Museum brings Meeker history alive

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— The White River Museum in Meeker houses an array of artifacts and oddities documenting the history of settlers in Northwest Colorado.

While each of the thousands of items on display contains a unique story, the building in which the historical items are housed is a story in itself.

The story of the building mirrors the century-old story of the town.

In the summer of 1879, tensions were rising between the local Ute Indians and Indian Agent Nathan C. Meeker, who was trying to introduce a European way of life and its farming techniques to the natives of the land.

On Sept. 29, 1879, those tensions peaked in a deadly battle.

Meeker had requested assistance from the United States Army, and Col. Thornburgh, followed by his troops, was 17 miles northeast of Meeker's quarters when the frustrated Ute Indians ambushed the squad.

At the same time Thornburgh's troops were taken by surprise, the Utes were attacking Meeker and his men four and a half miles west of what is now the town of Meeker.

In all 10 men were killed that day, including Meeker and Thornburgh.

After word spread of the battles, a permanent army post was set up where Meeker's headquarters had once been.

Army quarters were housed in the area for three years. In 1883, the Army left, abandoning the buildings. The buildings were sold to settlers in the area and a town was established.

The town of Meeker was formally founded in 1885.

The White River Museum is in one of those original army barracks.

Ardis Douglass, curator of the museum for the past 14 years, said the museum satisfies a variety of historical interests.

"It's full of history of the area," she said. "There's something in here interesting for everyone."

It displays a bed made in 1895, a 1936 Meeker fire truck and a 19th century typesetting machine.

Not only does the museum display history of the area, but it also displays antiques from throughout the world, including numerous World War I and World War II artifacts.

Douglass said her favorite piece in the museum is a high chair that folds into a stroller.

The chair/stroller was built in 1867 and was shipped to the museum from Germany.

Many exhibits also show Meeker's wild west heritage with saddles and equipment of old-time cattle rustlers and a gun collection that includes a Colt Frontier six-shooter used in a Meeker bank robbery.

Several pictures and artifacts commemorate a visit by former president and avid outdoorsman Teddy Roosevelt.

Roosevelt went on a hunting expedition in Meeker in 1901.

The museum displays an antique chair sat in by Roosevelt during his visit and the stagecoach he rode in from Rifle to get to Meeker.

Douglass said school groups that visit the museum are always drawn to the mount of a two-headed calf that hangs on one wall.

The calf was born in the 1960s and lived for six hours, according to information printed beneath the mount.

Douglass said the museum has about 5,000 visits a year.

She said she doesn't know the history behind all of the artifacts in the museum, but said she does her best.

"I just try to answer all of the questions that I have answers to," she said.

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