We didn't come to Meeker very often, but it was the only town aroundBy Rob Carrigan, firstname.lastname@example.org
W.S. Taylor, my great grandfather, brought out his wife and infant daughter out from Minnesota to the White River area (Axial Basin between Craig and Meeker) in the spring of 1882. That
infant daughter, was my great Aunt Ruth, and later their other children, Verda, Cecil (my grandmother), Milton and Marian, were born at their home in Axial Basin. These children were some of the earliest pioneers in this section of the country.
W.S. Taylor, came here because his brother Gene Taylor, had been here as an Indian scout, for several years. Gene Taylor and Joe Collom (another distant relative) are both mentioned in Marshal Sprague's book, "Massacre on the White River."
"I was born on February 9, 1882. My mother and I came to Rawlins on the train, in July 1882. My father met us at Rawlins and with a team and wagon, and brought us to Axial. He had come to Axial earlier, but I don't know what month. He came with his sister, and a cousin, Charlie Wilson, because one of his brothers had come earlier. His brother was interested in the Indian Agency, he worked with Indians quite a bit," my Aunt Ruth Taylor Jordan said in "This is what I remember: History of Rio Blanco County," in 1972.
"He was named Willie when he was born but when he got grown up, he didn't like that name, so he always wrote it William," she said.
"My dad ranched some at Axial, and he did carpenter work and some blacksmithing — he did a little of everything. He did quite a bit of surveying, and while he never took a course in engineering, he understood enough about it. He had a transit and he used to run ditch levels and road grades and things like that," Aunt Ruth said.
When the Ferdinand Hayden surveys of the Front Range and up through Yellowstone, went through that part of the country, my great granddad employed that transit with Hayden and others, such as renowned photographer William Henry Jackson. During his twelve years of labor and annual survey journeys, Hayden's work resulted in the most valuable series of volumes in all branches of natural history and economic science; and he issued in 1877 his "Geological and Geographical Atlas of Colorado." The last of the annual survey journeys was in 1878, but upon the reorganization and establishment of the United States Geological Survey in 1879, Hayden acted for seven years as one of the geologists. Hayden died in Philadelphia on December 22, 1887.
"I went to school in Axial; it was just one room then. There has been more built on since. There was anywhere from nine to twenty students, most of them came on horseback. The first year, we had two months of school, and the second year we had four months of school. After that, we had an eight-month school. We had four months in the spring, and then we skipped two months in the summer, then four months in the fall," Ruth Taylor Jordan related in the 1972 history.
Events of were not too removed either physically, or in time sequence, from trouble between white settlers and the Utes in that area.
Meeker Massacre was a conflict that occurred when the Utes attacked an Indian agency on September 29, 1879. They killed the Indian agent, Nathan Meeker and his 10 male employees. They took some women and children—including Meeker's wife and daughter—as hostages to secure their own safety as they fled and held them for 23 days. Troops from Fort Steele in Wyoming were called in.
The government sent approximately 150-200 soldiers, led by Major Thomas T. Thornburgh, commander of Fort Steele in Wyoming. When the troops were about 50 miles from the Indian Agency, a group of Ute rode out to meet them. The Ute said they wanted a peace conference with Meeker, and would allow Thornburgh and five soldiers to come. Remembering the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, the Ute wanted the main body of soldiers to stay 50 miles away on a hill which they designated. Thornburgh ignored their demand and continued into the restricted Ute land.
At Milk Creek on the northern edge of the reservation, about 18 miles from the Agency, Ute warriors attacked Thornburgh's forces. In the first few minutes' exchange of fire, Major Thornburgh and 13 men were killed, including all his officers above the rank of captain. Another 28 men were wounded and three-quarters of the horses and mules were killed, but troops dug in behind the wagon trains and animals' bodies for defense. One man rode hard to get out a request for reinforcements. The US forces held out for several days. They were reinforced by 35 black cavalrymen (known as Buffalo Soldiers) from Fort Lewis in southern Colorado, who got through the enemy lines.
Interestingly enough, my father's birth certificate (Wayne Carrigan) who was born in 1928 on the ranch homesteaded later by Grandfather on Morapas Creek, lists Thornburgh as place of birth.
"I was afraid of the Indians," remembered my Great Aunt Ruth, of her early childhood. "One time we all went to Meeker. My family wanted to have some pictures taken, and they wanted me to stand by them, but I wouldn't. I was bound and determined I was going to sit on dad's lap, and that's the way the picture was finally taken. There were so many pictures of Indians in the studio that I knew Indians were around someplace. Sometimes, Indians would come to our house to see my uncle. One time there was an Indian there, I'd gone to the bedroom and got up on the bed, clear back next to the wall. The Indian came to the door and he had some beads; he wanted me to come get the beads, but I wouldn't do it and didn't get the beads," recalled Ruth Taylor Jordan, in 1972.
From the Utes' perspective, Colorow was one of several leaders of a small, unsophisticated splinter group of Utes in Northwestern Colorado, called the White River Band. In the spring of 1879, Colorow's followers were pressured by local Indian agent, Nathan Cook Meeker, to plant a field of garden crops in a field they had traditionally used to graze their horses.”
Meeker’s miscalculation made members of the band mad.
“In anger, one of the Utes confronted Meeker and ultimately threw him to the ground. Meeker overreacted and sent telegrams to Gov. Pitkin, 200 miles away in Denver, requesting troops be sent for his protection. The army, lulled by general peace on the frontier, and anxious to give its men some "field experience," sent two companies of cavalry and one mounted infantry, (about 200 men) from Wyoming's Fort Steele near Rawlins with specific instructions that the Utes not be molested,” says material from Aspen History Society.
“The Utes, however, clearly remembering the massacre at Sand Creek 15 years earlier, panicked. Many moved to new camps or fled the area. But, in the ensuing confusion, a shot was fired beginning events, which would end in the grizzly death of Meeker and all other agency employees. In addition, two women, including Meeker's wife, and two children were abducted by the Utes.
Colorow explained at the investigation into these events that the stake driven through Meeker's mouth had been necessary "to stop his infernal lying on his way to the spirit world.”
After what became known as the Meeker Massacre in 1879, the White River Utes were sent to the Uintah Indian Reservation on the Colorado-Utah border.
“Colorow was one of the last to leave and promised, ‘I go now. In winter I come back - hunt deer and elk.’ Every winter for seven years he returned to his Shining Mountains for the traditional winter hunt. Eventually the white men grew too numerous. Colorow and his men retired to the red rocks and made almost daily rounds of the settlers demanding food, clothing and anything else to which they took a fancy. One particularly notable fancy was biscuits, thick with syrup, which Colorow would eat as fast and as long as a ranch wife could bake them,” according a Ken-Caryl Ranch history, on the other side of the divide.
But the Taylor family didn't make it out of Axial Basin much, in those days.
"We didn't come to Meeker very often, but it was the only town around, There was just a log cabin in what is Craig now. It took several hours to make the trip. I don't remember just how long, but when we did come, we always spent the night," said Ruth Taylor Jordan.
1. An etching that appeared in the December 6, 1879 edition of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper depicts the aftermath of the "Meeker Massacre." Meeker grave at lower left; W.H. Post grave at lower right.
2. Nathan Meeker.
4. Buffalo Soldiers of the 25th Infantry Regiment in 1890, Montana.