INDIAN FIGHTER (1887)

Major Gavin Leslie Leading His Detachment (Troops A, B & C, 1st Cavalry, Colorado National Guard)

In the late summer of 1887 Billy Irwin became part of a fight that had nothing to do with prize fighting. Eight years earlier the White River Utes, led in part by Chief Colorow, had played a major role in the Meeker massacre of 1879.

Subsequently the Utes had been transferred from Colorado to a reservation in Utah. But by 1887 the Utes were again in conflict with local and federal governments. Preferring the hunting lands around their former Colorado reservation a band led by Chief Colorow returned to Colorado and remained there for several years in violation of government policy. Eventually conflict with local settlers broke out and a force comprised of some local sheriffs, a posse and state militiamen were formed in order to remove Colorow and his band from Colorado and return them back to the reservation in Utah.

 

It was determined that the Leadville Militia of the Colorado National Guard (Second Cavalry B Troop) would be the lead unit of the expedition and supply most of the fighting force. As such the entire expedition was commanded by Brigadier General Reardon (Lake County Clerk and Recorder) and the entire Battalion of Cavalry was to be commanded by Major Gavin Leslie, a prominent Leadville jeweler. Upon activation to active duty the expeditionary force became re-designated as the First Cavalry of the Colorado National Guard. It was made up of three cavalry troops and three infantry companies as follows:

 

  • Troop A (Colorado Springs)

  • Troop B (Leadville)

  • Troop C (Denver)

  • Company H, 2nd Infantry (Canon City)

  • Company F, 1st Infantry (Aspen)

  • Rocky Mountain Rifles (Leadville Infantry Company)

 

Since this newly formed and activated 1st Cavalry was mainly a Leadville operation a call went out in Leadville for volunteers on the16th of August and Billy Irwin was one of the volunteers who joined the Leadville Cavalry (Troop B). The following day (August 17th) Troop B was ordered to proceed by rail to Gypsum and then continue on horseback via Glenwood Springs to the White River country.

 

In the course of the campaign, short as it was (four weeks), the First Cavalry had many opportunities of proving its mettle and courage:

  • Forced renegade Chief Colorow and his band of White River Ute’s out of Colorado and back into Utah.

  • Engaged the Ute’s (nearly ambushed) near the border town of Rangely (at the mouth of a box canyon on the White River) in a half day long firefight in which blood was shed on both sides (16 Indians killed and five badly wounded...3 whites killed and two wounded...20 horses killed).

  • Endured an eight day siege, holding their barricaded positions, in the town of Rangely while several miles away (in Utah) between 400 to 600 fighting mad Ute’s (armed to the teeth and seeking vengeance) threatened to attack.

  • Refused, under Brigadier General Reardon’s orders, to leave their rifle pits and barricaded positions until two companies of the Ninth Cavalry (Buffalo soldiers from Fort Duchesne, Utah) intervened and “persuaded” the Ute’s to return to the reservation.

  • Did not retreat from the battlefield and return home until the federal government promised Colorado Governor Adams that henceforth federal troops would be permanently stationed near Rangely in order to prevent future Ute incursions into Colorado. And thus concluded both the last conflict with the Indians on Colorado soil and Billy Irwin’s short but eventful career as an Indian fighter.

Billy Irwin

"B" Troop, 1st Cavalry, Colo. N.G.