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Tabeguache: the most forgotten of all?

by Nancy Christofferson
HUERFANO — When revisiting the remote and or forgotten post offices and settlements of Huerfano County, it would be hard to overlook the post office of Tabeguache, one of the most forgotten of all.
The Tabeguache post office was established Feb. 22, 1869, and discontinued Sept. 20, 1869.
The site of the community appears on no map. The only clues to its existence are from post office records and an 1876 Rand McNally Pioneer Atlas, which does not include the site except in the legend, which reads “Tebeguache, 17 m N W Walsenburgh” [that was back when Walsenburg had an aitch at the end]. The only other settlements shown in Huerfano County on the body of the map were Cucharas, Spanish Peaks [La Veta before it was La Veta], St. Mary [St. Mary’s], Badito and Butte Valley. The map also shows “Vite Mt” [Veta Mt., now Mt. Mestas], Huerfano River, “S de Christo [Cristo] Pass,” Sheep Mt, Greenhorn Mt, Cucharas River and Apache Creek. The spellings show either that Rand McNally maps had not yet hit their usual [for today] accuracy, or that no one in the area knew how to spell these place names either.
It’s extremely difficult to know exactly where 17 miles northwest of Walsenburg would put us today, not knowing a route. The 1860’s trails would most naturally head north from Walsenburg to St. Mary’s, one of Huerfano’s oldest communities, and thence west up the Huerfano River to the sites of Badito and later Farisita. Since we no longer have the old trails, mileage is hard to determine.
Tabeguache, historians tell us, is a Ute word meaning “people living on the warm side of the mountain.” The Tabeguache Utes were known to live in southeastern Colorado and northeastern New Mexico, at least until they were forced onto reservations to the west of the Continental Divide. One Tabeguache chief, and the most famous, was Ouray, and his tribe’s hunting grounds stretched from New Mexico to the environs of Pike’s Peak, though prospectors around the latter chased the natives south. Or, if you heed other Native American historians, the Tabeguache roamed the San Luis Valley south into New Mexico. It seems the Tabeguache more or less went where they wanted, and more power to them.
The Tabeguache were moved to a reservation in the early 1870s. This was in southwestern Colorado, and there they became known as the Uncompahgre. The name is immortalized with Tabeguache Peak, near Mt. Shavano in the Sawatch range, Tabeguache Trail between Montrose and Grand Junction, and the Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway around Nucla and Naturita. Tabeguache Peak is in Chaffee County, roughly 13 miles, as the crow flies, due north of Chipeta Mountain which in turn is about two miles from Mt. Ouray. You may remember Chipeta was the wife of Ouray. This too indicates the Tabeguache pretty much went where they wanted, because those points are north of the San Luis Valley, though not by much, and a long way from northern New Mexico. [Another indication that Ourays’ Utes were quite free roaming is the ghost settlement of Ula, pronounced Ulay, or Ure as it was seen occasionally, possibly oldest post office in Custer County and located about two miles northwest of Westcliffe].
Back to Huerfano’s Tabeguache. Obviously, this one did not get as much press as the other sites, but we know for a fact that Ouray visited our area regularly. He was chief of the Tabeguache in the 1860s, so one assumes it was his own tribe that originated the name of the post office, in operation only during 1869.
Former State Senator Charles Hayden, you may recall, wrote a biography about his father, Judge Daniel J. Hayden, for the newspaper back in 1934. In it, Hayden wrote that an Indian reservation had been located near the Hayden family home and grist mill for a few years, that Ulay [the original and probably correct spelling of Ouray] was chief, and that the tribe was moved west. This no doubt refers to the area around the hamlet of Tabeguache as it is a stretch to think the Tabeguache post office was here, and the reservation was over there.
This places the post office near Badito, though whither north, south, east or west is unknown, to this writer, anyway. ”Near” the Hayden property is the only directive. Early accounts of Badito, the second Huerfano County seat (after Autobees in now Pueblo County), or third (if you count the temporary seat at Doyle’s ranch in late 1861), and a settlement claiming some 500 residents in its vicinity by the early 1870s, include no information about a nearby Indian reservation having been recently located nearby. Perhaps it was the influx of these settlers that caused the closure of the reservation post office. There was indeed an Indian reservation in the general area, but it seems to have been in Pueblo County not far from the short-lived “New Fort Wise,” aka Fort Reynolds, aka Marcy’s Camp, established in 1866-7 on the Arkansas River.
Ute reservations were scattered, and it is dubious all Utes lived on them at any one time until about 1880. An 1863 treaty ceded the San Luis Valley to the government, and an 1868 treaty created a reservation in the Cochetopa Hills. Gold was discovered there, so the Indians were not wanted there and it is possible the government deposited the residents in various places, like Huerfano County. Since Ouray was considered one of the few good Indians not dead, and a peaceable man, the government may have let him choose a home site compatible with his way of life and comfort – at least until the good settlers of Badito pushed him out. In 1874 a treaty sent the people to the very southwestern part of the state, but after the Meeker Massacre in 1879, practically the entire Ute nation was removed to Utah.
And so Tabeguache passed into history. Too bad it got lost.