In her summer 2015 Utah Historical Quarterly article, Kathryn L. MacKay, a professor of history at Weber State University, details the twentieth-century struggle of the Ute people to win back lands within the boundaries of the 1882 Uncompahgre Reservation. Although the Hill Creek Extension—passed by the Congress in 1948—did not return to the Utes the boundaries of its original reservation, the addition represented a hard-won victory for Utes and employees of the Bureau of Indian Affairs working to undo the damage that opening unalloted lands of the Uncompahgre Reservation to white entry had on the tribe and its traditions.
In these records, dated from the 1930s and 1940s, Ute leaders and BIA officials plainly argue that the Utes had occupied and used this land—particularly as grazing lands—for generations. The documents are part of the Kathryn L. MacKay Research Collection, 1849-2001, Mss B 1972 (MacKay Papers), housed at the Utah State Historical Society.
John Collier to Secretary of the Interior, June 12, 1933
The new commissioner of Indian Affairs, John Collier, recognized the importance of ranching to the Uncompahgre and recommended that 1.8 million acres of the former reservation be restored to the tribe. He outlines his argument in this letter dated June 12, 1933. A 1933 order of the Interior secretary set aside the grazing lands for Ute and white stockmen.
June 12, 1933
The Secretary of the Interior
My dear Mr. Secretary:
. . .
These particular Uncompahgre Indians are strictly a stock raising people and their livelihood depends on obtaining additional grazing land as their present land holdings do not provide sufficient range for their cattle. To meet this situation and in a strong belief that the lands legally belong to their tribe, the Indians are vigorously urging that their original reservation be returned to them, subject of course to all existing valid rights to lands heretofore disposed of therein.
Section 4 of the Act of March 3, 1927 (44 Stat., 1347), pormits [permits] the temporary withdrawal of lands for Indian purposes but prohibits permanent withdrawal except by act of Congress. Therefore legislation will be required before a withdrawal as proposed herein can be made permanent. However, it is essential that the lands be withdrawn temporarily from disposition under the public land laws pending consideration of the matter by Congress, and also so that the range may not be destroyed by bands of sheep not driven in from Colorado and parts of Utah outside of the land in question.
It is therefore recommended under authority contained in Section 4 of the Act of March 3, 1927, supra, and subject to all existing valid rights, that all vacant, unentered, and undisposed of public lands within the area that was embraced in the Executive Order of January 5, 1868, be temporarily withdrawn from all forms of entry under the public land laws in aid of proposed legislation permanently reserving the lands as a grazing range for the Uncompahgre Ute Indians and for white stockman within the area, with the understanding that pending the enactment of legislation as hereinabove referred to this temporary withdrawal shall not deprive the other Indians or the white stockman of Utah who have been utilizing any of the public lands within the withdrawn area from the continued use of such lands for grazing purposes, under approved permits from the Commission of Indian Affairs.
Source: box 1, fd. 1932-33, MacKay Collection
Ute Leaders to John Collier, August 20, 1934
Although disappointed that they did not receive the entire Uncompahgre Reservation, Ute leaders reminded BIA commissioner John Collier that “in years past” the Ute people had “used considerable of it for winter grazing purposes” and asked for additional acreage for winter and summer grazing ranges.
Fort Duchesne, Utah
August 20, 1934
Honorable John Collier
Commissioner of Indian Affairs
Dear Mr. Commissioner:
We, the undersigned, members of the Business Committee, Uintah & Ouray Indian Agency, Utah, feel that approximately 500,000 acres of grazing land requested being set aside as Indian reservation for grazing purposes of the Indians under the jurisdiction of the above-named agency will within the next few years be absolutely necessary for the grazing of Indian stock. It is honestly believed that only land as will serve the purposes of these Indians has been requested as being set aside for our grazing use.
It will be noted that request has been made for a certain portion of high ground for summer grazing and a smaller portion of lower ground for winter grazing. In making these selections, it has been taken into consideration that approximately one and one-half million acres of the old Uncompahgre Reservation is being left as public domain and this is land which during former years has been used to a great extent by local stockmen for winter grazing purposes.
While a great many of our Indians feel that perhaps the land to be set aside for our use should include all lands within the former Uncompahgre Reservation, it is not our desire to prevent the use of all this land by whites; we have, in years past, used considerable of it for winter grazing purposes, and we thoroughly feel that we are being fair in requesting that the land as outlined in a map or plat inclosed with justifications of the Superintendent and his assistants should be given prompt and favorable consideration by the Honorable Secretary of the Interior.
