Ouray and Chipeta Meet U.S. Presidents

Opening of the Gunnison Tunnel, 1909

Opening of the Gunnison Tunnel, 1909

Inauguration Day is a good time to think about Presidents of the United States. Have you ever met a President in person?
          Would you be surprised to know that Chipeta and Ouray had personal meetings with several U.S. Presidents?
          During his first trip to Washington City in April 1863, Ouray and a delegation of Utes met with President Abraham Lincoln. At that time Lincoln presented Ouray with a black cane, his standard gift to the leader of each Indian delegation he met.
          On February 5, 1868, Ouray and another delegation of chiefs met with President Andrew Johnson. The President gave them a tour of the White House.
          In January 1872, Ouray and a delegation of Ute chiefs were received at the White House by President and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant .
          The following year, Ouray and another delegation of Utes were back in the nation’s capital. During this trip the Utes agreed to give up their claim to the San Juan Mountains. Ouray and the delegation met with President Grant on October 24, 1873.
          President William Howard Taft came to Colorado in 1909. On September 23, 1909, he gave a speech in Grand Junction, Colorado, reportedly attended by 12,000 people. Chipeta and a group of Ute chiefs were among the specially invited guests. After the speech, Chipeta and the special guests stepped onto the stage to meet the President. This group of guests would accompany the President on a train to Montrose for the opening of the Gunnison Tunnel. President Taft insisted that Chipeta ride with him to the railroad station in his open touring car.

Photo courtesy Denver Public Library, Western History Collection.

Sources: Indian Agent Expense Records, National Archives; Washington Evening Star, October 24, 1873; Bits of Colorado History, Al Look (Golden Bell Press, 1977)

Spotted in Lincoln

Ely Parker Library of CongressIf you have seen the wonderful movie Lincoln, did you notice a Native American man accompanying General Ulysses S. Grant in a couple of scenes?  This character, like many others in the meticulously researched movie, was a real person. He is Ely S. Parker, the subject of a post on this blog a little over a year ago. Parker was the first Native American to serve as  Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Read about him here.

Photo from the National Archives collection.

Published in: on December 3, 2012 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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An Indian Commissioner of Indian Affairs

Ely Samuel Parker was born on the Tonawanda reservation in Indian Falls, New York in 1828.
          Parker mastered the English language in school and earned a scholarship to Yates Academy in western New York State. He became known for his exceptional speaking skill. While still in school, he represented the Senecas in treaty negotiations with the U.S. government.  
          Rejected by Harvard University, he studied law in New York City. He was not allowed to join the bar in New York because he was declared “not a citizen.” 
          Parker found work as an engineer on the Eerie Canal before taking a government assignment in Illinois and Iowa. In 1860, while working in Galena, Illinois, he became friends with Ulysses S. Grant.
          In 1861 the Civil War began. Parker volunteered for service with the Union Army but was rejected. Two years later General Grant secured Parker a military appointment. Parker served with Grant at the Union victory at Vicksburg, Mississippi. 

Ely S. Parker second from right in this Alexander Gardner photo of Grant's Command Staff meeting.

          When Grant became commander of all Union forces, he chose Parker as his Military Secretary and Assistant Adjutant General. Parker was with Grant during the 1864-65 campaign against Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Parker was present when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. According to Parker, it was he who drafted the official document which both General’s signed. 
          In 1868, Grant was elected President of the United States. The following year he appointed Parker Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
          Ely S. Parker was the first American Indian to serve as Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

Photo of Ely S. Parker courtesy Smithsonian Civil War Photo Collection
Photo of Grant and staff courtesy New York State Archives

John L. Routt Governor of the Territory and the State

Honoring the 150th Anniversary of Colorado Territory (officially formed February 28, 1861), this series of posts offers a brief glimpse into Indian affairs during the terms of the seven territorial governors.

John L. Routt was the last Governor of Colorado Territory (1875-76) and first Governor of the State of Colorado. Like McCook, he was a former Union soldier well known by President Ulysses S. Grant, who appointed him.
          As Colorado transitioned from Territory to State, Indian Agent Henry F. Bond reported advances in education at the Los Pinos Ute Indian reservation. “The school has been as successful as could be expected, taking into consideration how lowdown in acquirements the scholars commenced. The improvement of several of the pupils is very marked. Quite a victory has been gained over the prejudices of influential members of the tribe. Members of Ouray’s family and of the families of four other prominent chiefs have attended the school. The English language is taught by constant and persevering conversation on things of which the senses take cognizance, or acts which the children can perform or see in others. Thus they learn the use of the words while they become accustomed to the sounds and the look.”

Quoted text from the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1875

Locating Indian Reservations

On June 14, 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Edward M. McCook to replace Alexander Hunt as Governor of Colorado Territory. In this capacity, McCook was also in charge of Indian affairs for the territory.
          A few months after taking office, Governor McCook prepared his first Annual Report to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. In it he expressed his pointed views on government policy regarding location of Indian reservations.

“As to the policy of isolating the Indians in order to civilize them…in my opinion the best way to accomplish this object would be to bring them in direct contact with the highest standard of civilization instead of placing them entirely beyond its influence. I think the settlement of these untutored tribes in the vicinity, say of Boston, where they would daily be thrown in contact with what is claimed to be the most cultivated community on this continent, would be more likely to bring about the desired end than a complete isolation from these powerful and beneficent influences.”

Edward M. McCook
Governor and ex officio Superintendent Indian Affairs
C.T. (Colorado Territory)

From the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior for the Year 1869