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Land in severalty hurts the tribes

I’ve been writing about the Meeker uprising of Northern Utes centered on that reservation in northern Colorado.

I pointed out that Ouray, an Uncomphagre Ute with influence among all of the Ute bands in Colorado, negotiated a settlement between whites and Utes that resulted in the Northern Utes being moved to the Uintah Reservation in Utah.

The Southern Utes managed to remain on their reservation, which had been shrinking down through the years each time white men trespassing on the reservation made another gold strike.

The final Southern Ute Reservation as negotiated in the Brunot Treaty in 1874 resulted in the reservation being made up of land 15 miles from its northern to southern border — shared with New Mexico, and from the Utah border on the west to the San Juan River at Pagosa Springs on the east.

Of course the white settlers living in The Four Corners area were unhappy with what was left of the Southern Ute Reservation. They wanted the Southern Utes to follow their northern relatives to Fort Duchesne on the Unintah Reservation in Utah. If not there, then move them to southwest Utah, or anywhere else. Just get them out of here.

Even though the white politicians worked hard for Ute removal, it never happened. Something almost as bad happened when the federal government applied the “land in severalty” idea to all western Indians, including the Southern Utes. In truth, the Indians were given a choice and allowed to vote on whether they did or didn’t want to take land in severalty.

Two thirds of the three Southern Ute bands voted to take land in severalty, although it is probably true that they didn’t know what they were voting for. The Moache and Capote bands with headquarters in Ignacio accepted the proposal.

The Weminuche Utes, on the other hand, refused to accept the proposal. That is why their reservation, with its headquarters in Toawac just south of Cortez, is still intact.

Land in severalty meant individual Utes took personal title to specific acreage, pretty much like the homesteads of white settlers. As soon as the Indians had accepted their homesteads, the unhomesteaded land was parceled out for white settlement.

In a very short time, most of the Southern Ute Reservation around Ignacio had passed from Indian to white ownership. In fact, more than one-half of Indian reservation land in the Western United States was lost forever to the Indians.

For the Southern Utes, this happened shortly after 1900. Locally, the Jicarilla Reservation located just south of Archuleta County in Colorado also lost some land, though not nearly as much as the Ignacio Utes.