Letter to the Editor: Erasing Native Americans from Colorado History Perpetuates Myths and Misconceptions
This is in response to a Summit Daily News article announcing the Homestead Mapping Project, a new resource from the Summit County Historical Society. The line that got me thinking was the description of farmers arriving in “Summit County to build ranches, mine gold, and live peacefully in the mountains.” This description reinforces the pervasive misconception among many Americans that the land claimed in Western expansion was vacant and claimed without violence.
When miners and farmers moved to Colorado, it came at great cost to the Ute who resided there. Beneficiaries of the Homestead Act have been known to disregard the boundaries of their plots. In fact, the establishment of ranches and farms was used as justification to forcibly displace Native Americans whose nomadic lifestyle was considered inferior to agriculture.
The Ute were forcibly moved to reservations and then dispossessed of those lands as well. In 1879, a consultant’s report titled Historic Sites in Summit County published in 1976 reports that former Governor Frederick W. Pitkin said, “I believe an able-bodied white settler would cultivate more land than the entire Ute tribe…If this reservation could be extinguished and the land opened to settlers, it would provide homes to thousands of people in the state who desire homes.
Pitkin endorsed the displacement, impoverishment and genocide that took place across the United States and are inseparable from early settler history. The article and the historical society resource make no mention of the Ute, giving an incomplete and, therefore, inaccurate portrayal of the consequences of homesteading in Colorado.
It is important to recognize state-sanctioned violence against Native Americans. It helps us understand who lives in Summit County today and who has been marginalized.