Historic Marker Program

Historic Marker Homepage
Search Road Markers
Suggest a Marker
Report a Damaged Marker

Marker Text

Return to Search Results




The World War I veterans who claimed homesteads near here in the late 1910s had never fought an enemy quite as intractable as sagebrush. Clearing the land of it required decades of backbreaking hand-to-hand combat. But the army of farmers prevailed, perhaps inspired by their unofficial commander, tireless Dan Hunter. One of Dove Creek’s first settlers, “Sagebrush Dan” ran a successful pinto bean farm, founded the town’s high school, organized the municipal water and power utilities, and wrote long, flowery articles for the newspaper he established. The 1930s brought a wave of migrants fleeing the Dust Bowl, miners flocked to town during the uranium boom of the Cold War years, and tourism has emerged recently as a growth industry. But Dove Creek and its people remain firmly rooted in the land—anchored here, like the sagebrush.

The Pinto Bean

The self-appointed “pinto bean capital of America,” Dove Creek doesn’t claim to produce the nation’s largest crop—just the best. There’s ample justice in the boast. The local soil and climate create a perfect environment for pinto beans, which have been raised here for at least a thousand years. Ancestral Puebloans grew them in profusion, using many of the same techniques modern tillers employ. Locally grown beans filled GI ration tins during World War II, and area farmers later helped researchers develop higher-yielding, more durable strains that gained worldwide acceptance. In the 1990s a Dove Creek supplier began selling “heirloom” beans, grown from seeds reportedly recovered at nearby archaeological sites. But the future of bean cuisine may lie in Dove Creek’s homegrown recipes, which include such dessert treats as pinto bean ice cream sauce and pinto bean cookies.

Images on this panel:

Photo: Man with Dove Creek Press in background
(Caption) Daniel Brown Hunter moved to Dove Creek with his wife Loula in 1918. He began publishing the Dove Creek Press in 1940, and though he sold his interest in the paper in 1945, he continued to serve the town in various capacities until his death in 1958.
Courtesy Al Look Collection

Photo: Aerial Landscape
(Caption) This 1996 photo, taken near Dove Creek, highlights various details of the area’s history and heritage including Ancestral Puebloan sites alongside modern agriculture.
Colorado Historical Society

Photo: Dove Creek pinto bean silo
(Caption) Dove Creek, 1999
Courtesy Paul Gray


Ancestral Puebloans

Beginning around A.D. 600, Ancestral Puebloans built Colorado’s first permanent towns in the canyon country south of here. Hundreds of these settlements sprawled across the desert, with an overall population possibly greater than the region holds today. Two of the larger communities, known to us as Yellow Jacket and Lowry Pueblos, lodged several hundred souls apiece. The residents lived in great houseblocks with scores of rooms, stored their food in stone granaries, built small dams and reservoirs for water storage, and raised corn, beans, and squash in terraced plots. After prospering for hundreds of years, these ancestral peoples left their homes for a variety of reasons including climatic changes, increased warfare, and social upheavals. By 1300 they had left these extraordinary communities empty and silent.

Beaver Creek Massacre

Anglo-Ute relations in Colorado reached a low point on June 19, 1885, when a group of cowboys ambushed a peaceful Ute camp on Beaver Creek, twenty miles southeast of here. Racial tensions had never subsided after a bloody 1879 conflict at the Ute agency in northwestern Colorado; ever since, “The Utes must go!” had been white settlers’ rallying cry. The cowboys who attacked the Beaver Creek camp took this slogan quite literally, killing at least six and perhaps as many as ten people, women and children among them. The Utes retaliated by murdering a white rancher, and several small skirmishes followed; only the mediation of Indian Agent Charles Stollsteimer prevented further bloodshed. But there was little left to fight over by then: The Utes had lost all but the far southwestern corner of Colorado.

