Historic Ute Council Tree has rotted, must be cut back

A branch that broke off lies at the base of the Ute Council Tree in Delta in August 2016. The large branch to the left in this photo, giving the tree a forklike appearance, broke off 11 days ago.

A cottonwood tree that provided shade for the Ute tribes of western Colorado for decades before the arrival of white settlers has grown rotten and unstable and must be trimmed into a memorial that recognizes its once-imposing stature, the Delta County Historical Society decided.

The Ute Council Tree, which is believed to be about 215 years old, can no longer be considered safe since the last surviving limb fell on a windless morning Aug. 1, the historical society said.

The Ute tribes whose forebears lived in western Colorado before 1881, when the region was opened up for settlement, will be consulted about what steps to take next, Jim Wetzel, director of the Delta County Historical Society Museum, said Friday.

“Culturally, it’s important to the Utes,” Wetzel said.

There are some who say the tree was a meeting place for Utes and the settlers, but he has found no evidence to support that, Wetzel said.

It could be, however, that Utes met there to discuss such things as treaties with the United States, but no documents were signed under its shade, he said. Most of those events took place in Washington, D.C., he said.

The tree, which once was part of a cottonwood gallery along the Gunnison River on the east side of Delta, has withered over the last 25 years, having lost all but its crown.

The lower trunk was filled with concrete in 1961, but it’s become clear that the tree core has been hollowed out with rot, the society said.

David Bailey, curator of history for the Museums of Western Colorado, said he hoped a cutting from the council tree could be planted nearby as a living tribute to the Utes and their history.

“I think they call it ‘Star Catcher’ because you could break a limb and see the symbol of the star inside,” Bailey said.

About 10 feet of the trunk will remain as a memorial, Wetzel said.

The society is soliciting ideas of what to do with the remains of the tree, as well as contributions to help pay for the estimated $3,000 cost of removal.

Contributions can be made to the society, 251 Meeker St., Delta, 81416.


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