Colorado, Craig, Massacre, Meeker, Moffat County, Nathan Meeker, Native Americans, Rifle, Rio Blanco County, Utah, Ute Indians, Utes
Racism has always been about power. The power to dominate another group of people is at the core of white supremacist groups. When the South formed the Confederate State of America, they were provoking a civil war in order to maintain their power and control over African Americans. Historically, racism has been the tool of the Caucasian race to threaten and intimidate non-Caucasians.
But African Americans were not the only target of white racists.
Nathan Meeker: Tool of White Power
In 1878, Nathan Meeker was appointed as the Indian agent overseeing the Ute Indians of northwestern Colorado. Meeker was not qualified, nevertheless, he was appointed. He needed the job to pay off loans to the daughters of Horace Greeley. Meeker took out those loans to establish a religious-based utopian colony at what is now Greeley, Colorado. Meeker’s colony was a failure and he found himself in a financial bind when his loan was called due.
As the Indian agent of the White River Agency, Meeker saw the Native Americans as lesser people. In an article published shortly before his appointment he said:
…They are savages, having no written language, no traditional history, no poetry, no literature . . . a race without ambition, and also a race deficient in the inherent elements of progress. Vermin abound on their persons,…
Shortly after Meeker assumed his job as Indian agent, Frederick Walker Pitkin became Governor, in part, on a slogan, “The Utes Must Go!” He and others exaggerated claims of ‘Indian problems’ in an effort to justify a forced relocation of the Utes off of land with valuable resources.
Meeker was the tip of the racist sword as the Indian agent. Meeker decided it was his job to pound the Utes tribes into submission. His goal was to force the Ute Indians to adopt his agricultural and religious values. The Utes were nomadic hunter-gatherers but Meeker wanted to make them farmers. This resulted in tension between the Utes and Meeker that led to an altercation.
The Utes had created a place for gathering and competing in horse races. Meeker objected to this and decided to plow under the area. It was a racist move to provoke a reaction. He got it. When confronted by the Utes, Meeker claimed he was attacked by the Ute chief and severely injured. More reliable versions of the story say he was push and fell to the ground.
Chain of Tragedies
Meeker wired for military support and used the incident as cause for immediate action. On 21 September 1879, Major Thomas T. Thornberg led a force of about 175 men from Fort Steele in South Central Wyoming. The Utes knew or suspected that Meeker had requested troops to be sent to the area.
On 29 September, a band of Ute Indians attacked the White River Agency and killed Meeker and ten male employees. They then took some of the women and children as hostages.
By accident or design, the Utes met the incoming army later that day about 30 km from the White River Agency. The Utes pinned Thornberg’s force down and killed the Major and 13 of his men. The troops held out several days until 35 of the all-African American Buffalo Soldiers arrived from southwestern Colorado.
After rescuing the remain Thornberg forces, negotiations took place to gain the release of the hostages.
Aftermath of a Provoked Attack
There is no doubt that Nathan Meeker’s incompetence and aggression provoked the attack. There is no doubt that many white people settling in Colorado wanted the Native Americans out. There is also no doubt that the Ute’s involved in the attacks were wrong in taking a drastic action against the agency and the U.S. Army. It was a mistake for which their people would pay dearly.
The attacks were the perfect excuse to move the Ute Indians out of Colorado. Initially a deal was struck for one tribe of Ute Indians to remain, but eventually, the government renigged on the deal and forced all Utes to a reservation in Utah. Within three years after the attack, all Native Americans had been relocated.
The white racists of Colorado got what they wanted. Ranchers and miners moved in quickly. Soon after the turn of the century, homesteading began and hundreds packed up everything they owned to claim a new life in Colorado.
It is somewhat ironic that all this resulted in little benefit to the incoming white culture in the area. The current population of both Rio Blanco and Moffat Counties in northwestern Colorado is less than 20,000 people in an area that is about the size of Massachusetts (12,800 km.) The population is almost the same as it was for the 2000 census. The economy is almost completely dependent on coal mining, an electric generating plant, and hunting/fishing tourism.