Chipeta – “Queen of the Utes”

Queen of the Utes
In 1845 Ute Indians discovered an abandoned Apache camp where apparently a massacre had occurred. The one survivor, a two-year old girl, was adopted into the Ute tribe. They named her Chipeta. Of course no Ute could imagine that this child would grow up to become the wife of Chief Ouray and a renown Ute peacemaker. When Ouray’s first wife, Black Mare, died (1858), he was left with their son, Pahlone. Chipeta was chosen to care for him and Ouray’s household. Ouray and Chipeta were married a year later. Ouray was 26, Chipeta was 16.

Born in 1833, raised in New Mexico by Apache and Ute parents, Ouray grew up in the midst of conflicts between the US, its Army, Mexico and Indian tribes. The discovery of gold in Colorado dramatically increased conflicts between Utes and whites. Ouray learned from Indian agents that treaties with the US government were essential but seemingly made to be broken in disputes. Four such treaties between the government and Utes would be made in the lifetimes of Ouray and Chipeta who became her husband’s trusted confidant, treated like an equal. Chipeta became the only woman invited to Ute Councils.

Ute Deligation
When the Tabeguache band of Utes to which Ouray and Chipeta belonged was given their own agency, called Los Pinos, Ouray and Chipeta met Indian agent Charles Adams. Adams later played a key role in the aftermath of the “Meeker Massacre” that occurred as a result of a combination of what Chipeta called “bad Utes” and the very bad judgment of an Indian agent, Nathan Meeker. A dispute between the White River band of Utes and the US Army spiraled in a massacre of the troops, a hostage situation and Meeker’s death. Faced with the choice of joining his fellow Utes for what might become one last fight against the soldiers, Chipeta talked Ouray out of the idea. Adams persuaded the Army to leave the reservation. Ute chiefs released the hostages. Chipeta looked after them. In the aftermath, the US government was determined to punish the White River band of Utes. Ouray and Chipeta went to Washington to argue the case. They lost. Under a new treaty, Southern Ute bands were moved to the very southwest corner of Colorado. Tabeguache Utes also had to sign the treaty. The refused and Otto Mears paid each Ute to sign.
Ouray’s political views became unpopular with Utes who did not approve of his willingness to compromise with the US government. Others were jealous of the income and material possessions he acquired from his diplomatic status. Through it all, Ute leaders retained great respect for Chipeta. When In 1880 Chipeta again traveled with Ouray to Washington, the media referred to Chipeta as “Queen of the Utes,” but the visit was a time of great sadness and anxiety for her. Ouray’s health was declining. The Utes would soon be moved to a Utah reservation. Ouray died in Colorado in August 1880, just before his tribe was forced to move to Utah. Chipeta mourned the loss of her husband by cutting her hair short, and she kept it cut short for the rest of her life. In September 1881, the US government forcibly marched the Utes to Utah.

After Ouray died, Chipeta married again and adopted six boys. She lived in poverty on the Ouray reservation in Utah. She died in 1924 (the same year that Indians became U.S. citizens) on the Ouray reservation, blind, at age 81. She is buried near Montrose where she and Ouray lived until 1880. Less than a year after her death, Chipeta was reburied near the house she had shared with Ouray near Montrose. This has since become a memorial site, a public park, and the Ute Indian Museum and dedicated to preserving the history of Colorado’s Ute people.

Around the time of her death, the public began to notice her again. She was invited to Colorado to visit Montrose and the Uncompahgre Plateau. President Taft insisted she ride with him on his train to watch the opening of the Gunnison Tunnel. When she died, the city of Montrose insisted she be exhumed from her grave in Utah and buried in Montrose in an elaborate ceremony. Chipeta was an amazing woman who will be remembered for her remarkable intelligence and judgment, empathy, bravery, strength and as a woman who worked tirelessly for her people.