There is a great deal of evidence of primitive cultures in what is now Grand County, but all seems to have been transient until the modern tribes arrived, probably around 1450. The Arapaho Tribe claimed the northern part of this region and were in frequent territorial dispute with the Ute Tribe, who were dominate in the Colorado Rockies. The Utes did not have “chiefs” in the sense of the organized Plains Indians.
There were five different tribal groupings in Colorado, and those in the Grand County area were known as the “White River Utes”. The Uncompahgre Utes lived in the southern area of the state, near the San Juan Mountains. Their spokesman to the white man was Ouray, and because of his knowledge of Spanish and some English, the federal negotiators designated him “Chief of All Utes”. Thus it was he, who in 1868 agreed that most of the land west of the 107th degree longitude (about one third of Colorado) would be a Ute Reservation “for all time”.
Ouray probably never knew the Utes of the northern region and they were never notified officially of this treaty. Suddenly, their favored hunting grounds of Middle Park, the healing waters of Hot Sulphur Springs, and much of the Front Range and Gore Range were opened to white settlement. Naturally there were tensions between the Utes and the white settlers and there are several well documented accounts of disputes in the area, including the killing of Tabernash, retaliatory strikes by the Utes, and the supposedly intentional burning of Middle Park by Colorow. Finally, there was an uprising in 1879, known as the Thornburg and White River Massacres, and the result was that the Utes were evacuated from almost all of their former reservation and driven to the Utah area in 1882.
Though much of the culture, knowledge and influence of the original Indian people has been lost to time, Ute and Arapaho names still grace many landmarks in Grand County.
Carl Ubbelohde, Maxine Nelson and Duane Smith, A Colorado History, Pruett Press, 1972
Lena M. Urquhart, Colorow: The Angry Cheftain, Golden Bell Press, 1968
Carol Hoy, Clash of Cultures in Grand County, Grand County Historical Assn. journal, Vol. VII, No. 1, 1987
Howard Gregor, We Shall Fall As Leaves, self published, 1996