Ouray the Arrow: Chief of the Utes who attempted to placate the U.S. but was forced onto a reservation in Utah.
Nathan C. Meeker: Indian agent who tried to convert Utes to an agrarian lifestyle. His policies set the stage for the conflict between the Utes and the Army.
William B. Vickers: Issued propaganda against Utes and authored the article that inspired “The Utes Must Go!” slogan.
The Utes, a tribe in Colorado, saw their land steadily invaded by miners during the 1840s and 1850s. They signed a treaty in 1863 relinquishing mineral rights throughout their territory and promising to let U.S. citizens mine in their territory. Then, in 1868, after Colorado citizens push for a reduction in the size of the Utes’ territory, Ute chief Ouray signs a treaty assigning the Utes’ 16 million acres of forests and meadows on the western slope of the Rockies and preventing unauthorized whites from being on Ute territory. Miners persist in trespassing on Ute land, however, and Nathan Meeker, an agent for the Ute reservation, attempts to make the Utes over into a Christian, agrarian tribe with a greater desire for material goods. William B. Vickers picks up on Meeker’s agenda and in 1879 writes a popular anti-Ute tract that inspires the spread of “The Utes Must Go!” slogan across the state by the summer. When Meeker’s agenda sparks friction with the Utes, he calls for cavalry troops to come to the White River agency to arrest Ute chiefs. The Utes hear of this plan, and in September 1879, after a clash with the cavalry begins at Milk River on the boundary of the reservation, the Utes at White River kill all the white men working for the agency. Stories of atrocities at White River spark violent outrage in Colorado, and as punishment in 1881, nearly all the Utes are put onto a reservation on marginal land in Utah.
The story of a tribe being pushed off its land by white settlers, gold miners, and an Army first unwilling to keep whites off the tribe’s land, then sending out troops to subdue the tribe, is repeated in this chapter. There is, though, the new element of a chief who, upon agreeing to receive a salary from the government in exchange for keeping peace with it, becomes reluctant to resist that government even as his tribe is pushed off its lands. Another new element is the presence of an agent, Nathan Meeker, who is committed to converting a tribe from “rustic barbarism” to hard-working materialism. It is hard to conclude decisively that Meeker was chosen to be the Utes’ agent because of his zeal to transform the Utes’ lifestyle, but the government failed to discipline or replace Meeker. Indeed, Brown’s comment that Meeker’s pressure had moved everything “in the right direction” for Colorado Governor Pitkin makes the readers wonder if his efforts were, in fact, encouraged by the government.
William B. Vickers’ propaganda campaign against the Utes is one example of the importance of the media in shaping public opinion of the Indians, and shaping public sentiment to support the Army’s actions toward Indian tribes.