Images on this panel:

Newspaper – “Utes Must Go”
(Caption) Emotions about the Utes ran deep, as evidenced by this 1881 advertisement from the Rocky Mountain News. This sentiment perhaps explains why the Beaver Creek Massacre, a relatively minor incident in a remote corner of the state, aroused such passion.
Colorado Historical Society

Photo: Utes
(Captino) Unidentified Utes, 1880. The cowboys involved in the Beaver Creek Massacre had vowed to kill any Indian found off the reservation. Yet, the Utes murdered that morning had official permission to hunt in this area in order to supplement their meager government rations.
Courtesy Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

Photo: Bearded guys & ruin

Jesse Walter Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution (right) at Hovenweep, about 1909. Though an important figure in early archaeology, Fewkes garnered criticism for his fanciful reconstructions unsubstantiated by evidence of what the original structure might have looked like.
Colorado Historical Society

Photo: Ruin and flowers
(Caption) Scattered throughout this area are reminders of its long history of human habitation.
Colorado Historical Society


As goes sagebrush, so goes the Gunnison sage grouse. These highly adapted birds rely on this shrubby vegetation for food, camouflage, and nesting material. Sagebrush rangeland also provides the setting for the species’ highly unusual mating dance, a succession of struts and popping noises that has long entertained human observers. Indeed, it is thought that the Utes and other American Indians based some of their own dance rituals upon the sage grouse’s courtship routine.

When the Utes still reigned here, Gunnison sage grouse ranged over all of the southwestern Colorado and into Utah and Arizona, in flocks as dense as the sage itself. But as settlers began clearing the land in the late 1800s, the Gunnison sage grouse’s habitat began shrinking, a process that accelerated with the expansion of residential development in the twentieth century. Dove Creek saw the Gunnison sage grouse population dwindled from several thousand in the mid-1800s to about 150 by the 1990s.

Many other species (including elk and deer) use sagebrush for food, but the Gunnison sage grouse truly cannot survive without it. So in recent years wildlife managers have worked cooperatively with landowners to preserve sagebrush habitat, even to reseed the plant on acreage previously cleared of it. These measures have enabled Colorado’s Gunnison sage grouse population to stabilize on the small pockets of habitat that remain.


Regional map with the following text identifying places of historical interest, in no particular order:

Before the Dolores River was dammed to create McPhee Reservoir, archeologists worked for eight years to record the places and artifacts that would be lost under water. Many of the artifacts are on display at the Anasazi Heritage Center.

Created in 2000, Canyon of the Ancients National Monument’s 164,000 acres contains what might be the highest concentration of archaeological sites anywhere in the United States.

In the heart of downtown Cortez, the Cortez Cultural Center contains Ancestral Puebloan artifacts, Ute beadwork, and hands-on exhibits. The Center also presents Native American dances during the summer.

Formed in 1984, the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center enables lay people an opportunity to assist professional scientists through an innovative program of "hands-on" archaeology.

Six Ancestral Puebloan villages dating to around A.D. 1200 can be visited at Hovenweep National Monument, although only Square Tower is easily reached. The other sites are more remote and are not accessible by car.

Started as an eight-century pit house village, by the twelfth-century the Lowry Ruins contained eight kivas, forty rooms, and some structures three stories high. The site was excavated in the early 1930s, and today visitors can tour the site via a self-guided trail.

The cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park have long been a source of wonder and amazement for archaeologists and laypeople. The park is open year-round, but several sites are closed during the winter.

Covering 125,000 acres and centered along 25 miles of the Mancos River, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Park preserves numerous Ancestral Puebloan sites. Visitors, who must be accompanied by Ute Mountain Ute guides, are able to explore these treasures.

The Southern Ute Cultural Center is a gallery and museum in Ignacio featuring the history, art, and culture of the Southern Ute people.

The San Juan Skyway Scenic and Historic Byway tours the magnificent San Juan Mountains, scene of a bustling silver rush in the 1870s and 1880s. Along the route are National Historic Districts, Mesa Verde National Park, and national forests.

The Trail of the Ancients Scenic and Historic Byway runs through land once inhabited by the Ancestral Puebloan peoples. The 114-mile route across arid terrain is laden with clues of this former civilization: rock art, cliff dwellings, Hovenweep National Monument, and Mesa Verde National Park.

The Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway is a remarkable tour through western Colorado's remote canyon country. Copper, radium, vanadium, and uranium all enticed miners here; local communities on the route are ranching and farming centers.

Return to Search Results