Letter to the Editor: Erasing Native Americans from Colorado history perpetuates myths and misconceptions | SummitDaily.com

Letter to the Editor: Erasing Native Americans from Colorado history perpetuates myths and misconceptions

Moriah Petty

This is in response to a Summit Daily News article announcing the Homestead Mapping Project, a new resource from the Summit County Historical Society. The line that gave me pause was the description of homesteaders arriving in “Summit County to build ranches, mine for gold and live peacefully among the mountains.” This description furthers the pervasive misconception among many Americans that the land claimed in Western expansion was vacant and claimed without violence.

As miners and homesteaders moved into Colorado, it came at great cost to the Ute who resided in this area. We know that beneficiaries of the Homestead Act did not keep to the boundaries of their plots. In fact, establishing ranches and farms was used as justification for forcibly displacing Native Americans whose nomadic lifestyle was viewed as inferior to agriculture.

The Ute were forcibly removed to reservations and then were dispossessed of those lands as well. In 1879, a consultant report titled Historic Sites in Summit County published in 1976 reports that former Gov. Frederick W. Pitkin declared, “I believe that one able-bodied white settler would cultivate more land than the whole tribe of Utes… If this reservation could be extinguished and the land opened to settlers, it would furnish homes to thousands of people of the State who desire homes.“

Pitkin was endorsing the displacement, impoverishment and genocide that took place across the U.S. and is inseparable to the story of the early settlers. Both the article and the resource from the historical society make no mention of the Ute, rendering an incomplete and, therefore, inaccurate representation of the consequences of homesteading in Colorado.

It is important to acknowledge the state-sanctioned violence against Native Americans. It informs our understanding of who lives in Summit County today and who was marginalized.

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