CHIEF OURAY AND HIS WIFE CHIPETA
The story of Ouray, who became Chief of the Utes would be difficult to tell without telling the story of Chipeta his wife. She had a strong influence on his life and leadership.
Both are recognized as Utes although Ouray’s father was Jicarilla Apache and his mother was Ute. Ouray’s father had been taken by the Utes from the Apaches in a raid and raised as a Ute. Ouray’s birthdate is recognized as November 13, 1833 and birthplace somewhere in the Abiquiue-Taos area. Chipeta was a Kiowa Apache whose parents had been killed and she was found by the Utes and raised by them.
Ouray was raised in the area where he was born. He learned to speak Spanish as well as other dialects of the Ute tribes. As a young man he was a strong man who was known as a war chief. His peaceful ways came later.
The Utes and Apaches did not have written languages and most of the information written about Ouray and Chipeta come from white reporters of that time or biographers who heard oral stories from descendants of them.
What is known is that Ouray became Chief of all the Utes when he was appointed by the federal government as the Ute spokesman or appointed by the Uncompaghres as some say. He became known as a peaceful man who wanted good relations with all non-Indians for trading purposes and living conditions. He believed in the United States Government and signed treaties with them giving away much of the lands that the Utes occupied and hunted in New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. He was able to accomplish this in spite of the fact that there were seven different bands of Utes at that time. They intermarried within the bands, as well as with the Spanish who had also been in the same area for two hundred years prior to the United States settling in the area. However, each band was quite independent from one another.
During Ouray’s time as Chief of all the Utes he did have enemies who tried several times to kill him because of his signing treaties which not all Utes agreed with. His brother-in-law Sapavanero once was against him but eventually became his supporter at the urging of Chipeta who was his sister.
The treaties that Ouray signed as Chief of the Utes placed many of the bands on reservations where lodging and food was scarce. In spite of these conditions he continued to urge the Utes to remain peaceful with the white people.
Perhaps it was because of the knowledge he gained about the power of the United States Army and learning that so many more white people lived east of the Utes land, that he continued to urge his people to help the settlers and army. Ouray and Chipeta had traveled to Washington, DC to meet with the President and members of Congress. During their visit Ouray was quite ill and was diagnosed later with chronic nephritis disease which eventually caused his death.
Chipeta was Ouray’s only confidante during the critical years of treaties and beginning of reservation life. Chipeta was born in the summer of 1843 in the Colorado area and was Ouray’s second wife. His first wife Black Mare died shortly after his only child Queashegut or Paron as his father called him, was born. Chipeta raised the boy as if he were her own son. Both she and Ouray were grief-stricken when he was taken by a Sioux raiding party when Ouray and Paron were out hunting. Paron was only six years old at the time. His fate was never determined although the US government found a boy living with the Arapahoes they thought might be his son, Ouray and Chipeta after meeting him and listening to him, turned away saying he was not. They grieved throughout their lives for their lost boy.
Chief Ouray continued to work for better conditions for his people and Chipeta remained his helpmate through the trying times. Ouray requested that she accompany him to meetings and sit with him at council meetings at a time when it was not usual for women to attend these meetings. She was a help since she spoke Spanish as well as Ouray and that language was often used between the Ute tribes, other tribes and some federal officials.
Because of the attempts on his life, Ouray had Mexican and Apache bodyguards as well as faithful Ute warriors. Not all of the Ute people trusted in Ouray as he had tried to trust and believe in the government as he signed their treaties. The Ute did not receive monies for land given up for many years to come.
During a time when the White River Utes rose up against the white people because of lost land and broken promises which led to misunderstandings, Chipeta and Ouray were able to save many of the hostages who had been taken during the Meeker Massacre. Despite their care for the women and children, other white people in Colorado demanded that “the Utes must go” as reported in the newspaper.
After Chief Ouray’s death in 1880, Chipeta was told by the government that she was not allowed to own property and all her livestock, land and home were sold or given to white settlers. Her brother Sapavanero was appointed chief of the Uncompahgre Utes. She would have to depend on others to help her now.
Ouray had gained recognition because of his efforts for peace between the Utes and the white settlers and Chipeta continued to try to have good relations between non-Indians and the Ute people. When asked by the government to help with any negotiations she would do her best to help even though promises to the Utes had not been kept. Whatever she had for food or other provisions she always shared with others. She was often asked for advice since she was seen as having gained wisdom from Ouray and her travels to Washington, DC.
Chipeta lived along Bitter Creek on the Uintah-Ouray Reservation until her death in August 1924. At that time Indian and non-Indian alike realized how much she and Ouray had done to help make life tolerable and livable while conditions were changing. There are monuments and statues of both Ouray and Chipeta in Colorado where the people who once said “the Utes must go” now recognized their contributions during adverse times.
Resources: OURAY Chief of the Utes. Smith, P. David. Wayfinder Press. ISBN: 0-9608764-4-8
Searching for Chipeta. Krudwig, Vickie Leigh. Fulcrum Publishing, Golden Colorado. ISBN: 1-55591-466-7
United States History II course number: 6250 Levels 10-12
Standard 6250-01 Students will expand their knowledge of pre-Reconstruction America
Objective: 6250-0103 Analyze the growth and division of the United States from 1820 through 1877
Stage 1 Desired Outcomess :Understanding: Students will understand the United States policies relating to American Indians
Essential Question 1 – What effect did the growth and division of the United States have on the Ute people and their way of life?
Stage 2 Assessment Students will read in groups one of the books listed above and report back to the class. Teacher will assign groups.
Students can use computers to research and report back to the class on additional information and analyze the effects of growth and division of the US and how it affected the Ute people.
Stage 3 The teacher will provide the two listed books for students to read in pairs or groups. The teacher should read the introduction or give a copy of the introduction of Ouray and Chipeta to set the stage for the students to read and discuss.