Ancient America: Colorado Prior to 6000 BCE

The boundary lines that mark the current state of Colorado are artificial and were laid down by non-Indigenous people with no regard for the cultures of the American Indians who had occupied this territory for thousands of years. Within categories of American Indian culture areas Colorado includes portions of three: (1) the Southwest; (2) the Great Basin; and (3) the Great Plains. Listed below are some of the archaeological sites in Colorado which have been dated prior to 6,000 BCE.

Dutton and Selby sites: by 15,000 BCE, Indian people at the Dutton and Selby sites near the present-day town of Wray were hunting (or at least scavenging) camels, horses, and bison.

Lamb Spring: about 11,140 BCE, Indian people at the Lamb Spring site butchered a mammoth.

Mahaffy Cache: about 11,000 BCE, Indian people using Clovis technology left a cache of tools—8 bi-facially flaked knives, a chopping tool, and numerous flakes—at one of their sites. DNA analysis of the protein residue on the tools of the Mahaffy Cache revealed that they had been hunting bear, horse, wild sheep, and camel.

Jones-Miller site: by 9500 BCE, Indian people were using the Jones-Miller (5YM08) bison kill site.

By about 8000 BCE, Indian people at the Jones-Miller site (5YM08) appear to have domesticated dogs. They were also using Hell Gap points.

Lindenmeier site: by 9200 BCE, Indian people using Folsom technology were using the Lindenmeier site for processing bison. In her book The Prehistory of Colorado and Adjacent Areas, anthropologist Tammy Stone reports:

“It appears that the camp space was divided into different activity areas for manufacturing various items from bone, including jewelry. This site demonstrates that Folsom period peoples butchered and ate many different animals including, but not restricted to, bison, although we do not know in what proportions.”

Great Stemmed Basin complex: by 8700 BCE, Indian people were making long-stemmed points with random, collateral, or other flaking patterns. Archaeologists will later call this the Great Stemmed Basin complex.

Beads: by 8700 BCE, Indian people were making very small beads out of oil shale.

Bison hunting: about 8800 BCE, American Indian bison hunters were camping in a small, well-watered valley north of Fort Collins, Colorado. This site was visited on a regular basis by two semi-autonomous groups who cooperated in the bison hunts.

Agate Basin Complex: about 8800 BCE, the Agate Basin Complex appears in Colorado. Archaeologically, this complex appears to be an outgrowth of the Folsom tradition. The projectile points are very long and slender. The shapes range from lanceolate to leaf-shaped and occasionally the points are pointed at both ends.

Olsen-Chubbock site: about 8500 BCE, Indian hunters killed almost 200 buffalo at the Olsen-Chubbock site. The 150 fully butchered animals produced about 60,000 pounds of meat which is enough to feed 50 people for more than 3 months.

About 8200 BCE, Indian hunters using Plainview and Plano tool kits drove a herd of bison into a gully and killed about 200 animals. In his book Prehistory of the Americas, Stuart Fiedel describes it this way:

“A whole herd was apparently surrounded and driven into the steep, narrow arroyo. The animals struggled vainly to escape as others fell on top of them. Those that lay on top of the pile were finished off by the hunters, while the bison trapped beneath them were crushed to death.”

Only a few of the animals at the Olsen-Chubbuck site were butchered. The kill took place in the summer or early fall. It is estimated that 150 to 200 people took part in the hunt.

Hell Gap Complex: about 8500 NCE, the Hell Gap Complex begins. The Hell Gap projectile point appears to have developed out of the Agate Basin points. The Hell Gap points have constricted bases. Anthropologist Tammy Stone reports:

“The constricted base indicates that these points may have had socketed hafts, which is further supported by grinding on the base but not on the lower lateral edges.”

Plainview Complex: about 8200 BCE, the Plainview Complex appeared in Colorado. Archaeologically this complex is defined by lanceolate-shaped projectile points with parallel or slightly convex sides and concave bases.

Foothills-Mountain Complex: about 8000 BCE, the Foothills-Mountain Complex was developed out of a Great Basin adaptation. The leaf-shaped points were roughly made and have ground bases. The points were used in socketed hafts.

Burial: about 7700 BCE, an Indian woman 25-30 years old died and was buried in a flexed position near Gordon Creek. She was covered with red ochre before burial and was interred with her head oriented to the north. Buried with her were a grinding stone, a hammer stone, an end scraper, two small bi-faced stone blades, and three utilized flakes. In addition to the stone tools, the burial goods included two worked animal ribs and a perforated elk tooth. She was 4’11” tall.

Hourglass Cave: about 6620 BCE, the body of a man is buried in the Hourglass Cave.

