Twilight of the Ute Empire

MEEKER I We welcome you to Meeker and the 126th Range Call celebration and hope that you will enjoy our 2011 presentation of “The Twilight of the Ute Empire.” On behalf of the cast and production staff, I would like to share with you how the pageant came to be, and has been enjoyed by appreciative audiences for many decades.    

For more than 70 years, hundreds of Meeker residents have participated in the annual production of the Meeker Pageant. Some of them have participated continuously for decades and others for the first time. Performers represent a broad spectrum of community members, including young children, high school students, families, community leaders and senior citizens.
Experienced veterans share their knowledge of the many parts with newcomers and so the continuity of the event is assured and enjoyed. Players have a great sense of pride in their roles, telling the story of the Native Americans, colorful figures, courageous pioneers and the historical significance of these events which shaped the community. Over the years and even today some of the players are direct descendants of the pioneering families who settled in the White River Valley and raised their families here.
The Meeker Pageant is a truly volunteer community effort and a premier event of the 126-year-old Range Call Fourth of July Celebration. It would not be possible without the many talents and dedicated efforts of each volunteer player.
The present script for the pageant entitled “The Twilight of the Ute Empire,” was written by Margaret King and has evolved from the original effort by LaRoy Purdy who conceived the idea of the historical reenactment in 1938.
Historical accuracy, balance and impartiality are essential elements of this production. Directors continue to research documents and interview descendants of both the pioneers and Native Americans whose ancestors lived during those times. Accordingly, adjustments to the script have been periodically made over the years by a variety of authors and directors. Those efforts are reflected in this year’s performance.
After a more than 130-year separation, a landmark effort toward reconciliation with the Northern Ute Tribe was made by local Meeker Residents in 2008, with the hosting of a powwow which brought Utes from their Ft. Duschene, Utah reservation to Meeker. The events featured Ute dancers in full regalia, cuisine, art, artifacts and cultural presentations to interested audience members and school children. Notable presenters included Roland McCook, renowned Ute historian and preservationist, and a direct descendant of Chief Ouray’s wife Chipeta. Clifford Duncan, also a noted Ute cultural icon and spiritual adviser for the powwow shared his insights. Others who were direct descendants of Chief Colorow met with direct descendants of some pioneer ranching families who had known and were friends with some of the White River Utes before their departure to Utah. New historical insights from the Ute perspective were shared by Roland McCook. Many ideas were envisioned toward ongoing reconciliation and openness between the two communities. One of the topics was the Meeker Pageant’s depiction of the conflict of 1879 which was felt to be in need of better balance and accuracy. It is to that end that changes have gradually been brought about in the production, and with appropriate research in pursuit of historical accuracy and balance, will continue.

Editor’s note: Laurie Zellers is an experienced performing arts director who has directed (or co-directed with her husband Gary) a number of theatrical productions in the past decade, including Meeker High School musicals such as “Guys and Dolls,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Grease: The Musical,” and most recently, the ERBM Recreation District Center Stage Youth Theatrical Group’s presentation of “Annie, Jr.” The Meeker Pageant will be her debut at the helm of this more than 70-year-old annual reenactment of significant Colorado historical events covering several centuries and culminating in the settlement of the White River Valley and the establishment of the Meeker community.