MEEKER I After years of developing the Milk Creek Battlefield Park, which marks the graves of Army soldiers and Native American warriors who were in battle on this site 136 years ago this month, Rio Blanco County Historical Society is hosting a dedication to commemorate the site improvements and this historic event. A gazebo to hold ceremonies and heritage events has been built on the property and will be utilized on this occasion.
The dedication will be held Saturday, Sept. 26 at 3 p.m. at the Milk Creek Battlefield Park on RBC Road 15, approximately 17 miles northeast of Meeker.
For the past quarter of a century The Rio Blanco Historical Society has been developing the Milk Creek Battlefield Park. The purpose of this effort is to commemorate the site of one of the last battles of the American Indian Wars. The United States Calvary crossed the boundary of the Ute Reservation with what could only be interpreted as hostile intent. The Utes, as a last resort, resisted the invasion of the military and held the troops in this location for five days with minimal loss of life.
As a result of these actions the Utes lost 16.5 million acres of their beloved Colorado lands and were banished to eastern Utah and a small reservation in southwestern Colorado. For the Utes this was a tragic loss of their way of life. It was also the fulfillment of the U.S. Government’s policy of Manifest Destiny.
The dedication of the Milk Creek Battlefield Park is not intended to justify or glorify the Manifest Destiny of the white Europeans who came here after the battle in 1879. According to Joe Sullivan, who has led the development of the park, “The purpose is to establish an honored place where people of all races can meet in peace, learn from each other and resolve differences. Before we can act we need to understand and believe that understanding will inform the decisions we make for a better future for us all. This is the best lesson we can learn from our shared history. There is honor in truth.”
To this end the Utes have been invited to share their story at the dedication. Their story is, according to Peter Decker, “A testimony to their superb survival strategies, astonishing staying power, and immense courage of the tribe.”
Scholars have extensively researched and written about the events before, during and after the Battle at Milk Creek. Peter Decker, Bob Silbernagel, and Mark Miller are three who will speak at the dedication. Through their eyes we will see the unfolding of the cause and consequences of this time and place in history.
The past is only a part of the dedication. There has been and continues to be a huge investment on the part of individuals and groups to the Milk Creek Battlefield Park. These contributors have generously given over $100,000 and hundreds of hours to this place. Their work is not finished. Ellene Meece, president of the Rio Blanco County Historical Society, will speak to the importance of community in building this tangible symbol of unity where there was once divisiveness. And the chairman of the Rio Blanco County Commissioners, Jeff Eskelson, will speak about how the Milk Creek Battlefield Park strengthens community within Rio Blanco County.
Joe Sullivan, chair of the Milk Creek Battlefield Park committee, has been the champion and primary participant in maintaining this park for many years. After recently celebrating his 96th birthday, this occasion is very meaningful to him. A tribute to Joe on Colorado Public Radio this summer shared the story. A link to this story, titled “Staying Vital As Time Marches On,” can be found online at www.rioblancocounty.org/ milk-creek-battlefield-park-dedication/.