Bison Hunt: about 6500 BCE, southeast of Kit Carsen, Colorado, hunters stampeded a large bison herd into a dry gully. The herd went off a steep edge and 157 were killed. Three-fourths of the bison were butchered and this meat would have provisioned 100 people for about a month.

Black Knoll Phase: about 6250 BCE, in Northwestern Colorado, the period which archaeologists call the Black Knoll Phase begins. Archaeologists Tammy Stone reports:

“The Black Knoll is characterized by increasing population, evident in the increased number of sites.”

Note: The information in parenthesis following the name of the site is the Smithsonian Designation System. In this system of recording archaeological sites, the first number refers to the state; this is followed by letters which refer to the county; and then a number indicating its order in being recorded. Thus 5LP 10, means that the site is in Colorado (5th state when the states are listed alphabetically), La Plata County (LP), and was the 10th site recorded in La Plata county in the State Archaeologist’s office.

The Great Basin Tribes

The Great Basin includes the high desert regions between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. It is bounded on the north by the Columbia Plateau and on the south by the Colorado Plateau. It includes all of the present-day states of Nevada and Utah, and portions of Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, and California. This is an area which is characterized by low rainfall and extremes of temperature. The summers in this desert area can be hot, while the winters can be bitterly cold. While it is a physical region that does not seem hospitable to human habitation, Indian people have lived in the Great Basin for thousands of years.

The Great Basin was the last part of the United States to be explored and settled by the European-Americans. When the European-American invasion began in the nineteenth century, the invaders found that it was occupied by several different tribes, including the Bannock, Goshute, Mono, Northern Paiute, Panamint, Shoshone, Southern Paiute, Washo, and Ute.

Linguistically all of the Indian people of the Great Basin, with the exception of the Hokan-speaking Washo, spoke languages which belong to the Numic division of the Uto-Aztecan language family. The linguistic and archaeological data seem to suggest that the Numic-speaking people spread into the Great Basin from southeastern California. The homeland of the Numic-speaking groups in the Great Basin is generally seen as the Death Valley area.

The Numic languages appear to have divided into three sub-branches—Western, Central, and Southern—about 2,000 years ago. About a thousand years ago, the Numic-speaking people expanded northward and eastward.

The Ute:

 The Ute tribal territory included much of present-day Colorado and Utah. Much of this territory lies within the Colorado Plateau, a geological anomaly characterized by sedimentary rocks that have been lifted to an elevation of more than 6,000 feet. This is a semi-arid region.

 While the groups which are considered Ute shared a common language as well as other cultural features, they were never a single politically unified tribe. There was never a single tribal council or anything close to a supreme chief. Each of the groups, generally called “bands,” was politically autonomous. Membership in the bands was fluid and there was high mobility between the bands. The Ute bands include:

(1) the Weminuche (Weeminuche) or Ute Mountain Ute whose homeland is the San Juan drainage of the Colorado River.

(2) the Tabeguache (also known as Uncompahgre).

(3) the Grand River band.

(4) the Yampa whose homeland is in northwestern Colorado.

(5) the Uintah whose homeland ran from Utah Lake east through the Uinta Basin.

(6) the Muache (Moache) whose homeland ranged south along the Sangre de Cristos as far south as Taos, New Mexico.

(7) the Capote of the San Luis Valley and the upper Rio Grande.

(8) the Sheberetch in the area of present-day Moab, Utah.

(9) the Sanpits (San Pitch) in the Sanpete Valley in central Utah.

(10) the Timanogots near Utah Lake.

(11) Pahvant who lived in the deserts surrounding Sevier Lake, Utah.

(12) the White River (Parusanuch and Yamparika) in the White and Yampa River systems of Colorado.

After marriage, the couple would usually live with the wife’s band (matrilocal residence in anthropological terminology). This means that the bands were usually composed of several nuclear families which were related to each other through the female line.

The area occupied by the Ute was buffalo country and so buffalo, as well as mountain sheep, mule deer, whitetail deer, elk, antelope, moose, and rabbits, were utilized for their subsistence. The people also gathered a wide variety of different wild plants.

In hunting herd animals, the Ute often used drives in which the animals were driven into narrow areas where they could be more easily harvested. The Weminuche band hunted deer with poison arrows.


The Shoshone (also spelled Shoshoni) take their name from the Shoshone word sosoni’ which refers to a type of high-growing grass. Some of the Plains tribes referred to the Shoshone as “Grass House People” which referred to the conically-shaped houses made from the native grasses. They were also referred to as the “Snakes” or “Snake People” by some Plains groups. This term comes from the sign which the people used for themselves in hand sign languages. The sign actually represents the salmon to the Shoshone, but among the Great Plains tribes, who were unfamiliar with the salmon, it was misinterpreted as meaning “snake.”

