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A failed agreement with the Utes

We’ve been writing about settlement in the San Juan region that led to the founding of Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County.

We’ve learned that, by the 1870s, gold miners were swarming all over the mountains. The Southern Utes were irritated because those mountains were part of their reservation. Because of Ute unrest, Fort Lewis was built at Pagosa Springs in 1878.

How did the Utes regard what was happening after several years of negotiating with the whites, negotiations which resulted in continuing loss of reservation land?

Two Ute removal bills passed Congress in 1878. They called for the removal of the Southern Utes to the White River Agency near Meeker in northwestern Colorado. A commission appointed by the president failed to carry out the provisions of these bills. They did, however, get the Southern Utes to agree to a reservation which included most of Pagosa Country.

Col. Albert Pfeiffer, memorialized by a monument on U.S. 160 just west of Pagosa Springs, was interpreter for the commission.

The commissioners learned they were in for a tough time when Aguillar, one of the negotiating Utes, told them: “We sold only the mines and we told them they could take the mountains; not for horses or anything, only for money, but we didn’t get any money. Tis six years (1872) since money came: we have not received anything for it. Who deceived us?”

It became obvious to the commissioners that the Southern Utes would not move to the White River Reservation and they did not trust the whites. They were supposed to receive $800,000 in annuities from the government for the lands, but it hadn’t happened. The commission left Col. Pfeiffer to negotiate with the Utes.

Pfeiffer reached an agreement with the Southern Utes and another council was scheduled in Pagosa Springs Nov. 9, 1878, to formalize the agreement.

As we wrote last week, troops had arrived in Pagosa Springs Oct. 15, 1878, to build a fort. Commission member Major General Edward Hatch was arriving for the Nov. 9 meeting.

Was the presence of soldiers a move to intimidate the negotiating Indians?

In any case, headmen from the three Southern Ute bands signed the proposed agreement. The three Southern Ute bands were the Capote, Weminuche and Moache.

Under terms of the agreement, the Utes would move onto a reservation located on the headwaters of the Piedra, San Juan, Blanco and Navajo rivers. The new reservation contained 728,320 acres. The Utes surrendered about 1.9 million acres. There was supposed to be financial compensation for the surrendered land.

It didn’t happen.

More next week on conditions surrounding the founding of Pagosa Springs.

This story was posted on January 2, 2014.