‘Queen Of The Utes’ Chipeta’s Legacy In Colorado

*Note: This audio essay first aired on KRCC (Colorado Springs’ NPR affiliate, 91.5 FM) on June 3, 2021. The link to the program is here; the audio file and the text from the essay are below.

Chipeta — often called “Queen of the Utes” — was nearly 70 when she joined in Colorado Springs’ 40th birthday party as part of a Ute delegation in 1911.      

From Southwestern Colorado, Chipeta and dozens of her people loaded horses and teepees onto an eastbound Denver & Rio Grande train, according to historians Cynthia Becker and David Smith. By July 30, 1911, the delegation was camped in South Cheyenne Canyon, a spot Chipeta knew from previous travels. 

While in Colorado Springs, the Utes rode in a pioneers’ parade, joined in a “Wild West” show, and danced traditional Ute dances.

Chipeta was a rock star. For good reason. 

Even now her name is everywhere. There’s Chipeta Park, Chipeta Falls, Chipeta Lake, and Chipeta State Park.* 

Chipeta means “White Singing Bird,” a name she earned over time—even if her life had a tragic start. Born around 1843, she was the sole survivor of a decimated Kiowa Apache camp. She was adopted by a Ute band and raised around southern Colorado and married Ouray [pronounced “you-ray”] in 1859, a respected hunter and Ute leader, who then became a chief in 1860. For the next two decades, together, Chief Ouray and Chipeta sought peaceful diplomacy. Chief Ouray died in 1880, but Chipeta kept on for most of another half century. 

She was welcomed by presidents, an early Native American rights advocate, and inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. She was remarkable at a time when the world thought everything about her wasn’t. 

Chipeta passed away at age 81 in 1924. But she’s still with us in so many beautiful places that bear her name, where we can always go and listen for a white singing bird. 

*Author’s Note: Chipeta’s name is spelled in a variety of ways: “Chipeta,” “Chipita,” and “Chepeta,” are common. For consistency, this essay has chosen “Chipeta” for all uses.

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