Ute Indians and Gold Seekers 1859

From his office in Santa Fe, J.L. Collins,  Superintendent of Indian Affairs for New Mexico Territory, wrote about the conflicts between the Ute Indians and the gold seekers who were invading their territory.

September 17, 1859

To: Hon. A.B. Greenwood
Commissioner of Indian Affairs
Washington city, D.C.

          A difficulty lately occurred between the miners operating about Pike’s Peak and the Tobawaches [Tabeguache Utes]. Several miners are reported to have been killed, and also some eight or nine Indians…
          …my position has always been that all Indians should be taught to respect an American wherever they meet one; but, on the other hand, it must be admitted that our countrymen often act with great imprudence in reference to the Indians. Two or three men will often venture into the Indian country, placing themselves entirely beyond the reach of protection, and at the mercy of the Indians…
          Men who are strangers to Indians, entirely unaccustomed to their habits and characters, are very apt, when they meet one, in place of showing him some act of kindness, to insult him by driving or, perhaps, kicking him out of camp. This is done without reflecting that they are surrounded by hundreds of Indians by whom they could be overpowered at half an hour’s notice.

Collins noted that gold seekers scattered throughout the mountains would be at great risk of trouble with the Tabeguache Utes. He recommended “that a treaty be at once negotiated with these Indians, and that an agent be placed in charge of them, to reside at Fort Garland or some one of the new settlements near Pike’s Peak.”

From the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the year 1859, New Mexico superintendency, pages 334-362

Immigrant Gold Seekers

An 1862 report on the Eighth Census included data on occupations of passengers arriving in the United States between 1820 and 1860. A total of 39,087 miners arrived in that 40 year period. The vast majority (96% or 37,523) arrived in the 1850s. No doubt many were bound for the gold fields. Source: The Preliminary Report of the Eighth Census, Census Office, Department of Interior, Washington, May 20, 1862, page 17

Published in: on July 27, 2009 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Gold Rush Population

How many people lived in Colorado in 1860?

The Colorado gold rush began in 1859.  The 1860 U.S. Census reported 34,277 people living in what would soon become Colorado Territory.  For a census taker, counting miners spread out in rugged, roadless territory was a near impossible challenge. No doubt many people were missed. Some sources report as many as 50,000 people arrived in the gold fields in 1859. However, those who failed to strike it rich often returned to their homes in the East. In the 1860 count less than 15% of residents lived in towns. The people of Colorado Territory were young: 55% were between ages 15 and 24 and 38% between 25 and 44. Only 5% of residents were women and only 4% were children. Of course, no one counted the Indians.

Published in: on July 20, 2009 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Memorable Details


Colorado author MARGARET COEL recently launched “A Dozen on Denver,” a short story series for the Rocky Mountain News. The Rocky is celebrating its own 150th birthday along with that of the city of Denver. Eleven writers were invited to create stories set in their chosen decades of Denver history. The paper sponsored a writing contest to find the twelfth story – winner to be announced when the final story is published. 

Margaret delivered a richly detailed story about a new widow seeking a way to support herself and her small daughter in early day Denver. “Yellow Roses” opens with an invitation to join the last the wagon train returning to St. Louis before winter sets in. The “go-backs,” people who found life in the West too difficult and decided to go home, said they were going “back to the states.”

Back to the states! Margaret’s little research detail tickled my mind after I finished her story. Gold seekers who came West in 1859 did indeed leave the states behind when they came to the Rocky Mountains. The State of Missouri must have seemed like the edge of civilization when people set out in wagons, on horseback, and on foot across the vast prairie. What became Colorado was a jigsaw puzzle where the Territories of Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, and New Mexico met on the MAP.

Thanks, Margaret, for a great story with a memorable detail.

Read an interview with MARGARET COELor listen to an audio of “YELLOW ROSES.”

Published in: on September 27, 2008 at 1:32 pm  Comments (4)  
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