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The Bloody End Of Meeker’s Utopia
Even when death struck suddenly, the starry-eyed Indian agent was still dreaming of turning his Ute wards into white men overnight.
October 1957 | Volume 8, Issue 6
MEEKER (warming up): But I tell you the thing is played out. If you get anything you must work for it.
JANE : Why can’t white men do the work as before? They understand it. We don’t.
MEEKER : It won’t do. Now I worked your garden last year. I carried hundreds of pails of water to it. You had a nice garden and got lots of money. But this year we have a big ditch and plenty of water. You must attend to things yourself.
JANE (sweetly): But, Mr. Meeker, ain’t you paid for working?
MEEKER : No. Not to work for you.
JANE : Well, what are you paid money for if not to work for us?
MEEKER (momentarily stumped): Yes, I see how it is. … I’ll put it this way. I am paid to show you how to work.
JANE : But the Utes have a heap of money. What is the money for if it is not to have work done for us?
MEEKER (coming to a boil): I’ll tell you, Jane. This money is to hire me and the rest of us to teach you to help yourselves so that you can be like white folks and get rich as they are rich—by work. You are not to be waited upon and supported in idleness all your lives. You have got to take hold and support yourselves or you will have trouble.
JANE (black eyes wide): Ain’t all these cattle ours, and all this land?
MEEKER : The cattle, yes. The land, no.
JANE : Well, whose land is it, and whose is the money?
MEEKER (almost yelling): The land belongs to the government and is for your use, if you use it. If you won’t use it and won’t work, and if you expect me to weed your garden for you, white men away off will come in and by and by you will have nothing. This thing can’t go on forever. As to money, it is to be used to make you helpful. It is time you turn to and take care of yourselves and have houses and stoves and chairs and beds and crockery and heaps of things. Do you understand?
JANE (very quiet): Yes. But I can’t tell you, Mr. Meeker, how bad you make me feel.
She left the office and Meeker watched her straight proud form as she walked across the office porch, past his hitching rack and down the street which ended at Douglas’ lodge on White River. She walked stiffly and rapidly, keeping her handsome head straight ahead.
We may guess that the agent was aware that he had said too much. He had asserted not only that the Utes didn’t own White River valley, but that they couldn’t even stay there if they didn’t do what Meeker ordered them to do. And to make matters still worse, Meeker sat down now and wrote out the entire conversation verbatim for publication in the next issue of the Greeley Tribune .
Tension at the agency became so unbearable by early September that Meeker feared for the safety of Arvilla and Josie Meeker. But he would not call for troops from Fort Steele in Wyoming 200 miles away. The agent knew that to ask for soldiers would be to accept final defeat.
On the morning of September 8 he mailed a list of complaints to the Indian Office. Also, he called in the medicine man Johnson and accused him of stealing water for his ponies from Josie’s school water barrel. Ponies! Always the ponies! Meeker was becoming psychopathic about them. Johnson denied stealing any water and left Meeker’s office muttering. After lunch he returned and stood before the agent talking fast and loud. Meeker leaned easily back in his office chair, his pale blue eyes cold and a set smile on his weary face. He did not catch all that Johnson said, but it seemed to concern the plowing up of pony pasture and his suspicion that the agent was sending lies about the Utes to Washington.
Suddenly Meeker decided that he had heard enough. He raised an imperious hand and said, very deliberately, “The trouble is this, Johnson. You have too many ponies. You had better shoot some of them.”
Johnson stared at the agent for a long moment, utterly dumfounded. Then his brown eyes blazed with the fire of a reasonable man who had just heard the consummation of blasphemy. He moved slowly toward Meeker, grasped his shoulders, lifted his long spare body from the chair and hustled him across the office and on to the porch. There, two employees ran up and grabbed Johnson as he flung Meeker hard against the hitching rack.