The unrest and hard feelings between the Indians and settlers in Middle Park gave rise to an inevitable conflict the last week of August, 1878. About forty Utes, led by Piah and Washington, started to set up camp in William Cozens’ meadow, near Fraser, taking fence poles to make fires. Cozens drove them off, telling them to replace the poles and leave. The Utes moved down valley about five miles to a spring not far from Junction Ranch (named for the junction of the Rollins Pass and Berthoud Pass wagon roads).
There, Johnson Turner, who leased that land, became increasingly uneasy as the Indians were drinking heavily and expressing anger that Ouray given away their land in treaties with the white man. They wanted Turner to pay them for the hay he was cutting. They tore down his fences for firewood, turned their 100 horses into his meadow, and set up camp. They also laid out a race track on drier ground about a mile way.
Turner complained to the sheriff, Eugene Marker, who rounded up a posse of men, intending to remove the Indians or at least convince them to move on. Accompanying him, on September 1, were Frank Addison, a transient prospector, John Stokes, T.D. Livingston, and Frank Byers. The posse found only women and children at the camp, since the Ute men were at the race course. Marker, the sheriff, ordered the encampment searched for firearms and when the Ute men returned, an angry confrontation ensued.
Tabernash and Frank Addison exchanged threats, and Tabernash jumped from his horse and snatched one of the guns piled on the ground. Frank Addison immediately shot him. Tabernash tried to pull his rifle from its scabbard, but that it became entangled, and Addison then fired twice more. Tabernash slumped over the neck of his pony, which ran away through the willows. Apparently Addison recognized Tabernash as the Indian responsible for the killing several of his companions while trapping furs on Grizzly Fork in North Park six years earlier.
After this bloodshed, the posse persuaded the rest of the Utes to leave, after they buried Tabernash’s body in a shallow grave. No one was ever sure where Tabernash was buried. There was a rumor that the slain Tabernash was buried in a draw not far from Junction Ranch, but when the Grand County Historical Association excavated the site, nothing was found.
A day later, September 3, on a Ranch near Kremmling, Abraham Elliott was shot while cutting wood, and his horses stolen. In response, the posse moved north in the direction of the White River Reservation. 60 Utes met the posse, and explained that the culprits were Piah and Washington, neither of whom was a part of the White River band. Ultimately, the Utes signed a council report, returned horses stolen from the Elliott ranch, while the ranchers returned guns confiscated from the Utes at Junction Ranch. The matter was considered legally settled, but outrage and fear continued among the settlers and the Utes of the area.
In 1902, E.A. Meredith, chief engineer for the Denver & Salt Lake Railroad, named the town that had grown up with the building of the railroad, after the slain Ute, Tabernash.
R.C. Black, Island in the Rockies, Pruett Press,
Carol Hoy, “Clash of Cultures.” Middle Park Indians to 1881“. Grand County Historical Association Journal, v. 7: no. 1, 1987.
Lela McQueary. Widening Trails. World Press, 1962.
Geo. R. Eichler. Colorado Place Names. Johnson Publishing, 1977.