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‘Last War Trail’ tells Ute side of Utah story

SHARE ‘Last War Trail’ tells Ute side of Utah story

The Last War Trail: The Utes and the Settlement of Colorado; by Robert Emmitt; University of Colorado Press; 2000; 357 pages; $24.95

History is often written by the victors of war, and thus the American Indians probably have not been well-served when it comes to historical accounts. But this book, which is being re-published, tells about the Ute tribe's resettlement to Utah about 130 years ago.

Robert Emmitt, who died in 1984, was an Ohio native who spent a great deal of time on the Ute Reservation in White Rocks, Uintah County, learning the Ute language while researching this in-depth book. He was a newspaper and university press editor and also visited the White River country of Colorado, where a battle that led to the tribe's resettlement took place.

This book was originally published in 1954 and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. This time around, it contains rare new photographs, illustrations, a new introduction and an afterword that helps put history into perspective.

The Utes, one of the nation's most peaceful Indian tribes, were essentially pushed out of 12 million acres — one-third of Colorado — because of misunderstandings and misdealings that led to a battle where 11 white settlers and 13 U.S. soldiers were killed. The Utes were trying to defend their land and families.

Emmitt interviews several people, including Saponise Cuch, chief of the White River Utes, who recounted the story during a 1948 interview: "I am an old man now, and I am the only one left who remembers this. I have known that someone would come to tell this story; now you will write it, as I have told you."

Emmitt uses some exact old Ute pronunciation of English to tell their story. For example, it's not verbally expressed as "here" for many Utes, but rather "dere."

Space won't permit a good retelling of the historical events here, but the book contains some significant Utah ties, too. "Captain Jack," a key leader of the Utes, was raised for some years by a Mormon family in Utah and is believed to have even been baptized (though no records verify this) before he returned to his homeland.

The book's new afterword, by Charles Wilkinson, is complimentary of Brigham Young and his gentle influence in making settlements in the West.

Overall, this is a lengthy and thorough book that uses very small print. It's probably too comprehensive for most people but is a side of the story that needs telling to help balance history. The introduction and afterword make a good "Reader's Digest"-type summary of the book for those who don't have the time to read the entire work.

E-mail: lynn@desnews.com