Born a Kiowa Apache, and raised as a Ute, Chipeta made her mark on Colorado history through her enduring work to establish and maintain peace between Native Americans and White settlers.
As a young woman she was the trusted partner of Chief Ouray, head of the Tabeguache band of Ute, who was viewed by the US government as representative of Ute peoples. She sat with him at tribal council meetings and strived to find a peaceful way forward for the many disparate Ute people confronted with the challenge to their way of life due to the steady march of white settlers.
During the Colorado Gold Rush of 1858 and after passage of the Homestead Act in 1862, thousands of White immigrants poured into ancestral Ute lands in Colorado to mine gold and farm. Conflicts with the Native people arose as their land was occupied and game was driven off. Only one Ute chief, Chief Ouray, Chipeta’s husband, was willing to sign an agreement with the U.S. government in an attempt to find a peaceful solution. Chipeta traveled throughout Colorado Ouray working to educate Ute tribes about the treaty and to convince them of the benefits of finding a peaceful solution with the Whites.
Chipeta was known for helping White settlers. After an uprising against the White River Indian Agency headed by Nathan Meeker, who had attempted to force the Utes to give up their traditional way of life, Meeker and ten others were killed, with members of Meeker’s family taken hostage. Upon the captives’ release, Chipeta cared for them. Once those women and children went East, they spread the word about Chipeta’s kindness to them. In 1880 Chipeta traveled to Washington DC, with Ouray. She was called to testify before Congress and using an interpreter she answered questions about the Meeker massacre. In 1909 she was presented to President William Taft.
Despite their efforts, the march of Western migration continued and the Utes were forced off their lands in Colorado and onto a reservation in Utah.
Living in poverty on the reservation, Chipeta continued to support her people. In an address to the Utes that was reported in the Western papers, Chipeta declared: “The sorrowing widow of the dead Ouray speaks to you…not as the wife of the dead chieftain to arouse you to war and victory, but to weep with you over the loss of her people and the greed of the pale face.”