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By Pat Turner
MEEKER | For the third year in a row, Joe Sullivan—who will celebrate his 98th birthday this weekend—spoke about the Battle of Milk Creek at the Thornburgh memorial site on Monday, July 3, as part of the Rio Blanco County Historical Society’s Range Call events. Also on hand for the presentation were Mark Miller, author of “Hollow Victory: The White River Expedition of 1879 and the Battle of Milk Creek,” and the Meeker VFW Color Guard.
According to the RBCHS website, “In 1878, White River Indian Agent Nathan Meeker imposed a mandatory lifestyle conversion upon the traditionally nomadic Utes to agriculture which was resented and resisted. Finally, Meeker ordered the plowing of the Ute horse racing track which resulted in a quarrel that put fear into Nathan Meeker. When Meeker requested military assistance, Major T.T. Thornburgh and troops were dispatched to aid Meeker, and crossed Milk Creek onto reservation land, where they were engaged by the Utes in a fierce battle Sept. 29-Oct. 5, 1879. Thornburgh, many soldiers and Utes were slain.”
Miller, formerly the Wyoming state archaeologist, said the site is “hard to evaluate from an archaeological aspect because it has been ‘picked over’ for many years by people searching for artifacts. But there is stii probably a great deal of knowledge that could be gained by a highly organized and well funded team of researchers, The site sits on private property owned by Charles Dawson (Yellow Jacket Ranch) who has always been very good to work with and helpful to (the historical group).”
The group met in the pavilion Sullivan was instrumental in getting constructed, along with former Meeker physician Dr. David Steinman and a team from the historical society. Steinman passed away in 2012.
“I have had at least 50 years or more developing all of this,” Sullivan said. “While I led it I have had wonderful cooperation from the community and that they jumped in and helped.”