“Gold!” The prospector’s shouts echoed through the valleys north of Pikes Peak. The wind carried that word among the Noochee, “the people,” who lived in the Rocky Mountains. Chipeta, a Ute Indian girl of fifteen winters, had no idea how that word would shape her future.
“Gold!” That word slithered down streambeds and spread like wildfire across open prairie. It tickled the ears of men in the East, daring them to cross the wide plains and seek their fortunes.
The New York Times Leavenworth was agog yesterday. There was a buzz of excitement throughout the entire day. “Gold” was upon the lips of all, and the “Pike’s Peak” acquired an immense deal of notoriety…
September 20, 1858
“The Gold Excitement in Kansas”
From the Leavenworth Times, 10th inst.
Mr. Elmore King gave us a brief account of his experience in the gold region. He went out in the Spring and left on the 27th of last July. During this time he was engaged in prospecting, and never failed to discover the “pure ore.” Several companies were regularly engaged in the work of digging, and, as a general thing, took out from five to ten dollars a day per man.
All they had was common pans, and even these were scarce. A man, with proper tools for obtaining gold, could secure from ten to fifty dollars a day.
Men left jobs, homes, and families. They hurried west in wagons, on horseback, and by foot. Within a year, 50,000 men, and a few women, panned the streams and dug into the rocky ground hunting for gold.
Merchants followed the gold seekers. They turned ancient Ute pathways into roads. Their wagons hauled food, clothing and tools to mining camps. Boarding houses, stores, and saloons expanded the camps. Miners built houses and sent for their families. Doctors and dentists, school teachers and seamstresses, blacksmiths and cooks all found work in the camps. Towns sprang up along the eastern foothills. Montana City, St. Charles, Auraria, and Denver City became supply stations for the mining camps.
At first, the Utes welcomed these newcomers. The white men were eager to trade flour, sugar, and tobacco for warm buffalo robes. The Utes saw problems as the number of miners and settlers increased. The newcomers cut all the trees from hillsides to build cabins and towns. They dumped mining scrap and rubbish in the streams. They hunted the deer, elk, and buffalo the Utes needed for survival.
The Utes tried to scare away the newcomers by stealing their horses and supplies. When that didn’t work, the Utes threatened, and sometimes killed, men, women, and children. Driven by gold fever, the newcomers were not about to give up. They intended to stay, and they outnumbered the Utes. A white man who filed a claim and paid a fee received a title on paper. He owned a piece of land and its contents. The Utes did not understand such “titles.” Every Ute child knew the Shining Mountains had always belonged to their people. They understood their territory, just as they knew which areas of the Plains belonged to the Cheyenne, the Kiowa, and the Arapaho Indians.
“Gold!” The word sparked a long battle over land and changed the Ute way of life forever.
RETURN TO CHIPETA: UTE PEACEMAKER
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