COBWEB CORNERS: Chipeta was rare in her time as a female Indian leaderBy Mel McFarland
In August 1924, a noted Indian leader died. It was significant for many reasons. The fact that it was a Ute tribal leader was almost minor compared to other facts in the story. The Ute Indians had recovered from some very bad times, and this person was there for all of it. The other most unique feature of this series of events was that this was a woman. Leaders were nearly always men at this time, and among Indians this was definitely true.
Ouray was one of the most well-known chiefs of the Uncompahgre Utes at the start of the 20th century. When Ouray was striving to settle some of the Ute tribe's difficulties, Chipeta, his wife was right there. The Utes, made up of various bands, were scattered across Colorado and Utah on different reservations. The Meeker Massacre incident of 1879 brought the troubles of one band of the Utes into the news. Overall the Utes were one of the friendliest tribes in the west, and it was Ouray and Chipeta who helped things to stay that way. They worked with General Charles Adams, who had a home between Colorado City and Manitou, to resolve the Meeker problems.
Adams and Ouray did not live to the 20th century, but their wives did. Chipeta and Margaret Adams would see each other, usually in Colorado Springs. After Ouray's death Chipeta spent much of her time helping orphan children, Indian, Mexican and white. She had done so many acts of kindness around Grand Junction the town treated her as royalty. In 1913 the Pikes Peak Region hosted a Ute gathering and Chipeta was one of the guests. It was during one of these visits that the two wives met for the last time.
When Chipeta died, she wished to be buried next to Ouray. Ute chiefs are usually not buried in marked graves, but at some special place, away from public view. It was thought however, to make an exception in this case. Near her home at Bitter Creek, near Watson in southwest Colorado, is the marker for Chipeta and Ouray.
The town of Ouray in southwest Colorado is named after the chief. The town of Chipita Park, in Ute Pass is named for Chipeta, and yes, they are spelled differently.
(Posted 8/11/14; Opinion: Cobweb Corners)