Chauncey Cuch Oran Curry, Chairman
John Victor Roy Smith
George Redcap Fred Mart
Source: box 1, fd. 1934, MacKay Collection
Richard B. Millin to Commissioner of Indian Affairs, November 6, 1934
This letter announced the dates for hearings to create grazing district under the Taylor Grazing Act. Richard B. Millin, an Indian Affairs range supervisor, then outlines “a need for additional grazing lands at the Uintah and Ouray Reservation.” He urged interested parties to meet in Washington to discuss the particulars. Beyond the points noted below, Millin further argued the necessity of designating the land to the Ute.
Uintah & Ouray Agency,
Fort Duchesne, Utah. November 6, 1934.
Commissioner of Indian Affairs,
. . .
There is a need for additional grazing lands at the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. It should be met through setting aside the areas asked for as additions to the present reservation.
In this connection I wish to recommend that Superintendent Page, and Oran Curry, Chairman of the Tribal Business Committee, be called to Washington at an early date to confer with the Commissioner and Director of Grazing, Carpenter, in an attempt to get a satisfactory settlement of this matter before it is too late, and that Hugh Colton, attorney for the Vernal stock growers association, be invited to accompany them as a representative of the stockmen interested in this area of land. The trip can be made by auto in a few days and at a minimum of expense for the three.
My reasons for this recommendation are as follows:
- Our inability to make clear why it is of the utmost importance to add these lands to the reservation and not allow them to go under the Taylor Act. Our letters have been both numerous and lengthy but as yet we have had no reply that indicated our position and the reasons for it were understood. Apparently it can not be made clear by correspondence but I am sure that a personal interview would make it clear.”
- THE STOCKMEN ARE VERY INTENT ON AN IMMEDIATE SETTLEMENT. Through political channels they have been endeavoring to have the withdrawal of the unappropriated lands in the old Uncompahgre Reservation rescinded so that it could go under the Taylor Act. . . .
One reason for this interest is that it is expected that the public domain lands in the rest of the newly organized district will soon be closed to “tramp” outfits from outside its borders and they will have not place to go in eastern Utah except the old Uncompahgre Reservation. This is the winter grazing ground of many of the stockmen in northeastern Utah. With the present feed shortage ruin stares them in the face if many new outfits move into their winter range.
. . . Under these circumstances the remainder of the reservation would pass to the public domain and under the Taylor Act.
- THE INDIANS WANT THESE GRAZING LANDS. Many of the older Uncompahgres want the whole reservation back. The Tribal Business Committee however has gone into the situation thoroughly, their representatives have looked over the lands proposed by Mr. Page and favor taking them in place of asking for the whole reservation back. All of them will feel very indignant if they get no lands but only grazing privileges under the Taylor Act.
- ACTION MUST BE TAKEN BEFORE THESE LANDS ARE DEFINITELY PLACED UNDER THE TAYLOR ACT. It appears to both Superintendent Page and myself that action must be taken right away. If these lands are placed under the Taylor Act it will be practically impossibly [sic] to ever get them all set aside under the Taylor Act for Indian grazing. This phase will be discussed more in detail later.
This proposed addition to the reservation has the support of the field representatives of the Service, the Indians and the stockmen. We are all still hopeful that the support of the Offices can be obtained. If so then I believe Director of Grazing Carpenter will offer no opposition and the approval of the Secretary would appear to be assured.
. . .
Source: box 1, fd. 1934, MacKay Collection
Oran Curry to John Collier, January 30, 1935
In this letter, Tribal Business Committee chairman Oran Curry once again appealed to John Collier to “do everything in your power to secure lands we desire and have them set aside as reservation,” adding that “[w]e cannot hope to compete with the whites on the public domain under terms of the Taylor Grazing Act.”
Fort Duchesne, Utah
January 30, 1935
Honorable John Collier
Commissioner of Indian Affairs
Dear Mr. Commissioner:
The problem which concerns us most at this time and which is most vital to our people has been made the subject of much correspondence from this Agency to the Indian Office and has to do with securing certain portions of the former Uncompahgre Reservation and public domain as well as ceded portions of the Uintah Reservation, not disposed of, and adding game to our present reservation. We would refer you to correspondence submitted by our Superintendent to the Indian Office and particularly to a letter submitted by him dated August 30, 1934, covering this subject. We believe that the letter referred to sets forth very specifically our reasons for wanting this land and also justifies the requests made.
