Talk describes how Chipeta aided Ouray
More than 50 people gathered at the Old Colorado History Center Jan. 9 to hear author Cynthia Becker talk about her
new book, “Chipeta: Queen of the Utes.”
Chipeta, the wife of famous 19th century Ute Indian Chief Ouray, is the person for whom Chipita Park is named, Becker noted. She said she spent five years on the book. “I had read a biography of Ouray, and I thought she (Chipeta) was such an interesting woman,” said Becker, a Pueblo resident who once lived in Colorado Springs. “She experienced such an incredible array of change - and influenced it.”
But research on the “queen of the Utes” was not easy. “It was so hard to find information,” Becker said. Her sleuthing included getting to know such niceties as what clothes Chipeta and Ouray wore at different times - right down to the beads they wore - which helped identify the time and place of certain photos.
Becker’s presentation included a talk and a slide show, including rare photos of Ouray and Chipeta. Becker said most of the photos are from P. David Smith, who is given co-authorship credit on the book.
The presentation followed the regular monthly meeting of the Old Colorado Historical Society.
Born in 1843, Chipeta’s younger years were spent in a Colorado where the Utes lived as “nomadic hunters” and the only white people were occasional trappers. But the Gold Rush was just around the corner.
“It was on the verge of events that would change the Ute lifestyle totally and forever,” Becker said.
As Ouray’s wife (they married when she was 16 and he 26), she became “confidant and advisor” to a man fluent in English and Spanish who grew to the status of “chief of all the Utes” in the eyes of the U.S. government.
In 1880, the year Ouray died, respect for Chipeta had grown to the point that when she accompanied him on a trip to Washington she was considered a “member of the delegation, not a tag-along wife,” Becker said.
Chipeta lived her later years on a reservation in northeast Utah after the Utes were relocated. On the reservation, “she was very revered,” Becker said. “She sat in chiefs’ meetings, which was very unusual for a woman.”
Chipeta would come back to Colorado from time to time, including Colorado City, Becker said.
Chipeta died in 1924, blind but still beading, with one of her six adopted sons acting as her chief care-giver, Becker said.
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