 12, 1880 – Carl Schurz, Secretary of the Department of Interior, signed his name beneath a stamp reading “The action of the Executive Committee is hereby sustained.” Two men initialed the stamp as “J.I.C.” and “W.J.V.”

February 14, 1880 – H. C. Harmon, Acting Auditor of the Treasury Department, approved the bill for the Second Auditor’s Office. The approval was initialed by “T.T.”

On February 20, 1880 – W. Welleton, Second Comptroller, certified the Auditor’s document and it was initialed by “J.D.T.”

A final official Treasury Department document was completed, restating the nature of the appropriation and authorizing payment. This document was signed on February 14, 1880 by Jesse Arnold, Clerk of the Second Auditor’s Office, and on February 20, 1880 by J.C. Brown, Clerk of the Second Comptroller’s Office.

All of the documents prepared in order to effect payment for this purchase became part of Indian Claim No. 629. The documents are preserved in the National Archives (Reg 217, Stack 12E3, Row 8, Comp 27, #629-1880).

And when did Trunnel, Clark & Company receive payment? Ah, those documents are in another file somewhere among Treasury Department records.

Rescued Captives

The women and children taken captive during the September 29, 1879 Meeker Massacre were held in a remote moutain camp.
MeekerThe 5th Cavalry under Colonel Wesley Merritt arrived at the White River Agency on October 11th. They buried the bodies of Meeker and his employees. Reinforcements arrived bringing the total number of soldiers to 1,000. On October 14th, just as Merritt was ready to set out to find the camp and rescue the hostages, he received orders to halt.
          Secretary of Interior Carl Schurz had arrived in Denver. Two days earlier Chief Ouray and Southern Ute Agent William M. Stanley had assured Schurz that the White River Utes “…will fight no more unless forced to do so.”  Schurz wanted a peaceful resolution. He appointed Charles Adams to negotiate for release of the hostages.  Adams was a former Ute Indian Agent generally trusted by the Utes.  
           Adams arrived at Ouray and Chipeta’s home on October 21, 1879. Ouray sent a message to the Northern Utes that Adams was coming and assigned his most trusted men to lead Adams to the camp. Adams quickly gained release of the captives. The three women and two children arrived at Ouray and Chipeta’s home on October 29th.   
          Adams continued to negotiate with the Utes to surrender the men responsible for the murders at White River Agency.  Finally on November 10th the Utes agreed.
          The Army remained in western Colorado to keep the peace for the next two years.

Published in: on October 19, 2009 at 6:00 am  Comments (2)  
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Old Wisdom

Our country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right.

– Carl Schurz, revolutionary, statesman and reformer (1829-1906)


This quote at the bottom of an “A.Word.A.Day” email first caught my attention because I recognized the source from my research. CARL SCHURZ, as U.S. Secretary of Interior, welcomed Chipeta as a member of the 1880 Ute Indian delegation that arrived in Washington, D.C. to discuss a treaty after the Meeker Massacre occurred in Colorado.

I saved this tidbit in my Chipeta files. Rediscovering it today, I was struck by the wisdom and timeliness of this German immigrant’s words. 

Published in: on October 11, 2008 at 2:42 pm  Leave a Comment