Occupation: Director of Ute Indian Museum
Residence: Montrose, CO
Date of Performance/Collection: 10/29/20
The Ute Native Americans are in three reservations in Colorado and Utah: Unitah-Ouray, Southern Ute, and Ute Mountain. They have their own sovereign nations that have their own tribal leadership. Within reservations there are different bands of Ute Natives. The story told takes place in the Ute Indian Museum Montrose, Colorado. There Chipeta and her brother John McCook are buried. Chief Ouray, Chipeta’s husband, is said to be buried in Utah.
Chief Ouray was designated chief by the U.S. since he spoke English. He was Apache and Ute, he belonged to the Uncompahgre Band. He had one child with his first wife Black Mare, however she passed away unexpectedly. Since Ouray spoke English, Spanish, and Ute, the U.S. government decided to make him the proxy for treaties, regardless of how the Ute governed themselves. Nevertheless, Chief Ouray always strived for peace.
When gold was found in the San Juan Mountains, settlers began to encroach. The lands of all natives got smaller and smaller. The Utes were moved to what is now known as Montrose County. A settler was ploughing land near the reservation assigned to the Utes. The young Utes, as accustomed, raced their horses. However, they had raced on some of the ploughed land. This dispute eventually exploded, but no one knows who shot first. The incident did lead to the involvement of Nathan Meeker, the Indian agent at the White River Indian Agency that managed the Utes. Meeker did not care about the culture and customs of the natives, he was predisposed against Utes. The small dispute led to more conflict and eventually Meeker called on federal troops. The Utes viewing it as a threat rebelled, and took Meeker’s wife and daughter. After, finding out what had occurred, Chipeta wept for Josephine Meeker and her daughter. She showed kindness. The U.S. successfully negotiated to have them released and they went to Ouray and Chipeta’s ranch.
However, the Utes were forced to relocate, after a final battle, to Utah and further away from their lands. Chipeta didn’t have children, but she loved them and adopted many. Chief Ouray was blamed for the relocation of the Utes, and labeled a traitor, but given U.S. history, Ouray also saved his people from genocide, he saved the children of the tribe and their future.
It is extremely important to recognize that the entities and spirits in the Ute Indian Museum are not malicious
The museum has been here since 1956. It closed down in 2015 to remodel, and expand the museum. The original structure is still present. The staff has reported viewing orbs of light and shadow-people. When they watch the cameras, they move around quickly. They move around real fast, and trigger sensors, so they do get a police officer. He was scared of coming out to the museum.
We sat in CJ’s office at the Ute Indian Museum. Flute music played in the background. Photographs of the museum and her children lined the walls, along with Ute artifacts. Two words describe CJ, spiritual and calm.
My name is CJ Brafford. I am the director at the Ute Indian museum, I am Ogologo Lakota. I was born on the Pine-Ridge Indian Reservation and have been the caretaker of the Ute Indian Museum for 24 years. When I came here for the job, the doors to the museum were locked, and no one gave me a key. I wandered the grounds and met Chipeta. I didn’t know yet, who she was.
Being Native I have been around many things, and seen many too. I have been here for 20 years and I have traveled and researched the Utes. So, I think I about gathered as much information as I can. I have seen many archival records, but one day a community member of Montrose called. She wanted to see me and share something with me. When she arrived at the museum she came in and she showed me a picture. I had not seen this picture, and I got so excited, like oh my gosh, I’ve never seen this picture. Chapita is buried here, she died in Utah in 1924 but she was brought back to Montrose in 1925. The Ute were removed in 1881, but nonetheless Chipeta is here today. On the museum grounds next to her brother John McCook. So, when she came in, I thought she was showing me a picture that she found at the archives or found somewhere else. It’s a picture she took just the night before on the museum grounds. She wanted me to identify the person in the picture. She knew it was an Indian woman, but I knew it was Chipeta.
Another time, I was at the front desk when somebody in the gift store said, “I don’t want you to think I’m kind of strange, but Chipeta’s standing right behind you”.
After the story I had two questions, why is Chipeta still on the grounds and why is Chief Ouray not buried beside her, CJ provided answers.
Chief Ouray went to go sign another treaty, but he got sick and passed away in Utah in 1880 away from his home. The Southern Ute did not allow his body to be taken back with the agent from the White River Indian Agency. A year later, two Ute bands in Colorado were forced to relocate to Utah. The Ute at that time placed their deceased in caves. Chief Ouray was placed among other chiefs. Chipeta was with Ouray when he passed, and she knew where he was buried.
A federal troop account said that they saw Utes and a horse with a body over it. It is believed that Chipeta brought him back and buried him in a disclosed place. Utes have come by and said he is in the Black Canyon. There was an attempt to bring Ouray to Chipeta’s burial ground, and Chipeta to Ouray’s.
CJ heard was that after the Ute bands were removed, Chipeta would travel from Montrose to Dragon, Utah through train. Chipeta befriended a wealthy man, who had the first car. His employers would pack Chipeta a picnic lunch and he would drop her off here. She would sit here to do her choosing, and she would cry. I think part of her spirit is still left here, even when she journeyed over. This was her home, and up there it was foreign. The place given to them was barren, we had mountains. There was greenery here, they were given a desert.
Chipeta is a guardian, consoling all who are tied to the land where her history is in the landscape. When it was taken from the Utes, she came back to Montrose, rueful that many of the Utes would not return.
Chipeta and her brother John McCook remain buried in Montrose, Colorado.
CJ Brafford Ute Indian Museum Director
Platts, Henry. “Ouray.” Colorado Encyclopedia, https://coloradoencyclopedia.org/article/ouray. Accessed 29 October 2020.