Chipeta and her husband Chief Ouray,
wearing a shirt she beaded
Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation, Utah
|Other names||White Singing Bird|
|Known for||Ute tribal leader and wise woman|
Chipeta or White Singing Bird (1843/4–1924), was a Native American woman, and the second wife of Chief Ouray of the Uncompahgre Ute tribe. Born a Kiowa Apache, she was raised by the Utes in what is now Conejos, Colorado. Advisor and confidant of her husband, Chipeta continued as a leader of her people after his death in 1880.
She used diplomacy to try to achieve peace with the white settlers in Colorado. In early 1880, she and her party were almost lynched by an angry mob of white people in Alamosa, Colorado when they tried to board a train for Washington DC. It was only a few months after the Meeker Massacre and the whites held all Utes responsible. The Ute delegation was on its way to negotiate a treaty regarding reservation resettlement. They had also been called to testify at a Congressional inquiry into the Ute uprising. Years later, Chipeta also met with President William Taft. She was highly respected by both the Ute and white people.
Chipeta, "White Singing Bird" in the Ute (Shoshonean) language, was born into the Kiowa Apache tribe in about 1843 or 1844. She was adopted and raised by the Uncompahgre Utes of present-day Colorado. She learned their traditional ways and became a skilled artisan in beadwork and tanning.
In 1859, she married Chief Ouray of the Uncompahgres, becoming his second wife. She came to act as his advisor and confidant, often sitting beside him at tribal council meetings. Described as "beautiful", she played the guitar and sang in three languages. Chipeta was also renowned for her exquisite beadwork. Although Chipeta never bore children, she adopted four and raised them as her own.
Ute leader and wise woman
Chipeta sought to live peacefully with the white settlers in Colorado. Tensions were rising as the settlers drove off game the Utes needed to survive. In addition, the government, through the White River Indian Agency, was pressing the Utes to take up farming, give up racing their horses, and convert to Christianity. The Ute resentment boiled up in an uprising in September 1879, marked by the Meeker Massacre at the Agency, where the Utes killed 11 white men and took three women and two children captive. In a related battle at Milk Creek, the Utes pinned down forces from Fort Steele for several days before reinforcements arrived.
The Uncompahgre did not take part in the uprising. General Charles Adams, a former US Indian agent, negotiated release of the captives. One of the captives was Josephine Meeker, adult daughter of the late Indian agent Nathan Meeker. The captives were brought to Chipeta and Ouray's home after their release. Adams held an inquiry into the events in Colorado.
On January 7, 1880, Chipeta and Chief Ouray husband led a delegation of Utes to Washington DC to negotiate a treaty regarding reservation resettlement. They also had been asked to testify before a congressional inquiry into the Ute uprising. As Chipeta and the other Utes attempted to board a train at Alamosa, they were almost lynched by an angry mob of white people, who believed them associated with the Meeker Massacre.
On March 7, 1880 Chipeta was welcomed as a delegate by Secretary of Interior Carl Schurz at the US Capitol. She testified before a Congressional inquiry into the Meeker Massacre. At the hearing, she took the witness stand and answered, through an interpreter, the 10 questions put to her.
The Utes ratified a treaty with the US government; however, they were forced to leave Colorado and resettle on a reservation in Utah. Both the White River and Uncompahgre Utes were forced out. Following passage of the Ute Removal Act of 1880, Chipeta and other Utes were removed to the Uintah Indian Reservation in Utah, where Chief Ouray died that same year. After his death, the reservation was renamed to honor him. Chipeta continued as a leader of the Utes and was highly respected as a wise woman.
Chipeta died in 1924 at the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah. On March 15, 1925, she was reburied at the site of her former home near Montrose, Colorado. On May 25, 1925, remains believed to be that of Ouray were reburied in the cemetery on the Southern Ute reservation.
- Becker, Cynthia S. Chipeta: Ute Peacemaker. Palmer Lake, CO: Filter Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-86541-091-6.
- Cynthia S. Becker and P. David Smith, Chipeta: Queen of the Utes, Lake City, Colorado: Western Reflections Publishing, 2003
- H. Bert Jenson, "Chipeta: Glory and Heartache", The Outlaw Trail Journal, n.d., Salt Lake City, Utah, on Utah State University, Unintah Basin Education Center Website