War between Utes and whites threatened to erupt without warning

Drawing courtesy John M. Motter This drawing of the Pagosa Hot Spring and Fort Lewis was made circa 1879, when war between settlers and Utes seemed imminent. Drawing courtesy John M. Motter
This drawing of the Pagosa Hot Spring and Fort Lewis was made circa 1879, when war between settlers and Utes seemed imminent.

During the pioneer year of 1879 in Pagosa Country history, war between Ute and the white newcomers threatened to erupt without warning. We’ve been repeating a story written in July of 1879 in the La Plata Miner newspaper that is an affirmation of the danger. Continuing from last week, we read:

“Leaving Animas at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, he (Col. Page) drove to the Agency (Ignacio), a distance of twenty-two miles, and at 10 o’clock that night was back in Animas with the Agent (Ute Indian agent) where they found all the parties to the conflict waiting their arrival. The next morning early the town was alive with anxious white men, and when the council assembled in a large hall, a sense of most anxious suspense ensued to those on the outside, which was not allayed until after a session of more than five hours, when it was announced that a compromise had been effected and the Indians satisfied. The white men who fired the first shots admitted that they were drunk, and proposed to pay to the Indians a small sum of money, and Sharpe proposed to leave the country within thirty days not to return.

“Being considered a bad man in that community, this part of the agreement was hailed with much pleasure by most of the whites, and they hoped that a repetition of this affair will be avoided. Too much praise can not be expressed for the Agent for his energy and firmness in the matter, and but for this, and the confidence both whites and Indians have in his fairness and judgment, there can be little doubt that a bloody Indian war would have been inaugurated. For the present peace is restored. As long as the government pursues the dangerous policy of allowing a tribe of wild Indians to occupy a Reservation in close neighborhood with a rapidly increasing white community, to roam over the country outside of the reservation, an armed and organized body of vicious tramps, no one can tell at what moment the fires of war may be lighted in this splendid valley, destined at no distant day to become the most prosperous part of Colorado. The plow horse of the white man and the war horse of the Indian can not long graze over the same pasture lands; sooner or later the interests of the industrious ranch man and the whims of the indolent redman will conflict to an extent that will not submit without the shedding of blood. There are already scattered along the San Juan Valley in close proximity to the Ute Reservation 350 white men inured to toil and familiar with danger, able and willing to defend themselves when peace cannot be maintained with honor. The spark of war just removed could not have appeared had the Indians been confined to their reservation where, by treaty, they are required to stay and where no white man will attempt to molest them, and only the bad character of the man who brought on this difficulty…”