Most folks assume the United States' American Indian conflicts ended well before start of the 20th century. Not so in Utah, where the past dies hard. The Vernal Express warned in May 1906 that "Indian trouble of gigantic proportions is brewing." The paper identified Red Cap as "the evil genius" behind the unrest. At the annual Bear Dance he gave a "fiery tirade," charging that white men rustled Indian cattle and stole their pony grass and hunting ground.
Red Cap, of course, was right. He was of the White River Utes, who had ended the career of Nathan Meeker, one of the most unsuccessful Indian agents ever. Although Red Cap twice visited Washington, D.C., to negotiate peace, rumor said he had driven a barrel stave through the head of "old man Meeker" in Colorado. What particularly angered the Utes was the opening of their Uinta Valley reservation in 1905 to homesteaders. President Lincoln had given them the land, but this did not stop Congress from taking part of it back. This was all the territory left from the original Ute empire that had once stretched from what is now Denver to the Wasatch Front and from the Great Salt Lake to the pueblos of New Mexico.
By June several hundred Utes with a thousand horses were heading north, hoping to join a great gathering of Indians from throughout the West. The refugees dreamed of forging an alliance with the Lakota Nation, and they were reportedly determined to fight rather than return to Utah. August found the Utes camped near Douglas in eastern Wyoming. Captain C.G. Hall of the White Rock Agency tried to persuade the band to return. The Utes weren't interested. The governor of Wyoming persuaded President Theodore Roosevelt to send the horse soldiers. Although the natives had done nothing more than appropriate a few sheep and cattle, the president dispatched part of the 10th Cavalry to overtake the Utes and persuade them to go home.
The Indians parleyed with the army and agreed to accompany the soldiers to Fort Meade in South Dakota. The Utes were delighted to have reached their goal, but the Lakota tribes were in desperate shape and had no interest in an alliance. So the government fed the Utes and tried to find jobs for them, but they refused to give up their horses. The government couldn't figure out what to do with their new wards, but quickly got tired of feeding them. U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs Francis Leupp promised to make them choose between going to work or "doing the other thing--going hungry." If the Utes revolted, Leupp promised to suppress them with an "iron hand." The discouraged Utes agreed to return home in 1908.
In October 1906, The Vernal Express reported they arrived in good spirits and appeared glad to be back. The Utes had also learned to make "quick remarks and witty answers." When asked his name, one veteran of the march said he was too poor to have a name. But he did have some proud memories.
For more on the flight of the Utes, see Floyd A. O'Neil's "An Anguished Odyssey" in the Fall 1968 Utah Historical Quarterly.