More details on the Ute Reservation story


I hope you enjoy Andrew Gulliford’s story about the possible movement of the Ute Reservation to San Juan County about 125 years ago. (See page A4.)

This is a story that has fascinated me for many years.

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From a Utah perspective, the timing of the effort to move the reservation is very suspicious. 

Utah received statehood in January 1896, and this could have been a last-minute attempt to manipulate land status in an adjacent territory in the months prior to Utah receiving the legal status of statehood.

After being told that the change was going to take place, hundreds of members of the Ute Tribe began to arrive at the beginning of what was known as a bitter cold and long winter. The small number of settlers had very limited ability to provide any assistance and there was fear of a humanitarian crisis.  Cattlemen claimed that their cattle were being slaughtered by members of the Ute Tribe.

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Mormon settlement and cattle operations in 1895 are well known, but it was possibly the mining interests that swung the opinion of the Territorial Governor. Gold had been discovered on the San Juan River and Captain Jackson was building the first stamp mill in the Abajo Mountains. The hills and canyons were crawling with prospectors and speculators.  

The Deseret News reported that the mining camps in San Juan County were full of “professional and amateur murderers, thieves, robbers, and scoundrels of high and low degree.”

The Abajo Mountain gold rush (and Captain Jackson) were both short-lived. Jackson was killed in a very suspicious “accidental shooting” near Piute Springs and the Abajo rush petered out.

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Much of the drama regarding the issue played out in Washington D.C., with input from the Indian Rights Association, the Peace Society, Boston Citizens’ Committee, and others.

However, the local history creates a dramatic scene at a meeting of the key parties in the old log church in Monticello. 

In attendance were the Territorial Governor, federal Indian Agent, leaders of the Ute Tribe, translators, and people representing the interests of the settlers, cattlemen, and miners.

Demands were made, tense negotiations took place, and federal soldiers were requested. In the end, the controversy was settled without bloodshed, but not without suffering as a large group of displaced Natives were once again uprooted and sent back to Colorado in the dead of winter.

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Much of the information I have gathered is from the excellent Monticello Journal by Harold and Faye Muhlestein.


San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday