The western Ute bands originally occupied about 23.5 million acres or around 45 percent of the present state of Utah. By the 1870s, however, Utah's Utes were confined to less than 10 percent of that area, slightly over 2 million acres on the Uintah Reservation. The Ute lands grew to over 4 million acres in 1880 when the federal government removed the White River and Uncompahgre bands from Colorado and created the Ouray Reservation in Utah. Although Ouray, the prominent chief for whom the new reservation was named, died before the forced relocation, he had spent his life negotiating with government officials and trying to assure a peaceful existence for his people.
The exact date of Ouray's birth is unknown, but most authorities believe he was born in 1833 in Taos, New Mexico. He spent most of his youth working for Mexican sheepherders and fighting against rival Sioux and Kiowas. He learned Spanish, English, and several Indian languages that became very useful to him in later treaty negotiations. After the death of his first wife, Ouray married Chipeta, a beautiful Uncompahgre Ute toward whom he always showed deep devotion.