As someone who has lived my entire life in the American West — between a childhood in Portland, college years in Montana, and the time since in the Roaring Fork Valley — I’ve grown to be shocked and saddened over how little we as a society understand and acknowledge the extent of what took place across this land in the 19th and 20th centuries to effectuate the removal of indigenous peoples. Almost everywhere you look, there is a story of injustice, broken promises and brutality visited upon those who were here first and had been living harmoniously for centuries at the hands of a people bent on grandiosity and the acquisition of wealth and power. But it’s not something we talk about much.
A desire to better understand the truth of the past is at the center of the assignment taken up by Aspen Journalism’s resident history writer Tim Cooney. His previous work has tackled the area’s mining history and settlement patterns, ski area development schemes and the tragic 1983 avalanche in Highland Bowl claiming the lives of three ski patrollers, and much more. But his latest effort, in the works for months, may be his most ambitious and weighty yet. It’s a three-part series, 13,000 words in total, running over the course of three Sundays in collaboration with Aspen Daily News, detailing the events leading up to and through the removal of the Northern Ute Indian tribes — who counted the Roaring Fork Valley as among their summer hunting grounds — from western Colorado.
The series kicked off with part one, “At Milk Creek, Northern Utes defend their territory,” on June 25, and took readers to the White River Valley near today’s Meeker, tracing the events that began with white settlers’ designs to move into Ute territory in Colorado’s central Rocky Mountains and Western Slope. Things came to a head when a government agent’s agenda to bring agriculture and property development to the Utes clashed with their cultural values, with tragic results. The story explains how the so-called “Meeker Massacre” — a name that in and of itself serves to erase history — was an offshoot of a battle that began when the Utes moved to defend themselves from an army that Meeker called in when things didn’t go according to his plans.
Part two, coming this Sunday, lays out what happened at the White River Indian Agency the day that Utes triggered by the illegal entry of U.S. troops onto their reservation killed Indian Agent Nathan Meeker and his staff, and in the weeks and months that followed. Those events and their aftermath set the stage for the final expulsion to the remaining Utes over the next eight years, which Cooney will write about in part three, expected on July 9. Heavy, but important writing we are proud to bring to our community,
Also this week at Aspen Journalism, Water Desk Editor Heather Sackett checked in on the endangered fish recovery program along the so-called “15-mile reach” of the Colorado River near Grand Junction where habitat for the fish — the razorback sucker, humpback chub, Colorado pikeminnow and bonytail — is especially stressed due to water diversions. The program has seen some success as of late as it relates to the razorback and humpback, but it also faces its challenges, including questions about how much water will be available for the fish, and how much they will need, in the future.
Thank you for reading and supporting this work. It simply wouldn’t happen without you.
– Curtis Wackerle
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.
Enough water for 15-mile reach remains a challenge
By Heather Sackett | June 23, 2023
But, despite the successes and the coordinated efforts of federal and state agencies, upstream water users and environmental organizations, meeting minimum flow requirements in a chronically dry section of fish habitat remains a challenge, and stressors such as climate change, drought and nonnative predators are creating new hurdles for helping the fish recover.
Snowpack has melted at all basin SNOTEL sites
By Laurine Lassalle | June 28, 2023
• The Fork ran at 842 cfs or 200% of average on June 23 at Stillwater before dropping to 559 cfs or 138% of average on June 25. • Lake Powell’s elevation went from 3,576.2 feet on June 16 to 3,581.4 feet on June 25. • High air temperatures reached 80°F on June 22, or about four degrees above normal.
By Laurine Lassalle | June 29, 2023
Aspen Journalism is compiling real-time streamflow information. Users can hover on each graph to get the most current streamflow information for the selected station.
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.