The Ute Indians of Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, by Virginia McConnell Simmons, University Press of Colorado, Niwot, 2000, $29.95.
Compared to the other Indian tribes of the Great Plains and the Southwest, the story of the Utes has often been overlooked by academic historians. But with the publication of a new history of the Utes and the reissue of another, the University Press of Colorado is doing its part to change that oversight.
In the new book, The Ute Indians of Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, author Virginia McConnell Simmons tells the story of the Utes from when they first appeared in North America to the Indians of today. That’s not an easy task. As Simmons notes: “‘We were always here,’ say the Utes, reluctant to discuss their history, even their myths.” She searched government documents, archives and local histories and interviewed Utes to put together a slim (323 pages) but still comprehensive study of the people known among themselves as Nú-uci. She includes the Utes’ first contact with white men and their eventual removal from their homeland to reservations. Her book is well documented and has 55 photos.
Any history of the Utes must include agent Nathan Meeker and the bloodshed of 1879, including the Battle of Milk Creek. Meeker, who was killed by Utes along with 10 others at the White River Agency, has been criticized by historians. Simmons does, too, but she points out that his “contemporaries elevated him to the status of a martyr,” which proved the final death knell for the old Ute way of life.
Those readers who want more on the Meeker Massacre and the Utes should also get their hands on the University Press of Colorado’s recently reissued classic The Last War Trail: The Utes and the Settlement of Colorado ($24.95), which was first published in 1954 by the University of Oklahoma Press but has long been out of print. The late author Robert Emmitt, who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for The Last War Trail, told his Ute story in the flowery, novel-like style of Mari Sandoz and many other historians of the time.
In his introduction to the reissued work, Andrew Gulliford writes that the University Press of Colorado “seeks to share Ute culture and history with a new generation of readers.” The Ute Indians of Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico and The Last War Trail are excellent starting places.
Johnny D. Boggs