Photo by Judy Haines

A letter to the editor in the October 2013 issue of Colorado Central Magazine first alerted me to this problem. Craig Neilson wrote, “Just wanted to point out that Chipeta Mountain is not visible from Salida, as indicated in your article via the photograph. What folks think is Chipeta, myself included until I got out the quad, is Point 13,472, which I like to call Craig’s Peak, since I finally climbed it last year after two previous spring attempts. This is ranked but unnamed Colorado 13er that comes in at number 272 in the official ranking of peaks, with parental lineage with Mount Ouray. . . On top, one can see the much lower Chipeta far below to the southwest and out of site from the valley, hidden by 13,472.” It didn’t seem possible. But Craig is a friend of mine and a reliable source. I just relegated it to the back of my mind.

Then in the November 4, 2015 issue of the Mountain Mail – a Salida newspaper – a section of Jeff Burch’s poster called “View Looking West from Salida, Colorado” that included Mount Ouray, Chipeta Mountain and Pahlone Peak was published. It indeed indicated that the highest point on the massive was Unnamed Point 13,472 and that Chipeta Mountain was “out of site over here.” The issue migrated to the front of my mind.

That did not seem right and I began my research into the matter. (A Lakota woman once said, “Every wasichu (white man) is doing it for himself. He just doesn’t always know why.”)

I had accidently plunged into aspects of Ute history in the fall of 2015 even before this cause came into focus in my brain. On October 28, I was heading out to explore the South Pass area of Saguache County and brushed up against the old Los Pinos (Ute Indian) Agency near Cochetopa Pass where Chipeta and Ouray once lived from 1869 to 1874.

In mid-November, Forrest Wittman and I went south to explore a newly proposed scenic byway that closely follows the Denver and Rio Grande railroad grade between Chama, New Mexico and Durango, Colorado. As we drove toward La Manga Pass, we went near the first Ute agency site near Conejos, Colorado when Lafayette Head was Indian agent in 1861. We got as far as Dulce, New Mexico, which is the headquarters of the Jicarilla Apache Nation. (Chief Ouray’s mother was Jicarilla Apache and the family lived in the Taos area until she died.) Ouray thought in Spanish. Some helpful folks in the local grocery store convinced us the we should not go further along the old railroad grade because the car we were driving was not suitable for the upcoming rough dirt road at that time of year.

In December, we took the first planned trip regarding the Chipeta Mountain issue. We rode out like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza to Montrose to visit the Ute Indian Museum. The offices of the museum are temporarily located in the Montrose Visitor Center while remodeling of the museum building is taking place. We spoke at length with the museum director, CJ Brafford, a Lakota woman. (This was ironic since Ouray’s son by his first marriage to Black Mare, Palhone, was kidnapped by the Lakota). After a nice chat about Ute issues, she gave us the phone number of the Executive Director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, who I emailed on ??. We then drove out on Chipeta Road to the museum grounds south of town, which was still open, and visited the sarcophagus of Chipeta and grave of McCook, her younger brother.

On January 12, I took another trip on the proposed byway route from Chama to Durango that went through Ignacio, on the Southern Ute Reservation where Ouray is buried. I visited his monument in the Chief Ouray Memorial Cemetery on End of Trail Road and went to the southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum.  

In December I exchanged these emails with Mike Rosso, owner of Colorado Central Magazine:

Hi Mike,                                              12/15/15

This is my first wack at this. Might you be interested in starting the campaign in Colorado Central? I could have it ready for the January/February issue if you have the space.

Cordially, Wayne

Hi Wayne,                                             12/17/15

My content is already set for Jan/Feb, but maybe we could visit about this sometime early next year?

Your thoughts?

On January 19 I was headed to the Meeker Massacre site in northwest Colorado when I spun out on ice on Interstate 70 near Dotsero. I had to cut the trip short, but spent the night in Delta and discovered the Ute Council Tree near my motel.

I would also like to follow the old narrow gauge Uintah Railroad route from Mack, Colorado over Baxter Pass to Dragon, Utah near where the Utes, including Chipeta, were relocated for their last indignity. Chipeta rode that railroad when going to meet friends in Colorado.

I’ve read two books about Chipeta and one about Ouray (by Smith and Becker) in the course of these investigations. I also read Virginia McConnell Simmons Colorado Central article about the Utes and am now reading parts of her exhaustive book on the subject. By all accounts Chipeta was a remarkable woman. Ouray could not have done his peacemaking work without her. Now we need to correct the misnaming of her mountain.

Perhaps Vino Salida, whose new building faces the Mountain, could develop a wine to promote the effort. They could call it Cold Shoulder. It would have to be a white wine. When the mountain is properly named a nice full-bodied red called, perhaps, Chipeta Rising could be created.

Some want to couch the issue in terms of women’s rights. There is certainly an argument for that. But a Lakota woman said. "It’s our turn now – Indian women. Their war is over. If honor mattered they would have won . . .but they were defeated. You took their spirits and left them with shame. But no one paid any attention to us women. We kept things alive in our hearts and our hands. . . .Our men may be defeated, but our women’s hearts are strong. The Indian family has been like a circle, and the woman has been at the center. White families have been like lines, with men standing in front. That’s why white women haven’t been able to understand us. They talk about sisterhood and liberation, but their struggle is not our struggle. We don’t need to get free. We need to free our men. . . until they are free in their hearts again, none of us Indians will be free.”

There are people who would like to have the high point on the Chipeta massif named after a white person. At first I rebelled at this, but later my cynical self thought that might be appropriate given our history with the Indians. A mountain peak that is supposed to be named for an important Indian and instead a subpar secondary shoulder bears her name – like so many broken promises concerning land for the Indians. A white man’s name would come between parents and child similar to what happened in so many boarding schools that tried to “civilize” the Native American young. The naming of the mountain for a white person might just be more symbolic of historical events involving our mistreatment of the Indians.

by Wayne Iverson