Speak Your Piece: a podcast about Utah's history

Season 1, Ep. 11 (Part 2): How San Juan County Nearly Became a Ute Reservation

May 07, 2020 Brad Westwood
Speak Your Piece: a podcast about Utah's history
Season 1, Ep. 11 (Part 2): How San Juan County Nearly Became a Ute Reservation
Show Notes

Date: 05.07.2020 (Season 1, episode 11; part two: 26:32 min.): To read the complete show notes for this episode (including topics in time, photo and recommended readings) click here.  Interested in other episodes of Speak Your Piece? Click here for more episodes.

Although we marvel at Utah’s San Juan County, with its haunting mesas, buttes, gorges, cliffs, rivers and desert plains, it wasn’t always that way.
For most of the 19th century (1847-1890s) occupying white--mostly agricultural based settlers--made this one of the last regions “settled” in Utah. Eventually white settlers came from the north (Mormons from 1879 onward) and from the east and south (1880s from New Mexico, Colorado and Texas). Before, the land was the long held domain of Native Americans (Navajo, Ute, Hopi, Apache and Paiute).

Today, many experience this region for its long history or what historians describe as the longue durée (history not in decades or centuries but thousands or millions of years). San Juan County’s Native Americans, its landscapes and ecosystems, and its thousands of archaeological sites, encourages this kind of thinking. Listeners will find familiar echoes in this 130 plus year old story in todays controversies.

Greg Thompson (U of U, retired) discusses the tumultuous time in San Juan County from the late 1870s to the 1890s. Topics discussed include: southern plains cattle companies, with tens and thousands of head of cattle, grazing on San Juan lands in the 1870s and 1880s; Utahns and Mormon, anxious about claiming this region before others do (thus the 1879 Hole-in-the-Rock expedition); and how Colorado miners, settlers and even the US Congress and Colorado’s congressional delegation lobbied, off-and-on from 1883 to1894 unsuccessfully, to make over half of San Juan County a reservation for the Colorado’s Southern Utes. Something the tribe found acceptable amid more difficult choices before them. This is a story few Utahns know about.  

The Native American tribes discussed in this episode include the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the Uintah and Ouray Utes of Northeastern Utah (Fort Duchesne, Utah) and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe including the Weeminuche Band of Ute. 

To learn more about the Bears Ears National Monument (declared at 1.35 M. acres in 2016, reduced by 85% in 2017, returned to its original size in 2021) read Pres. Barack Obama’s Bears Ears National Monument creation in 2016, Pres. Donald Trump’s executive order size reduction by 85%; then Pres. Joe Biden’s restoration of the original boundaries of the Bears Ears.

Bio Greg Thompson: Assoc. Dean of the U of U Marriott Library for Special Collections, and Adjunct Assistant Professor of History, retired in 2021.  To learn more about Dr. Greg Thompson click here.