The history of the Range Call Pageant ~ Reviving the Past

The Ute children gather around their village in the good times, but the future becomes less bright for all, culminating in the burning of the Meeker Indian agent’s settlement.


The Meeker Massacre Pageant started in 1938, when the American Legion Auxiliary asked Laroy Purdy to organize the show.

The Auxiliary thought that adding this show that depicted the history of Meeker to the other Fourth of July festivities might draw more people and a little more money into town.
The American Legion members were the ones who put on the rodeo and they had been doing it for several years. With the rodeo, the concession stand and the pageant, there was a chance to earn a little more money.
There were quite a few interested townspeople who weren’t Legion members who helped out a great deal.
“I (Wilda Woods) was involved from the very beginning, since I helped Laroy Purdy with the Indian scenes and also played the part of Chipeta. I helped make props, like the cabins. I took long pieces of sheets and put white paint on them, surfaced them so they would stand up and then painted logs to make them look like log cabins. I made two medium-size cabins and one long cabin for the agency. Then I helped with the costumes. I made more than 50 pairs of Conservation Corps pants into Indian pants, painted all of them and fringed them. I made the Indian girls’ costumes and helped to paint up the Indians. Then we had the pioneers and I helped to make their costumes too.
“Our first scene was with Escalante coming in with his Spaniards. There were two Indian runners who came down the track to tell that these funny, odd people were coming into the land. Of course the Indians at that time had never seen white people and these whites were dressed like the Spanish from years ago. Then we had the covered wagons coming in, bringing more white people.
“After that came the Thornburgh and Meeker battles. We always worked them out right together because we didn’t have actors way back on the hill behind the rodeo grounds like they have now. We had them about where the corrals are now, and we had the Indians on the parade ground.
“In the second year, 1939, I directed all the Indian scenes and we worked on them every day for more than a month. I used to ride down the White River, pretty near to White River City, to this place where Ivo Shults lived, and trained between 40 and 50 boys to be Indians. It was kind of funny because these were all Eastern boys, from Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, and little places down in there. “Dr. Farthing, who had quite a lot of experience around Indians, got out there and helped me show these boys how to do a war dance. He showed them how they kind of went into a little squatting position to dance and the boys thought it was one of the most wonderful things they had ever taken part in. It was all new to them and they did a good job.
“As Chipeta I had to ride down the track in front of the grandstand to where Johnny Williams was sitting by the fire as Chief Ouray, I took the news that the massacre had happened.
“For one or two years, I rode Cuppy Sanderson’s horse, but then I got Peaches, my little palomino mare that I rode the last 10 years I was in the pageant. I would ride her with nothing but a rope in her lower lip and a blanket, just like the Indians. I rode without a saddle until the last two years. The last year I fringed and beaded it.
“I made my wig from my hair and Goldie LeFevre’s hair that we had cut off years before. It made two large braids and our hair was nearly the same color at that time, so it blended right in and just worked fine. I made a headband and put on all my own makeup, besides making up all the Indians.
“After that first pageant, those boys from the East were interested in where the Thornburgh battle took place, so I told them I would take them out there. The CCC lieutenant and captain furnished a truck to take us and helped us with a lunch and other refreshments. We all got together and went to the Thornburgh site for a picnic.
“They looked all over for arrowheads. I don’t remember whether they found any or not, but they sure took pictures, lots of pictures, of the monument and the area around it.
“We didn’t have as many Indians the first year as we did the second year. Then we had quite a lot of citizens who were interested and took part. The first year we had a big crowd and by the next year the word had gotten around and it seemed like the crowd just kept growing every year.
“The American Legion put on the celebration up until the early 1950s. Then, the town took it over. Of course, for a year or so during the war, we didn’t put the pageant on because it was a little too hard to get enough people together to do it.
The part of Chief Ouray has always been very important and for years it was acted by Art Caywood. He got started when we had a little doing here for Gov Johnson, who was going to be in Meeker.
“I asked Art if he would want to be an Indian for the event and he did. After that he agreed to be in the pageant. He didn’t have a full costume at first, but I made him a leather jacket and breechcloth he wore over his overalls and a headdress. His wife and their little boy played the part of his Indian squaw and their family.
“For several years in the pageant, they rented a costume for Art from Denver,1 but finally he had an old Indian chief make the costume that is now in the museum. This Indian made the headdress and everything. It cost Art around $200 or better to have that suit made up. Art played his last role July 4, 1962. He wasn’t well then. He passed away Aug. 20, 1962.
The next year we had a forest ranger play the part of Chief Ouray. He was part Indian and had a nose with a ridge just like some of those old chiefs and he got the biggest thrill out of being chief. Of course, wouldn’t you know, he was transferred out of Meeker so we lost him for the part.
After Bob Burnside took the part of the chief and he was Chief Ouray for many years.
Many townsfolk played the same parts in the pageant year after year for many, many years. The pageant is a part of Meeker history as much as the actual events depicted in it.
This year, the Range Call Pageant will kick off events on Thursday at the Rio Blanco County Fairgrounds with the pre-pageant entertainment beginning at 7 p.m., followed by the pageant, which begins just prior to or at dark.