Listen to this article
Where: Southern Rocky Mountains, CO
Why Important: Ute Chief and Treaty Negotiator
Chief Ouray was born November 13, 1833 in Taos, New Mexico to a Jicarilla Apache man and a Ute woman. On the night he was born there was a meteor shower. This event apparently influenced his parents to name him Ouray, which means “The Arrow.” Interestingly, Ouray was not raised by his parents, but was raised by a Spanish family in the area. In this environment he learned to speak Spanish and English, and it wasn’t until later in life that he learned to speak his native tongues, Ute and Apache. Ouray was still in contact with his biological parents, and at seventeen moved to Colorado where they had relocated. His father, despite being Apache, was chief of the Uncompahgre band of the Utes. During the next decade Ouray primarily worked as a sheepherder and married a woman name Black Water who bore him a son. Black Water tragically died and Ouray remarried in 1859, to a Kiowa Apache woman named Chipeta who grew up with the Utes, . Ouray and Chipeta were extremely fond of one another and formed a strong partnership.
In 1860, Ouray’s father died and he became chief of the Utes. Chief Ouray used his new position within the Ute Tribe to facilitate peace with the white settlers and the United States government.[footnote]“Daily News” Rocky Mountain News, October 10, 1865. CHNC[/footnote] He was known as “The White Man’s Friend”.[footnote]“When Indians Were Here.” Plaindealer, December 3, 1909. CHNC[/footnote] While the United States government fondly referred to Ouray this way, this was an insult from the other members of the Ute tribe. Many Utes did not agree with the treaties that Ouray continued to negotiate with the United States, which often included him and Chipeta traveling to Washington D.C., as each new treaty resulted in less land that the tribe owned.[footnote]Silver World, July 3, 1875. CHNC[/footnote] Not only were they displeased, but there were many attempts made on Ouray’s life by angry members of the tribe. Luckily, Ouray survived the attempts made on his life[footnote]Denver Daily Times, August 5, 1875. CHNC[/footnote] and continued to work with the United States.[footnote]“Ouray.” Denver Daily Times, July 2, 1873. CHNC[/footnote]
In 1879, the neighboring White River Utes attacked an Indian agent and the families that lived in the area taking several women as captives.[footnote]“News From Indian Sources.” Saguache Chronicle, October 18, 1879. CHNC[/footnote] Ouray managed to negotiate a deal for the release of the hostages.[footnote]“The Indian Situation” Colorado Weekly Chieftan, October 30, 1879. CHNC[/footnote] Despite Ouray’s attempts at peace,[footnote]Dolores News, November 15, 1879. CHNC[/footnote] this was the final blow for the Utes in Colorado and they lost their land within the state[footnote]“The Ute Matters.” Colorado Weekly Chieftain, March 25, 1880. CHNC[/footnote] and were relocated to Utah. It was Ouray who traveled to Washington D.C. in 1880 and signed the treaty for their removal from Colorado.[footnote]Colorado Weekly Chieftain, April 1, 1880. CHNC[/footnote]
Ouray, however, fell ill with a kidney disease and died soon after he returned to Colorado from Washington.[footnote]“Particulars of the Great Chiefs Last Illness.” Leadville Weekly Herald, September 18, 1880. CHNC[/footnote] It was Chipeta, Ouray’s wife, who would accompany her people to their new reservation in Utah and who would continue to fight for the reinstatement of their ancestral land in Colorado.