The Ute had remained passive since the Treaty of 1868. Under terms of the treaty they were granted large tracts of land in western Colorado and eastern Utah in exchange for their lands in New Mexico. However, a few years later, in 1873, white settlers and prospectors were swarming over the Utes land. Once more they were forced to give up substantial holdings in order to stop the hostilities that were occurring. Then, when Colorado became a state in1876, there were demands that the Ute be removed from the state completely. At the time the Ute chief was a man named Ouray, and he didn't like what he was hearing.
The Indian agent in 1878, was a man named Nathan Meeker. He was in charge of the White River Agency in northwestern Colorado. At the time, 48 percent of the Utes lived on this reservation, about 4,200 people. Meeker demanded that the Ute begin farming immediately. The Ute scoffed at the idea, and when they did Meeker insisted that the U.S. Army force them to become farmers.
The military responded by sending Major Thomas Thornburg and 153 men from Fort Steele. At once the Ute asked if they could negotiate a settlement with the army. Thornburg responded by saying he was in agreement, and would like to negotiate. However, Thornburg insisted on getting his cavalry within a short distance of the negotiations. The Ute were intimidated by this because he was deploying his men in attack formation. Then, when tensions were at there highest, Thornburg sent in his negotiator Lieutenant Samuel Cherry. Moments later a shot rang out an the Battle of Milk Creek had begun. Thornburg would be one of the first ones killed on September 29, along with 11 soldiers, and almost all of their horses. As the battle raged, a group of Utes raced to the White River Agency where they killed Meeker and nine others, kidnapped his wife, a friend, and her 3 children. The army would be forced to circle their supply wagons in a defensive position, as the Utes stacked them relentlessly for 3 days until reinforcements arrived. Finally, Colonel Westley Merritt arrived with 5 companies from the 4th Infantry and 4 companies from the 5th Cavalry, and they were able to break the impasse. Before it was over 47 soldiers were wounded and 13 killed. The Utes would lose over 30 men.
The War Department was outraged at what had occurred at Milk Creek, but they were also aware that the Ute still were holding hostages. At this time the U.S. Army decided to unleash a major offensive against the Ute Nation. They sent elements of the 3rd and 4th Calvary, as well as companies from the 4th, 7th, 9th, 14th, 15th, 19th, and 22nd Infantry units. In all, thousands of troupes were headed towards western Colorado. Finally, as this enormous army was about to sweep down on the Utes Chief Ouray elected to negotiate. During a council on October 21, Ouray's people released the hostages and promised to turn over the people for trail who had killed Meeker and the others. As the peace process progress the enormous task force remained in Colorado to prevent further uprisings.
Then in 1880, a now ailing Ouray met with other tribal leaders in Washington to discuss further Ute relocation. They agreed to be moved to a new location in Utah in exchange for cash payments.