By Jack Minor
The city held a 193rd birthday celebration of Greeley’s founder, Nathan Meeker, last week at his home at 1324 9th Ave. The celebration featured a birthday cake and lemonade and children were encouraged to wish Mr. Meeker a “Happy Birthday.” Several era games were available to play such as jump rope, croquet, and stilts for people to walk on.
During the celebration, volunteers from the Greeley museums offered non-stop tours of the Meeker home where visitors could learn information about Greeley’s founder. Meeker’s birthday is July 12, and the city holds a celebration every year on the Friday before his birthday.
Meeker was born and raised on a farm in Ohio. As an adult he began reading the writings of a French philosopher named Fourier, whose ideas of a utopian community where people worked towards a common goal inspired Meeker.
After getting married and eventually moving to New York, Meeker worked for Horace Greeley at the New York Tribune. While agricultural editor for the Tribune, Meeker visited the west via train and wrote about the possibilities of colonizing the “Great American Desert.” As part of his trip, he visited Colorado and wrote about the Rocky Mountain Front Range area.
During the trip home, he began thinking about the idea of a utopian community in Colorado, and pitched the idea to Horace Greeley, who was enthusiastic about the project. Greeley was involved in the homesteading acts to encourage people to move out west.
They issued “The Call” inviting families to join a utopian community out west based on “high moral standards including temperance, hard work, agriculture, education, and cooperation.” In keeping with the concept of a cooperative group of people, the project was called Union Colony of Colorado.
The current location for Greeley was chosen because it was located between the waterways of the Cache La Poudre and the South Platte River and because it was midway between Cheyenne and Denver.
In the beginning, the plan was for all residents to attend a single church, the Union Colony Church, however, when agreement could not be reached concerning church leadership, each faction formed their own church. With the prohibition of alcohol and the number of churches established, Greeley became known as the “City of Saints.” The belief in temperance was so strong that the original deeds called for forfeiture of a citizen’s home if the owner was caught drinking, buying, selling, or dispensing alcohol.
While Meeker was skilled at building up the colony, he was not so adept at finances and accumulated sizeable debts. To help pay these off he took a job as an Indian agent for the government working with the Ute Indians. He took his wife, Arvilla, daughter Josephine, and several other Union Colony men with him to the White River in the spring of 1878. While there he was instructed by the Government to teach the Utes how to farm the land. Meeker failed to realize that among the Ute culture working in the fields and gathering crops was considered “women’s work” and demeaning to the men of the tribe. The Utes also felt a school Meeker established was intended to wipe out their tribal culture.
Things came to a head when Meeker plowed up a section of land the Indians used to graze and race their ponies. For the Utes this was an outrage.
On September 29, 1879 approximately 30 Utes attacked the agency killing all of the white men and capturing the women and children. After 23 days, the prisoners were released and escorted back to Denver.
Arvilla lived in the Meeker home until she was 90. In 1906 she went to live with her son, Ralph, in New York where she died. Nathan Meeker is buried in the Linn Grove cemetery in Greeley.