Rifle Heritage Center to host presentation on Meeker Massacre

A photo of Ute warriors taken in the 19th century.
Courtesy/Betty Waldron

A Ute man once told Colorado historian Jay Sullivan it is easy to fire the first shot and hard as hell to stop shooting.

Sullivan, a Meeker native, uses this grim assessment of war to question why the Milk Creek Battle happened in the first place. Sullivan is slated to break down what’s historically referred to as the Meeker Massacre at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Rifle Branch Library, 207 East Ave..

The event is being hosted by the Rifle Heritage Center.

The first shot was fired on Sept. 29, 1879, 17 miles north of Meeker at Milk Creek. It turned into nearly a six-day battle between whites and the Ute Tribe. By its end, the Utes lost 16.5 million acres of their land in Western Colorado, from north of Meeker down to the New Mexico border.

Nathaniel Meeker — the same man the town of Meeker, Colorado is named after — was an Indian Agent at the time. History shows he had a major hand in depriving the native Ute population and, ultimately, inciting the bloody Meeker Incident.

“Nathan Meeker bragged that he would turn the Utes into farmers or kill them within two years,” Sullivan stated in a letter to the Rifle Heritage Center. “In his arrogance he lied, cheated, and absolutely believed that he could use military might to bend the Utes to his will.”

Sullivan said three days after the battle was when white settlers claimed homesteads on what was Ute Reservation Lands.

“The site of the town of Rifle was smack dab in the middle of the Ute’s escape route and in the center of the white’s rush to the West,” he said.

“This talk tells the story of the events that led to the Battle of Milk Creek,” Sullivan said. “It speaks the unvarnished truth of 149 years in the past. It has moments of humor and it is full of tragedy.”

According to Sullivan’s bio, he was raised in Meeker and worked on the family ranch in Josephine Basin. Sullivan graduated from Meeker High School. He attended the University of Northern Colorado and graduated with a degree in theatre arts. He earned his doctorate in human communication studies and social science research from the University of Denver. 

Sullivan and his wife, Kaye, owned and operated Performance Training Corporation, an international management consulting practice. He returned to Meeker where he is a wildlife artist and a storyteller. He is the author of “Incident at White River,” available from the White River Museum.


What: Milk Creek Battle and Battlefield Park presentation

Where: Rifle Branch Library, 207 East Ave.

When: 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18

How much: Free


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