Revisiting one of my favorite places…………….
Down The Road with the Original Buffalo Dale
Welcome back. I have been laid up with bronchitis this past week and after my recent experience working for the Delaware tribe, I have been thinking about the many important contributions that American Indians have made to our country. All of this led me back to the story of Ouray, Colorado and the man the town is named for, one of the greatest Indian chiefs of the west, “Chief Ouray.”
Ouray lies in a steep valley surrounded by mountain peaks and a stream that flows down the mountain sides to the headwaters of the Uncompahgre River. The river runs through Ouray down to the towns of Ridway and Montrose before joining forces with the Gunnison River in Delta. The “Ancient Ones” as the Pueblos are called first came through this area after abandoning their cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde in the period from 1300-1500 AD. In 1776 scouts came to the valley looking for the best route to California from Santa Fe and they were followed by fur trappers in the early 1800s. All of this was going on when the future chief was born. As he grew up he came to love the remote areawhich remained quite isolated from outside influences.
Chief Ouray had a small cabin in the area where the town of Ouray is today but his legend began way before then. He was born in 1833 to a Jicarilla Apache father and a Tabequache Ute mother and was raised in the Taos valley. He was educated in Taos and learned to speak four languages including Spanish, Ute, Apache and English. Then at 17 he became Chief of the Uncompahgre Ute tribe. Ouray’s first wife, Black Mare, died in childbirth and in 1859 he married an Uncompahgre Ute woman named Chipeta who became famous in her own right.
When he was 35, the US Government recognized Ouray as the Chief of the entire Ute nation as the result of his efforts to keep the peace between the Ute people and the many prospectors who came looking for gold and silver on Ute land. Kit Carson was the Indian agent out of Taos and he came to know Ouray well. Together the two worked out a peace agreement that gave the Utes 15 million acres in Colorado in exchange for their mining rights in the San Juan Mountains.
The Chief continued to maintain peaceful relations between his people and outsiders, even during the gold rush of the late 1800s. To help with that effort Chief Ouray visited Washington, DC and met with President Rutherford B. Hayes who called him the “most intellectual man he ever conversed with.” Despite the greedy behavior of many prospectors Chief Ouray always believed that peace was best and when he died in 1880 he was honored as a great statesman.
In 1887 the railroad came to Ouray and it was followed by the formation of the San Juan District Mining Association in 1903. The small cabin and natural hot springs where Chief Ouray had soaked his feet would never be the same.
Surrounded on all sides by snow-capped peaks today Ouray bills itself as the “Switzerland of America.” With no nearby ski area to attract the tourism of other Colorado mountain towns, Ouray has kept much of its authentic turn-of-the-century charm. The whole town is registered as a Historic District and includes many buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Its free Ice Park attracts amateur and pro ice climbers from around the world.
If you go to Ouray be sure to visit the Chief’s original cabin and the hot springs which are still there. Speaking from personal experience I have soaked my feet in those same waters and it’s easy to understand why he loved this area.
Till next week I’ll see ya down the road…