Recently at Aspen Journalism, our history desk wrapped up a three-part series on the history of the Northern Utes, this region’s indigenous peoples, from local history writer Tim Cooney. In 13,000 words published over the course of three Sundays in collaboration with Aspen Daily News, the series explored the events that led to the removal, at the hands of armed federal and state troops, of the Utes from their ancestral territory onto reservations in southern Colorado and Utah. This history from 140 years ago is as much of an origin story for this community as anything related to silver mining or post-war recreational skiing and Cooney’s work is an important contribution to our collective knowledge.
Part one, “At Milk Creek, Northern Utes defend their territory” published June 24, focuses on the events leading up to the historic Battle of Milk Creek against U.S. troops in a canyon 17 miles northeast of today’s Meeker. Part two, “Tensions erupt in violent retribution at Meeker’s Indian agency” published on July 2, starts on the first day of the six-day Milk Creek stalemate, which provoked the incident at the White River Indian Agency where agent Nathan Meeker and his employees were killed. Part three, Ute removal policy comes to a head in the 1887 ‘Colorow War’ published July 8, recounts the concluding aftermath, resulting in the “Colorow War.” Read the stories, linked below.
In a striking image from that third installment, Cooney shares the recollection of an Army captain who was there in 1881 when troops forced the Uncompahgre band of Utes to march 225 miles from the region near today’s Montrose to the Uintah reservation.
“The next morning after sunrise we saw a thrilling and pitiful sight,” the captain wrote. “The whole Ute Nation on horseback and foot was streaming by.” As they passed the troops, “their gait broke into a run. Sheep were abandoned, blankets and personal possessions strewn along the road, women and children were loudly wailing.”
With that, the military let loose the whites, “who hurried after us, taking up the land,” the captain wrote. “It was not desirable to let these civilians encounter the Indians. We were holding the crowd back on the south side of the Gunnison, until the Indians had passed 13 miles distant. In three days, the rich land of the Uncompahgre was all occupied, towns were being laid out and lots being sold at high prices.”
Our newsroom is widely recognized for providing local journalism of an exceptional quality and the three-part Ute series is a shining example. It was produced over months of research, writing and editing. Work like this is only available to the community through donations from readers and sustainers like you, which allows us to assign stories and give reporters as long as it takes to pursue them. Thank you to those who donated in response to this article, and all past donors and funders who made it possible. Every $100, $500, $1,000 makes a difference to our newsroom. See the comment below from recent supporters.
“It’s in-depth journalism about big issues! Thank you, Tim Cooney, for your excellent and disturbing series, ‘The Plight of the Ute.’”
“I’ve supported AJ in the past because of their excellent coverage on water issues. Now I re-up my support because of the excellent writing on the Ute as well. I’ve lived in Colorado nearly 50 years and this work is badly needed.”
“I admire investigative journalism and the effect it has on decision making in the RFV.“
We also recently published Water Desk Editor Heather Sackett’s look at a new attempt, in the present day, to account for tribal rights and interests in discussions on how to divide up the waters of the Colorado River. As Sackett notes, water rights held by tribes that have yet to be developed are, in effect, propping up the system, making for an increasingly untenable situation that must be dealt with in the next round of drought protocol negotiations.
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Editor and executive director
In 1879, boxed into ever-shrinking territory in northwest Colorado near today’s Meeker, the White River Valley Northern Ute Indians fought back
By Tim Cooney | June 25, 2023
Through their own scouts, the Utes got word of the U.S. cavalry mobilizing to the north at Fort Steele near Rawlins. When the contingent of troops started marching toward them, the Utes, many of whom were aware of what happened at Sand Creek 15 years earlier, assumed the worst — and they prepared.
Provoked by the arrival of U.S. troops, Ute warriors attack Indian agency, take hostages
By Tim Cooney | July 2, 2023
On the afternoon of Sept. 29, 1879, after Quinkent and Meeker had lunch together, a group of warriors fresh from the ongoing Milk Creek battlefront stormed the agency. The employees at the agency returned fire but were brutally overcome, while the women and children ran and hid before being taken captive.
After a forced march in 1881 cleared indigenous tribes from the Uncompahgre Valley, Utes continued to roam the White River territory
By Tim Cooney | July 9, 2023
“It was not desirable to let these civilians encounter the Indians. We were holding the crowd back on the south side of the Gunnison, until the Indians had passed 13 miles distant. In three days, the rich land of the Uncompahgre was all occupied, towns were being laid out and lots being sold at high prices.”
Tribes say structural inclusion is key
By Heather Sackett | July 1, 2023
Tribes’ unused water has been propping up the system for years, and when finally put to beneficial use, it could exacerbate shortages for other water users.
Lake Powell’s elevations reached 3,584.7 feet on July 9, up 7.2 inches from last week
By Laurine Lassalle | July 10, 2023
• The Fork ran at 40% of average at Stillwater and 111% of average below Maroon Creek on July 9.
• Lake Powell’s elevation has gained 7.1 inches since last week.
• Air quality was “good” last week in Aspen — except on July 8.
Lake Powell’s elevation has gained about three feet since last week.
By Laurine Lassalle | July 3, 2023
• Twin Lakes Tunnel, which sends Roaring Fork flows east of the Continental Divide, was running as high as 365 cfs on June 29 before dropping to 253 cfs on July 2.
• The Fork at Stillwater ran at 194 cfs on July 2, down from 559 cfs last week.
• High air temperatures reached as high as 81°F on June 26 in Aspen.
There are always stories that need a journalist to pursue them. These Aspen Journalism investigative stories are published for you, the community, and our collaborators as a public service, thanks to the generosity of our readers and funders.