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After meeting at Pagosa Springs in November of 1878, an agreement was signed between the leaders of the three Southern Ute bands and a commission representing the U.S. government to create a reservation for the Utes on the headwaters of the Navajo, Blanco, San Juan and Piedra rivers. The reservation headquarters was to be located on the Navajo River at the southern extreme of Colorado.
With a fort at Pagosa Springs, the arrangement looked perfect. Congress failed to see the beauty of the plan and failed to endorse it. Unfortunately, the Utes and their agent at Ignacio were left in limbo. Agent Weaver had at his disposal in Ignacio two small buildings from which to address the needs of some 800 Utes.
The Utes weren’t happy, either. Weaver complained in his annual report that the Utes had threatened to kill him for putting the agency in Ignacio rather than on the Navajo River.
Nevertheless, as Weaver attempted to carry out his orders which called for turning the Utes into farmers, evidence of Ute unrest mounted across the state. Finally, at the White River Agency near Meeker in the northwest part of Colorado, the Northern Utes rebelled against Nathan Meeker, their agent.
Led by Chief Douglas, the White River Utes drove wooden stakes through the mouth and navel of Meeker, pinning him to the ground, and slaughtered all of the white males employed at the agency, as well as three freighters. Fourteen soldiers from three rescue forces sent by the U.S. Army were killed. Company D, 9th Cavalry, of the famed Buffalo soldiers, was part of the rescue effort. Company D had been stationed at Fort Lewis in Pagosa Springs during the previous winter.
The Meeker women and children were kidnapped and held by the Utes. Public outrage soared across Colorado and the nation. Even though the White River Utes had perpetrated the outrage, all of the Utes were made to suffer. In 1880, all but the Southern Utes were forced to leave Colorado for a reservation in Utah. The Southern Utes managed to stay on a reservation in their historic homeland. During the Brunot Treaty enacted in 1873, they were awarded a strip of land stretching 15 miles north to south from the Territory of New Mexico into Colorado and starting with the Utah border, running easterly almost to Pagosa Springs. The Moache and Capote bands were given an agency in Ignacio. The Weminuche band refused to join them and settled across Sleeping Ute Mountain between Cortez and the New Mexico border.