We are writing to ask that you personally look into this matter and do everything in your power to secure lands we desire and have them set aside as reservation. We feel that we are being fair in our request and are only asking for lands which we believe we will have use for. We agree with our Superintendent that the only way we may be assured of adequate grazing and proper management of our grazing land is through the establishment of reservation, as requested. We cannot hope to compete with the whites on the public domain under terms of the Taylor Grazing Act. We are not prepared for it.
Information recently received from the Secretary of the Interior indicates that legislation will be necessary to restore any of the former Uncompahgre Reservation back to tribal ownership and that same cannot be accomplished under terms of the Indian Reorganization Act. This information was, of course, quite disappointing to us as we had figured that the Indian Reorganization Act could take care of the restoration of these lands for us. In view of the fact that legislation will be necessary, it is respectfully requested that we be allowed to send one delegate and our Superintendent to Washington to present our case to the proper persons. It is our belief that such a procedure would render the Office invaluable aid in obtaining our views on the matter, and that through this procedure the Office will receive first-hand knowledge of conditions here and of the desires and wishes of our people.
We do not feel we can add any more by letter to what has already been written to the Office on this subject but we believe that securing these lands will mark the turning point in the lives of our people, start us on the road to an independent livelihood and make us a respected people of whom your administration and the State of Utah will be proud.
I trust that we will receive a reply at an early date to our request that a delegate from our tribe together with our Superintendent be permitted to visit the Office and discuss with you this very important matter.
Thanking you for any personal interest you may take in this matter, I am
Chairman, Tribal Business Committee
Source: box 1, fd. 1935, MacKay Collection
DOI, OIA, “Statement Concerning the Uncompahgre Grazing Reserve,” February 6, 1943
This report produced by the Office of Indian Affairs details the Ute’s long quest to secure the return of a portion of its original reservation and outlines the way forward for “a Ute Indian grazing reserve.”
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
OFFICE OF INDIAN AFFAIRS
February 6, 1943
Statement Concerning the Uncompahgre Grazing Reserve
There have been before Congress several bills to authorize the establishment of a grazing reserve for the Ute tribes of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah within the boundaries of the former Uncompahgre Reservation which is not largely within the exterior boundaries of Utah Grazing District 8. The latest of these bills was the Robinson Bill, H. R. 7638, which was passed by the House October 19, 1942, but failed of passage again in the Senate.
An order establishing a special grazing reserve for the Ute Indians within Utah Grazing District 8 was signed by the Secretary of the Interior on September 16, 1941, but the promulgation of this order was deferred in order to give the legislation designed to accomplish the same purpose, additional time for adoption by Congress. This legislation, as stated above, failed of passage in the Senate in December 1942, repeating the experience of similar legislation in December 1940 and in preceding sessions of Congress.
The objective of this legislation and of the Secretarial Order was to make available to the Uncompahgre Band of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation the use of the public domain range lands on an area of about 710,000 gross acres in the drainage areas of the White River, Hill and Willow Creeks south of the town of Ouray and east of the Green River. This area had been tentatively delimited in 1935. Within the area thus delimited the Ute Indians with tribal funds and with gratuity funds contributed by the Federal Government under the provisions of the Act of June 18, 1934 (48 Stat., 984), had acquired practically all of the patented lands and improvements with the exception of the State lands and the Indian allotments. These purchases of the private lands had been made with the understanding that the interested stockmen and the Advisory Board of Utah Grazing District 8 would support legislation to establish the area thus delimited as a Ute Indian grazing reserve.
This in its main outlines and oversimplified is the situation in February 1943. In order to keep faith with the Ute Indians who, relying upon the agreement reached in 1935, allocated almost $200,000 of their tribal funds for the purchase of the privately-owned lands within the delimited area, it is necessary that effect be given immediately to the order signed by the Secretary of the Interior in September 1941 to set up the Ute Indian grazing reserve. This action would not immediately disturb the present use of the area by non-Indians. Through negotiations with the interested parties, the boundaries of the Secretarial grazing reserve could and would be adjusted to eliminate friction and the rectified boundaries of this reserve could then be confirmed by Act of Congress. . . .
Source: box 2, fd. 1943a, MacKay Collection