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The Second Dragoons
"The Second Dragoons, 1853—1854," by H. Charles McBarron, Jr.
Company of Military Collections and Historians

The Ute War of 1855

Col. Thomas T. Fauntleroy
Col. Thomas T. Fauntleroy, 1st Dragoons, led the campaign against the Utes in 1855.
Meserve Collection.

Many of the Jicarillas whom Cooke's campaign had failed to subdue took refuge with the Ute Indians, who lived in the mountains bordering the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado (then part of the Territory of New Mexico). Hardly had the Jicarilla troubles subsided than the Utes went on the rampage. On Christmas Day 1854 about 100 Utes and a few Jicarillas descended on the settlement of Hardscrabble, which later became Pueblo, Colo. They killed 15 men, captured 2 women, and ran off all the stock. Then they crossed the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and attacked a settlement recently founded in the San Luis Valley near where Alamosa now stands. General Garland decided to treat the Utes as he had the Jicarillas.

Col. Thomas T. Fauntleroy and units of the 1st Dragoons had replaced Cooke and the 2d Dragoons at Fort Union. Strengthened by regular companies from other forts and six companies of New Mexico volunteers under Lt. Col. Ceran St. Vrain, Colonel Fauntleroy took the field with some 500 men early in February 1855.

Establishing a base of operations at Fort Massachusetts, on the eastern edge of the San Luis Valley, Fauntleroy scoured the basin and surrounding mountains for hostile camps. Men and horses suffered from intense cold and deep snow such as plagued Cooke a year earlier, but relentless pursuit yielded results. On March 19 the troops skirmished with a war party near Poncha Pass, killed eight warriors, and after a 4-day chase captured the party's entire pony herd.

Next, Fauntleroy split his command. While he and the regulars continued to search the San Luis Valley, St. Vrain's volunteers rode to the plains east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to look for Utes. On April 25 the New Mexicans jumped a band of 60 Indians on the Huerfano River, killing or capturing 13 and putting the rest to flight.

Ute tribal encampment
Ute tribe. Encampment at Los Pinos, Colorado. Photograph taken by William H. Jackson in 1874.
Bureau of American Ethnology, The Smithsonian Institution.

Fauntleroy, too, tasted victory. On the night of April 28, his men crept undetected into positions on 2 sides of a Ute camp estimated to contain 150 warriors. Bonfires illumined the village, and the Indians were in the midst of a riotous war dance. Suddenly the blackness at the edge of the village erupted with rifle fire that raked the lodges with devastating effect. It "swept the enemy like chaff before the wind," Fauntleroy recalled, and they scattered in fright in the opposite direction. The soldiers charged through the village and for about 25 minutes pressed the surprised dancers in a running fight. Then they returned to burn the lodges, food, and other supplies in the village. The colonel counted 40 Utes slain by the murderous fire of his men.

This battle broke Ute resistance. There were several more skirmishes, but in July 1855 the Indians sued for peace. Fauntleroy returned to Fort Union, and the volunteers were mustered out of the service.


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