Colorow’s War

Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. His passion is travel, and he seizes any opportunity to share his experiences in the most immersive way possible, whether at sea or on the land.

Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Comancheria

August 25, 1887; Rangely, Colorado:Although the Utes had been removed from northwest Colorado to a reservation in Utah, they continued to hunt in Colorado. Among the hunters was Colorow (actually a Comanche who had lived with the Utes for decades) and his band of eight or ten lodges. In August 1887, two of Colorow's men allegedly stole two horses near Rangely, on the White River, and sold them in Meeker, about eighty miles upstream. The pair then joined Colorow's camp near Buford, about twenty miles east of Meeker. A posse of about seventy men under Sheriff Jim Kendall rode to Colorow's camp to arrest the thieves. An argument started, guns were fired, and Colorow's band of about fifty people fled north to Milk Creek.

After the incident, Kendall rode back to Meeker and warned the townspeople that the Utes were on the warpath and coming to murder them all. As panic swept through the area, Colorado governor Alva Adams called on seven brigades of the Colorado National Guard to rush to Meeker. Meanwhile, Kendall's men trailed the Utes to Yellowjacket Pass. The frightened Indians fled west down the White River. On 22 August nearly 1,000 National Guardsmen converged on Meeker. It then became a contest between Kendall's cowboys and the Guardsmen to see who would catch the Utes first.

On 25 August elements of both groups cornered the Utes at a bend of the White River about eleven miles west of Rangely, only two miles from the Utah border. A muddled two-hour skirmish followed, during which about 100 Utah Utes joined Colorow to help him and his people get away. The fight ended when both sides ran out of ammunition. Four whites were killed, including Kendall's deputy Jack Ward, and five were wounded, while eight Utes were killed. Colorow and the rest got away. The arrival of Lt. George R. Burnett and a few troopers of the Ninth Cavalry, who rode to the scene from Fort DuChesne in Utah, prevented the Coloradans from invading the Indian reservation.

Kendall's posse and the Guardsmen returned to Meeker, almost as mad at each other as with the Utes. The Colorow "war" cost Colorado taxpayers more than $80,000. Chief Colorow died in December 1888, of natural causes.

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