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Hidden History: Bluff Indian War of 1915

Hidden History: Bluff Indian War of 1915

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Tse-ne-gat and Marshal Aquila Nebeker

Marshal Aquila Nebeker, front left, a hard-headed lawman from Utah, and accused-murderer Tse-ne-gat, son of Ute Chief Polk, pose for a camera in Salt Lake City before heading to trial in Denver.

Armed combat between the United States and American Indians was considered over by the turn of the 20th century. But 15 years later, the so-called Bluff War deep in Ute country in San Juan County, Utah, and Montezuma County, Colorado, stirred up emotions on both sides.

The March 9, 1915, edition of the Twin Falls Times posted the headline “Indian Hunters Score” on a story about the capture of Tse-ne-gat — the son of Ute Chief “Old Polk” — who allegedly murdered a Mexican sheepherder named Juan Chacon the previous year on the Ute Mountain Reservation in Colorado.

A posse of 26 cowboys, led by Marshal Aquila Nebeker, found Tse-ne-gat and Old Poke with Paiute Chief Posey near Blanding, Utah. Then known as Grayson, the area was at the center of the Ute’s last hunting grounds.

“One White man, one Indian brave and an Indian maiden were killed in the battle,” the newspaper said. The Indian maiden was “believed to have been shot by the (stray) bullet of an Indian.” Two other Indians and a Colorado sheriff were also said to have been killed.

State troops initially weren’t asked to join the battle, which continued for several days. The posse “is better able to meet the Indian methods of warfare,” said Nebeker, the marshal.

But eventually the hard-headed lawman requested backup and the hunt for Tse-ne-gat was turned over to Brig. Gen. Hugh Scott of Virginia. Unarmed, Scott met with Posey, Polk and Tse-ne-gat at Medicine Hat near Navajo Mountain, where the young Ute surrendered.

Driven by anti-Indian sentiment, the military forcibly removed 160 other Ute from their homelands and resettled them on the Ute Mountain Reservation in Colorado.

Tse-ne-gat was tried in Denver and found not guilty of the murder charges.

Mychel Matthews reports on rural issues and agriculture for the Times-News. The Hidden History feature runs every Thursday in the Times-News and on If you have a question

about something that may have historical significance, email Matthews at


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