The Shoshone are often divided into four general groups:

(1) the Western Shoshone who lived in central Nevada, northeastern Nevada, and Utah. Some anthropologists have listed 43 different Western Shoshone groups.

(2) Northern Shoshone who lived in southern Idaho and adopted the horse culture after 1800.

(3) Eastern Shoshone of Wyoming who adopted many of the traits of Plains Indian culture.

(4) Southern Shoshone who live in the Death Valley area on the extreme southern edge of the Great Basin.

The Northern Shoshone groups include the Fort Hall Shoshone, the Lemhi Shoshone, the Mountain Shoshone, the Bruneau Shoshone, and the Boise Shoshone. The Lemhi Shoshone hunted buffalo in western Montana, but depended primarily upon salmon for their subsistence. The Bruneau Shoshone were not a horse people and depended largely on salmon and camas. The Boise Shoshone also used salmon and camas as primary foods and also hunted buffalo in Wyoming and Montana.

Shoshone bands, like other groups in the Great Basin and Plateau Culture Areas, were often named after their dominant food source. Thus mountain-dwelling Shoshone were known as Tukudika (“eaters of bighorn sheep” or sheep eaters). Other Shoshone groups include the Agaidika (salmon eaters), Padehiyadeka (elk eaters), Yahandeka (groundhog eaters), Pengwideka (fish eaters), Kamuduka (rabbit eaters), Tubaduka (pine-nut eaters), and Hukandeka (seed eaters), and the Kukundika (also spelled Kutsundeka; buffalo eaters).

Among the Western Shoshone, the most important game animals were antelope and bighorn. In hunting antelope, the animals would be driven along a V-shaped runway into a corral which had been constructed of brush, stones, and poles. A medicine person who had the power to capture antelopes’ souls through dreams, songs, and rituals, would aid the hunt by drawing the animals’ souls, and thus the animals themselves, into the corral.


The Bannock, who call themselves Bana’kwut (“Water People”), were called Buffalo Eaters and Honey Eaters by other tribes. The Shoshone referred to them with the term “pannaitti.” Brigham Madsen, in his book The Bannock of Idaho, reports that the Bannock

“migrated from the desert areas of southeastern Oregon to the more propitious and well-watered region found at the confluence of the Portneuf and Blackfoot streams with the Snake River.”

In the Snake and Lemhi River valleys and in the Bridger Basin, the Bannock came into close contact with the Shoshone and the two groups often intermarried. Today, the term “Sho-Ban” is often used to refer to the two tribes. Culturally, the two groups shared a common heritage and a similar worldview. They also spoke closely related languages. With intermarriage, many became bilingual.

Goshute (Gosiute):

The traditional homeland of the Goshute was south and west of Great Salt Lake. They lived in the Toole, Rush, and Skull valleys. There are many who feel that the Goshute are linguistically and culturally Shoshone. The Goshute bands include Cedar Valley, Deep Creek, Rush Valley, Skull Valley, Toole Valley, and Trout Creek.

Historically these people have been designated as Go-Sha-Utes, Goshee Utes, Goshoots, Go-shutes, Gosh Yuta, Go-ship Utes, and Goships. The term “Goshute” seems to come from the Shoshone term “kusippih” which has a meaning of “dry earth,” probably in reference to the marginal land which they inhabited.


There are fifteen Southern Paiute bands: Chemehuevi, Las Vegas, Moapa, Paranigat, Panaca, Shivwits, St. George, Gunlock, Cedar, Beaver, Panguitch, Uinkaret, Kaibab, Kaiparowits, and San Juan. In the northern part of the Great Basin, the bands tended to call themselves after a particular food source: “salmon eaters,” “mountain sheep eaters,” and so on. In the south, the band names tended to be geographical.


Colorado’s “Meeker Massacre”

( – promoted by navajo)

American government policies regarding Indians on reservations during the 1870s encouraged the total destruction of Indian cultures. The application of these policies varied from reservation to reservation according to the amount of tolerance which the Indian agent, usually designated by a Christian missionary group, exhibited toward Indian cultures. In Colorado, the rigid intolerance of one Indian agent on the Ute Reservation resulted in an Indian uprising and a brief battle called the “Meeker Massacre” by historians.  

Nathan C. Meeker was appointed as Indian agent for the Utes on the White River, Colorado reservation in 1878. As with many Indian agents of this era, Meeker had no experience with Indians. He had, however, experience in organizing a utopian religious community in 1869. With this background, his goal in working with the Utes was to convert them into hard-working, God-fearing savages.

In 1879, Meeker, complained to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs about Indian horses:

“The practice of these Indians in keeping and holding horses on an extensive scale is not only discouraging to farm industry, but is working a most serious inconvenience, if not loss, to cattle interests.”

