It wasn’t until about 10,000 years ago, when Paleo Indians migrated from the North, that people began to occupy the rugged San Juan mountain range. They were followed quite a bit later (ca 1200 CE) by Native Americans who are known today as Anasazi, a Navajo word meaning “Ancient Enemies.” Today’s Pueblo Indians of New Mexico are believed to be the direct descendants of these peoples. Known for their elaborate cliff dwellings, for which Mesa Verde National Park is noted, the Anasazi were adept at irrigation, pottery, and astronomical observation. For reasons yet to be understood, although drought is thought to be the most plausible reason, the Anasazi abandoned their settlements sometime during the 13th century and migrated south.
Circa 1500 CE (although this time frame is disputed) the Ute Indians began to arrive in the Four Corners region. The term “Ute” is used to identify seven separate bands of peoples who roamed throughout Southwest Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. Hunters and gatherers, the Utes took quite readily to the horses introduced by the Spanish explorers, and greeted those first European visitors with civility; however, as happened throughout the territory now known as the United States, the Native American people had met with a force which appeared to be unstoppable. On September 13, 1873, after lengthy negotiations, Chief Ouray and a council of Ute Indian tribal leaders signed the Brunot Treaty, handing over a 4-million-acre tract of the San Juan Mountains to the U.S. Government. The way was opened for a flood of newcomers in search of….gold!