The background history of the Ute Indians, with six distinct bands, is complicated from the time of introduction to the Spanish and later the Mexicans.  Over 200 years, it became a relationship of mutual accommodation.  After the US defeated Mexico, the United States government, and citizens with the religious zeal of Christian-based Manifest Destiny could move or exterminate the less-than-human savages without any inner conflict. The geography of the Rocky Mountains protected the Ute Indians until gold was found in 1858, and the Homestead Act brought settlers to the river valleys in 1862.

After the civil war, a powerful group of abolitionists wanted to stop the corrupt, politically appointed Indian agents.  Under President Grant’s “Peace Policy,” the Indian bureau sent out well-meaning reformers.  This included a few Unitarian ministers with a degree in theology.  They had no training in the Ute Indian culture or conducting diplomacy between the Indians and the local white miners and settlers who were trespassing on Indian land.

The treaty of 1873 promised the Ute bands that they could live on the reservation land undisturbed.  Whites were not allowed to settle on Indian land.

The reservation’s boundaries were defined by latitude and longitude, not by a geographical identification such as a river or mountain range.  There were no maps provided to the Indian agents or anyone else.

One such agent is Rev Jabez Nelson Trask, a recent graduate of Harvard Divinity School.  Came to Los Pinos Agency from New Salem, Massachusetts.  He complained about the cold.  He walked about the agency in a dark blue swallow tailcoat.  Skin-tight trousers and, to protect himself from the sun, a floppy beaver hat with a broad brim and a set of green eye goggles.  To the Utes, he looked like an evil spirit.  He was replaced after one year. He told the Massachusetts Unitarians that the Utes did not want “bread as a sacrament, but as a defense against starvation.”

The White River Utes agency was up the White River from present-day Meeker, Colorado.  Agents worked effectively alongside the Utes.   One agent in 1871 reported the Utes were well behaved and many had broken ground for crops. Another agent, J.S. Littlefield, reported progress with learning agriculture and building numerous log community buildings with Indian assistance.  He requested more agricultural tools and supplies to build a school per the tribe’s request.

The last Unitarian minister was Rev Edward Danforth from Boston. During the harsh winter of 1877-78 grain rations never arrived at the White River Agency.  The railroad would not release the rations from a Wyoming Depot because of an unpaid shipping bill. The grain sat on the railroad track and rotted.  The Northern Ute bands and the Indian Bureau used Rev. Danforth as a scapegoat for this and other unkempt promises by the government.

Local whites wanted to go onto the reservation to trade ammunition and guns that the Utes needed to hunt to supplement the meager ration allotments.  They also rallied against Rev. Danforth’s attempt to halt the off-reservation alcohol trade.

When the Indian Agent defended the Indians, their treaty rights, and their general welfare by criticizing Washington and its politics, they faced dismissal.  If they followed the dictates and regulations of the Indian Bureau, they threatened their own lives and the lives of their co-workers.

Rev Danforth was relieved of his duties in 1878, concerned about the commitment to the Indian’s welfare by the Indian Bureau or the military stationed at various forts around the state.

Much of this information is from the book “The Utes Must Go” by Peter R. Decker.