The Utes, however, prided themselves in their wealth in horses. A month later he wrote:

“It seems to me evident that the greatest obstacle to civilizing the majority of these Indians is their ownership of horses, which is proved by the fact that those who work have either few or no horses.”

Agent Nathan C. Meeker felt that a

“stern example would civilize the White River Utes.”

He pushed the people to become Christians, to build houses and fences and to farm. When he insisted on plowing the field which had been used as a race track, the Ute fired warning shots. Meeker responded by sending for the army. According to Meeker’s report:

“This is a bad lot of Indians. They have had free rations for so long and have been flattered and petted so much, that they think themselves lords of all.”

The Ute feel that calling for the army was a declaration of war. Their scouts led by Nicaagat met the army outside of the reservation and warned them that the treaty prohibited the army from entering the reservation. The soldiers continued their march in battle formation and were attacked. The army force was surrounded and held for several days until they were rescued by a troop of black cavalry.

Ute warriors also attacked the Indian agency, killing 11 men, including Indian agent Meeker. The warriors took several women captive in order to secure their own safety as they fled. Among those held captive were Meeker’s wife and daughter.

In a week-long battle, 12 soldiers were killed and 43 were wounded, while 37 Ute were killed. This short war was soon labeled the “Meeker Massacre” in honor of the heavy-handed Indian agent.

As a result of the “war,” one newspaper in Colorado launched a campaign under the banner “The Utes Must Go”. The response of the Anglos was to call for the “red devils” to be wiped out. The governor called for the removal or extermination of the Ute:

“My idea is that, unless removed by the government, they must necessarily be exterminated.”

The Ute soon surrendered. Ute leaders Ignacio, Buckskin Charlie, Severo, and Ojo Blanco traveled to Washington, D.C. where they agreed to be relocated to another reservation in Utah. Their former reservation of 12 million acres was to be opened to settlement by non-Indians.

Army officer J. Scott Payne, writing in 1880, reflected on the causes of the Ute war:

“The great trouble is to be found in the teachings of men-benevolent, but totally ignorant of the subject with which they are dealing-who, in the spirit of evangelism, desire to civilize the savage by filling his stomach with food and his heart with religion, both processes to be carried on without the constant presence of force, the only thing for which the Indian entertains respect.”

Payne’s solution:

“The truth is that by force and force alone, tempered, to be sure, by mercy, but that mercy exercised judiciously and sparingly, can his wild nature be kept under control.”

Following the “Meeker Massacre”, the army held a hearing to determine the causes of the Ute war. General Charles Adams concluded that the war was the result of a few young hotheads, but he went on to say:

“I cannot excuse the action of those cowardly dogs who went to the agency and shot from the roofs of the houses, like birds from trees, the white men who were not dreaming of danger, and who certainly had given the Indians no cause to be killed, even if you will have it so that Agent Meeker deserved death at your hands.”

General Adams then demanded that the Ute surrender to him the men involved so that they could be tried. Before the Ute leaders had finished discussing the matter, General Edward Hatch told them:

“This is the decision of the government, and if complied with will prevent the final struggle with the Indians, which must, in the end, result in their utter destruction, forfeiture of all their treaty rights, and loss of their lands.”

Ouray replied for the Ute:

“We will not give these twelve men over to you to be tried by a court of Colorado, where no justice will be shown them. We will give over these men only if they can be tried in Washington, where I know I have at least one friend.”

The army was then told to accept the surrender of the warriors to stand military trial outside of Colorado and New Mexico. However, the Indians were not to be brought to Washington, D.C. for trial, but were to be taken instead to Leavenworth, Kansas. The Ute were not advised of this plan.

A delegation of Ute chiefs then started for Washington, D.C. to meet with Congress. Chief Douglas, however, was jailed in Leavenworth to await trial.

In 1880, the Whiteriver Ute were relocated to the Uintah Reservation in Utah to live among the various Utah Ute bands. Under the agreement with the federal government, the bands were to have a perpetual trust fund and funds from the sale of their homelands were to be credited to their accounts. The federal government, however, made no attempt to sell the Ute lands and they remained in government possession. Thus no funds were credited to their account and no trust fund was established.

In Utah, Ute leader Ouray was disgusted by the actions of the United States against his people. He put aside his Anglo clothing and returned to wearing the traditional Ute breechclout. A sick and broken man, he died in a Ute lodge. Buckskin Charlie, designated by Ouray to become the new chief, and several others buried Ouray’s body in a rock crevice. In accordance with traditional Ute burial customs, three of Ouray’s horses were killed on the spot, and then the burial party quickly departed from the grave site.