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032 Colorado Wagon Roads 1879

032 Colorado Wagon Roads 1879

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This 1879 atlas map by Rand McNally depicts the state of Colorado. The map shows great relief detail, named railroads, and different terrain heights throughout. County boundaries are drawn in green, with the state being outlined the same.

While full of natural resources and abundant opportunity, this particular year would find Colorado in the midst of the battle of Milk Creek. In September of that year the United States Army would clash with warriors from the White River Ute Indian tribe. Bloody and short-lived (lasting just under a week), the battle would mark the close of the Indian Wars.

The story leading up to the battle is quite interesting. At this time the railroad was in full expansion mode. As a result, settlers kept pressing west. One of these individuals, Nathan C. Meeker would head west in search of idealism. He established Union Colony, a somewhat socialist, Utopian community.

Today, we know this area as Greeley, Colorado. In fact, it was Horace Greeley himself who encouraged Nathan to move west. Although Union colony ultimately failed, he was able to secure his position as an Indian agent through various political connections he had long since maintained.

With that position though, came problems. It seems as though Meekers idealism would get in the way of his diplomacy. Meeker sought to replace horses and bison with things like plowshares and plants in order to be more efficient, and as an alternate way to sustain society. Therefore, he outlawed things like buffalo hunts. The Ute Indians, with which he dealt primarily, were horse nomads, so this idea did not sit too well with them. They were deeply tied to their horses through their culture and tradition. Plus, buffalo hunting was a way of life.

When the tribe left for a buffalo hunt in summer of 1879, Meeker took that as a grave violation of staunch agency rules. From there, tempers flared and, ironically, General William Tecumseh Sherman was dispatched to assist with federal troops before things could get too ugly.

They did. At the end of the skirmish, 13 American soldiers were killed and 44 wounded, while somewhere between 19 and 37 Ute Indians were killed depending on who you asked. Seven were never found. The next few years would see the Ute Indians being pushed over into the state of Utah, as westward expansion continued, and the state of Colorado continued to grow.

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