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South Dakota Field Office
Release Date: 10/23/13

Ute delegation visits Fort Meade

BELLE FOURCHE, S.D. --- Around 60 Ute tribal members from the Uintah and Ouray reservation in northeastern Utah made a special visit this summer to the Sturgis-area Fort Meade and BLM-administered recreation area to see places their ancestors lived on this historic army post, 106 years ago.

On Aug. 24, Ute tribal members toured the fort and were treated to stories from local residents about their ancestors who briefly came to Fort Meade and stayed from 1906 to 1908. The delegation viewed historic photographs of the period and visited various locations their people occupied during this unique time in their tribal history.

Fort Meade Museum Board Member, retired school teacher and BLM volunteer Don Ericson, is credited with contacting Ute tribal members, arranging for them to visit and offering a detailed presentation about research he has done regarding the Ute presence at Fort Meade.

Ericson gave the tribal members and interested attendees a power point presentation at the Fort Meade Museum building. Later, Ericson and BLM Archaeologist Brenda Shierts gave a tour of the locations their tribal ancestors occupied based on historic photographs; ground-verified by Ericson and some of his students.  Locations included camping areas, places where the tribe met and traded with Sturgis area citizens, a Bear Dance Ceremony site and burial locations.

“Ute tribal member dancers were gracious enough to explain the history of the Bear Dance Ceremony and conducted a Bear Dance right on the Fort Meade Museum grounds,” said Shierts who works out of the BLM South Dakota Field Office in Belle Fourche. “The traditional dancers even included some of the local men in the dance.” 

According to Shierts, both the visitors from Utah and the local public enjoyed the opportunity to recount the past and the part Fort Meade played in the history of the Ute tribe. This time, however, the Ute trek to South Dakota was for more positive reasons.

In May of 1906, the Vernal Express reported that a band of White River Utes from the Uintah and Ouray reservations were on their way north, numbering somewhere between 300 to 700 individuals. According to the Express, the Utes were on their way to the northern reservations to meet with other tribes to council and address their grievances regarding mistreatment and the seizure of traditional Ute lands in the Colorado and Utah regions they traditionally claimed as theirs.

Records state that an Indian Agent from the Fort Duchesne Agency was accompanying the entourage; in an attempt to induce them to return to Utah.  A contingent of Federal troops provided escort.

The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 enacted the practice of allotting individual tracts of land to tribal members while opening the rest for sale or commercial activity. Once coal, oil and Gilsonite (a form of asphalt found in the Uintah Basin) were prospected on Ute lands, the pressure from non-Indians to open Ute lands intensified. Ute leader Red Cap and other council members of the White River band elected to seek the help of the Lakota, who had historically expressed friendship to the Utes.

Insisting that their reservation could not be opened without their permission, Red Cap and his supporters headed north.

Upon arrival in South Dakota, the Utes found that the Lakota had troubles enough of their own. The arrival of new neighbors apparently alarmed the Lakota, who allegedly went so far as to refuse graze for the Ute horse herd. Federal officials arranged for local employment for the Utes, but work with entities such as the Sante Fe Railroad proved unappealing to the tribe, especially if it meant they had to give up their horses.

In January 1908, the dejected band wrote to Fort Duchesne and asked to return to the Uintah Reservation. The Federal government supplied additional wagons, horses and mules for the trek and by October most had returned to Utah. Eventually, in the 1950’s, the tribe was awarded a $32 million settlement from the United States Indian Court of Claims to address their losses.

The Uintah and Ouray reservation is located in Northeastern Utah approximately 150 miles east of Salt Lake City on U.S. Highway 40. The reservation is located within a three-county area in the Uintah Basin. It is the second largest Indian Reservation in the United States and covers over 4.5 million acres.  

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The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land, the most of any Federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM's mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. In Fiscal Year 2015, the BLM generated $4.1 billion in receipts from activities occurring on public lands.

South Dakota Field Office   310 Roundup St.      Belle Fourche, SD 57717  

Last updated: 10-31-2013