Colorado Was National News in 1879

The story of murders and hostage taking in Colorado was a media sensation in 1879, particularly because the hostages were women and children. Stories travelled by telegraph to Eastern newspapers. The New York Times carried daily front page reports that kept readers shivering with fear at the thought of being held hostage by savage Indians in the mountain wilderness. Smaller newspapers reprinted the stories for readers across the nation.
          In Colorado, panic set in. As news of the events at White River Agency spread, the stories became more exaggerated with each retelling. Residents feared all Utes in Colorado were off their reservations and murdering any white people they could find.
          Mountain communities raised volunteer militias. Citizens barricaded themselves in their homes ready for a seige. Governor Pitkin sent a special train to Lake City with 150 Springfield rifles and ten thousand rounds of ammunition. He designated the town as the distribution point for arming the Southwestern part of the state. The governor requested extra military protection from Kansas, New Mexico and Texas.
          Colorado became an armed camp ready for war.

Published in: on October 5, 2009 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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The terrified hostages were held in a remote and primitive camp. They huddled under animal hides to keep warm. Their meager rations were mostly dried meat or stew made from whatever animal was shot that day. They ate with their unwashed fingers.    
          Captives in Iraq or Afghanistan? No, this event took place 130 years ago in Colorado.
Nathan MeekerNathan Meeker had received appointment as Indian Agent for the Northern Utes although he had no experience with the Indians. He thought it would be a simple matter to teach nomadic hunters to settle down and become farmers. Failing to change the Utes’ way of life, he threatened that soldiers would come to the White River Agency and take troublemakers off to prison.
          On September 10, 1879, Meeker telegraphed the Indian Bureau in Washington that he had been physically assaulted by a Ute and feared for his life. The War Department ordered troops to the scene. Major Thomas T. Thornburgh left Fort Steel in Wyoming on September 21st with 200 men, 33 supply wagons, and 220 pack mules.
          Ute men spotted a column of soldiers marching toward the reservation on the morning of September 29th. Some of these Utes had experience as scouts for the military and understood army ways. A small group of Utes road out twice to talk with Thornburgh. They asked him to come to the Agency and talk with the chiefs and the Indian Agent. Thornburgh refused.
          The Utes set up an ambush in a narrow pass. By nightfall they had killed 12 soldiers, including Thornburgh, and wounded 43. Shooting from high ground, the Utes managed to kill all the soldiers’ horses and mules. The Army was pinned down with no escape. They remained in this position until the morning of October 5th when they were rescued by the 5th Cavalry.
          When Utes at the Agency received word of the fight, they killed Agent Meeker and the eight white men employed at the Agency. They took Meeker’s wife and daughter, another white woman and her two children as hostages.

A detailed account of the Thornburg Battle is found in The Ute Campaign of 1879: A study in the Use of the Military Instrument by Major Russel D. Santala, Combined Arms Research Library, Command & General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Published in: on September 28, 2009 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Good Job, Henry!

Finding one interesting research tidbit can make my day. In a recent Google search I spotted an 1880 Ute delegation photo advertised by Cowan’s Auctions, Cincinnati, Ohio. The item was part of a collection of Indian artifacts once owned by Henry W. Andrews. I discovered the auction had been completed in 2007. The Andrews’ collection brought $101,200.20.

The description of lot #322 noted, “The photograph of the Ute Treaty Delegation taken in 1880, and inscribed to Andrews from Ouray and his wife Chipeta, suggests Andrews must have been good at his job…”

Henry Andrews was a clerk in the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs when the Ute delegation arrived in Washington, DC on January 11, 1880. Andrews met them at the train station. He was assigned to supervise every detail of the Utes’ stay in the city so he took a room in the Tremont House with the delegation. The Utes had been national news since October 1879, when a small group of Utes killed their Indian Agent and the agency employees, then took three white women and two children hostage. Colorado’s GOVERNOR PITKIN arrived in Washington in late January to lobby for removal of all Utes from the state. Andrews had his hands full protecting the Ute delegation from eager newspaper reporters, curious locals, and angry citizens.

Delays in negotiations extended the Utes’ stay to almost three months, a long time for people used to wide open spaces to be cooped up inside a hotel. Andrews ate his meals with the Utes, arranged for entertainment and accompanied them on trips around the city. He learned to enjoy the Utes’ company and became a trusted friend. It was Henry Andrews who escorted Chipeta on a Pennsylvania Avenue shopping trip to buy fabric for “city clothes.”

Henry Andrews was indeed good at his job. By 1885 he had been promoted to Deputy Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Northwest Territory.

Published in: on October 8, 2008 at 12:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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