This week we continue with the account of the Meeker Massacre started last week — one of the worst defeats suffered by the frontier U.S. Army.
Army scout Joe Rankin rode from the Milk Creek ambush site nonstop for 27 hours, 150 miles, to Rawlins, Wyo. A large force commanded by Gen. Wesley Merritt set out from Rawlins to Meeker. They found the combined forces of Maj. Thomas T. Thornburg and Capt. Dodge’s Company D 9th Cavalry still trapped and in terrible condition.
They had been confined in their trenches six days, ringed by the dead carcasses of their horses and mules. When Merritt’s forces arrived, the Utes quietly disappeared into the surrounding wilderness.
Twenty-seven men had been killed, including soldiers, teamsters and agency employees. Agent Meeker’s wife, daughter and another white woman had been taken captive.
Anger and fear raged across the white population of Colorado and the nation. Renowned Southern Ute leader Ouray helped negotiate with the Northern Utes, who had perpetrated the Meeker attack and taken the white women captive.
The white women were released, but the national press ballooned their capture into towering national outrage.
No more could the Utes threaten the white man from a position of strength. The white population was aroused and many called for annihilation of the Utes. Soldiers camped in and about the White River Ute Reservation.
White indignation did not subside until, in 1880, the White River and Uncompahgre Utes were moved from their ancestral Colorado homes to a reservation in Utah.
The Southern Utes escaped most of the white man’s wrath, perhaps because Ouray was instrumental in negotiating terms with the Northern Utes. They retained a strip of land along the northern New Mexico Territory boundary stretching to the Utah border from the 107th parallel, just a little west of Pagosa Springs.
The Utes in Pagosa Country did not rise up in a body and attack the whites. Tradition tells us they gathered in large bands on the hills above Animas City and Pagosa Springs.
Undersheriff Hefferman of La Plata County sent a request for troops, guns, and ammunition to the commander of Fort Lewis in Pagosa Springs. He was turned down, told that the fort had neither munitions nor soldiers to spare, and could not transport them if they were available.
We will continue next week with a report on the Indian threat in the Four Corners area.