Many years ago, the Ute nation lived in the country they called the Shining Mountains. This country was a “great living” land that sloped downward from lofty mountain peaks filled with deer, bear, elk, and sparkling lakes and the White River.
One band, the White River Utes, settled in the green valley on the banks of the White River where they raised their prized racing ponies. This area of beautiful pasture land became known as Powell Park after John Wesley Powell, who resided with the Utes while he explored the area in the winter of 1868-69. Powell Park later became the site of the Agency of the White River. The Agency was established in 1868 when the Utes permitted the Overland Stage Road to access lower Wyoming and mining began in Hahn’s Park.
Nathan C. Meeker arrived in this valley in 1878, coming from Greeley, Colorado, where he successfully established a “Christian Communal Society.” Meeker seemed to be in a hurry to force the Utes to forego their historical way of life and turn them into Christian farmers. A severe clash of cultures resulted and tensions ran very high for a long period of time.
When Meeker’s aggressive tactics of ordering their pony race track to be plowed to plant crops created resentments, troops were called down from Wyoming. They advanced into Ute treaty land, resulting in an uprising, which was later recognized as trespass. During the massacre, the Ute Indians destroyed the Agency on the White River, killing Indian Agent Meeker and 10 male civilian employees. The women and children were abducted but kept alive due to Susan, the wife of Medicine Man Johnson and sister to Chief Ouray.
Historical plaques now mark the site of the massacre and the Miller Creek Battlefield where Major Thornburgh, Commander of the 5th Calvary, was engaged in battle by the Ute Indians while en-route to the White River Agency to assist Nathan Meeker. A dramatic reenactment of the Meeker Massacre is performed every year during Meeker's 4th of July Range Call Celebration.
Meeker, the county seat of Rio Blanco County, grew around the “Military Camp on the White River,” an army base established to keep peace after the battle. They established a permanent military camp around a parade ground, which now houses the courthouse.
Several hundred soldiers were quartered here and many buildings were erected, which included barracks, officers’ quarters, a hospital building, a trading post, officers’ and soldiers’ clubs and civilian housing. All of their buildings were sold at auction to civilians when the army left in 1883. The ready-made town was named in memory of the slain Indian Agent, Nathan C. Meeker. Several of the early buildings still exist, including the historic Meeker Hotel and Café, which was rebuilt in 1896, and three of the original army officers’ quarters, one of which houses the White River Museum.