In 1863 Ouray helped to negotiate a treaty with the federal government in which the Utes ceded all lands east of the Continental Divide. In 1868 he traveled to Washington, D.C., to represent his people and was appointed "head chief of the Utes" by the government. Ouray and his wife made several visits to the nation's capital and on one occasion met President Ulysses S. Grant.
Ouray always attempted to secure the best possible conditions for his people while still remaining friendly to the whites. Nevertheless, each additional negotiation brought increasing losses of land for the Indians, and some resented Ouray's friendship with the whites and the special favors he received from them. Disgruntled Utes made various attempts on Ouray's life, but he survived and maintained his conciliatory attitude.