“It Was Fight Or Die!” © 2014 by Raymond Cook is a 224 page story about the conflict between settlers coming to Colorado and the bands of Indians that inhabited that land in the 1890’s. Before the coming of white people to the land that would be called the ‘Colorado Territory’ many groups of Indians inhabited the land.
The Apache, Arapaho, Comanche, Crow, Kiowa, Paiute, Pueblo, Shoshone, Sioux and the Ute tribes relied on vast hunting and fishing grounds not only for food but also clothing. Some tribes lived peacefully near each other, traded and sometimes even inter-married between tribes. Other tribes though were bitter rivals and attacked each other.
The ‘Homestead Act of 1862’ was the match that lit millions of Americans dreams back east of wanting to own their own land out west. Each married couple was eligible to own 160 acres of land out west if they built a home, lived on the land and farmed it for five years. The gold rush era of Colorado too brought thousands upon thousands of pioneers to the rugged Rocky Mountains in hopes of striking it rich.
Some families traveled 1,500 miles by covered wagon to reach Colorado to stake their claim. For those who didn’t want to homestead, they could prospect for gold or silver or start up a business. As wagon trains brought setters to Gunnison County, Indian conflicts occurred frequently and the settlers demanded the U. S. Calvary remove the Indians.
Many battles large and small were fought. With the use of the Gatling gun and cannon, most Indian tribes were forced into surrendering. The Indian people were relocated to reservations with the promise of an annual allotment of cattle to feed their people and good land to live on. But the U. S. Government often times failed to provide the annual cattle allotments promised to the tribes who gave up their lands, hunting grounds and way of life.
If the Indians tried to flee the reservation they were either killed trying to escape or were hunted down and killed. Their children were spit upon and forced to give up their language and customs and learn the English language.
The town of Marble, in Gunnison County was prosperous by 1900. Cattle ranchers needed ranch hands and The Yule Quarry outside of Marble needed workers to work at the quarry.
By 1900 nearly 400 people lived in or around Marble. The town even had its own newspaper and a dentist. Not only that but they were about to have hand pumps in their houses and businesses so they wouldn’t have to go outside to fetch water. The railroad would soon come to Marble too and that would open the area up to even more settlers. But the families in and around the town of Marble needed food, lots of food.
Elk, buffalo, deer and antelope were free for the taking but cattle cost 15 cents a pound. As settlers hunted more game to feed their families, meat for the Indians dwindled. In Gunnison County there were scattered bands of Shoshone, Paiute, Ute and Sioux Indians who refused to go to reservations. As hunting parties returned to their villages with less and less game they knew they faced starvation in the winter ahead.
If they didn’t fight back against the settlers and try to reclaim their lost hunting and fishing grounds, the Indian people would surely to die. The Shoshone, Sioux and Paiute people had no choice but to join forces and make a stand or die trying after they discover an entire village of Ute Indians murdered. This is their story.
Western history about the white man and Indians has never been a pleasant read. The white man was greedy and felt the Indians were below him in importance. They were herded up and put in reservations for the most part. Many died during this process, including anyone that fought against it. No one should have been surprised when they fought back.
Mr. Cook has done a nice job of gathering facts about Marble, Colorado and the Indian wars there. He points out how the land was given free to anyone willing to homestead for five years, or they could buy the property cheaply if they planned to resell and move on sooner. He also mentions the lack of food the Indians got in reservation (many of soldiers in charge of delivering the animals sold them elsewhere and kept the money) and how they got smallpox from the used blankets they were given to keep them warm.
He makes his characters come to life and you care about the white families as well as the Indians. Many of the families had hard lives before they settled in the valley. Misfortune had touched almost everyone in town. Yet, they had courage and were willing to fight for their family and land.
Mr. Cook does a very good job of explaining the Indian’s war strategy. The white man didn’t give them credit for being smart and that was a big mistake. While the white man thought superior weapons and force would win the fight, the Indians used stealth and planning to take them down. This resulted in more guns and horses for the Indians.
I noticed a couple of historical references being repeated more than once in this book. Once is enough to establish the sequence of events. There were also some grammatical mistakes and a misspelling. Nothing too big, but I would suggest the author ask someone with new eyes to read his manuscript before publishing. They might catch these things, and then your book would be perfect.
All in all, it’s an educational read done in a fictional form and it makes reading history much more pleasant. Mr. Cook has the facts down right and his discussion of their motivations is also right on. Life was hard in homesteading days. Life was even harder for the displaced Indians. We have much to learn from history and this author will help you find out about it.