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Nathanial C. Meeker (July 12, 1817-October 30, 1879) was a 19th century U.S.marker journalist, homesteading entrepreneur, and Indian agent for the federal government. He is noted for his founding in 1870 of the Union Colony, a cooperative agricultural colony in present-day Greeley, Coloradomarker. He was the most famous casualty of the 1879 Meeker Massacre in western Coloradomarker, where the town of Meekermarker was later named for him. His name is also found on Mount Meeker, a shorter neighbor to the more famous Longs Peakmarker, the tallest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Parkmarker.


Nathan Cook Meeker was born in Euclid, Ohiomarker. He became a newspaper reporter for the New York Tribune, and served as their agricultural editor in the 1860s.

In 1869, with the backing of his editor, Horace Greeley, he organized the Union Colony and advertised for applicants to move to the South Platte River basin in the Colorado Territory. The cooperative venture was intended to be a utopian religious community of "high moral standards." Meeker received approximately 3000 replies that winter, and accepted about 700 of them to purchase shares. With the capital from the shares, he purchased 2000 acres (8 km²) near present-day Greeley at the confluence of the South Platte and the Cache la Poudre River. The venture, which relied on funding from Horace Greeley, was successful and helped advance irrigation techniques to northern Colorado, and to induce further agricultural settlement in the region. The town of Greeleymarker was incorporated in 1886.

In 1878, eight years after the founding of the colony, Meeker was appointed Indian agent on the White River Ute Indian Reservation, on the western side of the continental divide. His appointment came despite his lack of experience with Native Americans. While living among the Ute, he built on his experiences at the Union Colony by pursuing a policy of religious and farming reforms.

Meeker was an idealist. His idea was to convert the Utes from primitive savages to hard-working, God-fearing farmers. Needless to say, his ideas were not popular, and he was warned that the Utes were furious with his reforms. Meeker ignored these warnings, and ordered that a horse racing track be plowed under to convert the race track and horses' pasturage to farmland. The Utes, who prided themselves on their wealth in horses, took this as the final affront—especially when Meeker suggested to one that there were too many horses, and that they would have to kill some of them.

The Meeker Massacre

The Federal Government of the United States had been trying for some time to get the Utes to change their nomadic lifestyle, and become farmers. The Indian agent, Agent Meeker, plowed up part of one of the Utes horse-racing tracks to try and make this point. After Meeker had a short fist-fight with the man whose race track had been destroyed, Agent Meeker wired for military assistance, claiming that he had been assaulted by an Indian, driven from his home, and severely injured. The government sent approximately 200 soldiers, led by Major Thomas T. Thornburgh, to settle the affair. When the troops were about 50 miles out from the Agency, a group of Utes rode out to meet them, saying that they wished a peace conference with Meeker, and that Thornburgh and five soldiers would be allowed to come. Remembering the Sand Creek Massacre, the Utes wanted the main body of soldiers to stay 50 miles away on a hill the Indians designated. Major Thornburgh ignored this demand and continued into Ute land. At Milk Creek, the soldiers were ambushed by angry Utes, and in the first few minutes of fighting, Major Thornburgh and all his officers above the rank of captain were killed. On September 29, 1879 the natives attacked the Indian agency, killing eight men, including Agent Meeker, and taking the women captive to secure their own safety as they fled. Of note, the Uncompahgre Utes were in the area settlers demanded their removal.

This conflict was followed by Congress passing the Ute Removal Act of 1880, which denied Utes to twelve million acres of land that had been guaranteed to them in perpetuity. Congress insisted that the Utes be forcibly removed from the “Shining Mountains” and relocated to parched dry acres in eastern Utah.

Chief Ouray attempted to keep the peace after this massacre, but his people were sent to a reservation in Utah. He died very soon after, and his people were forcibly relocated to the Utah Territory on August 28, 1881.

List of killed

  • Nathan Meeker
  • Frank Dresser
  • Henry Dresser
  • George Eaton
  • E.W. Eskridge
  • Carl Goldstein
  • W.H. Post
  • Mr. Price
  • Fred Shepard
  • Arthur L Tompson
  • Unknown teamster


  1. "The Utes and the Unitarians" as presented by Dr. Ted Fetter in November 22, 2009 at the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia.

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