MEEKER I After White River Indian Agent Nathan Meeker plowed up the Ute’s racetrack and tensions escalated, Meeker called for military assistance from the nearest fort, and Major Thomas T. Thornburgh and his 150 troops were dispatched from Fort Fred Steele in Wyoming. They rode south and crossed Milk Creek some 18 miles northeast of the White River Agency, where they were engaged in a fierce battle with the Utes that lasted 12 days.
During the siege, Thornburgh’s troops formed a wagon circle and sent out a plea for aid. In response, 35 African-American cavalrymen based out of Fort Lewis, Colo., broke through the Indian line to reinforce their comrades-in-arms. A relief expedition of 350 men led by Col. Wesley Merritt from Fort D. A. Russell, Wyo., finally lifted the siege on Oct. 5, 1879. Army casualties were 13 dead, including Major Thornburgh, and 43 wounded.
The Utes had attacked the White River Agency on Sept. 29, 1879, and killed all the white male employees of the agency, including Nathan Meeker.
The Milk Creek Battle was the last major engagement between a Native American tribe and the United States Army.
To commemorate the battle and honor all those who lost their lives in the 1879 Battle of Milk Creek, a memorial park has been built on County Road 15, approximately 17 miles northeast of Meeker, and attracts heritage tourists from throughout the world as an historic destination.
The Rio Blanco County Historical Society and many other organizations and individuals worked together to create two monuments at the site: one for the Utes who died and one for the soldiers. Gates designed by iron artist Mark Scritchfield and local mason Paul Vinzant tell the story of the battle at the park’s entrance.
A comprehensive tour of the battle site will be held July 5 and is suitable for adults and school-age children. Along the 17-mile route to the site, the tour will make three stops to offer additional history related to the Milk Creek Battle, and tour guides at the site will share a detailed account of what happened during the 12-day siege.
Tour-takers should meet at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 5, at the White River Museum, 565 Park Ave., Meeker. The two-hour tour costs $10 per adult, children are free.