Famous Faces in Northern Colorado History
Written by JoAnna Luth Stull, Museum Registrar
Named and known by her descendants as She-towitch, she was best known as Shawsheen with her name written in historic newspaper accounts as Shasheen, Shashien, and Shosheen and pronounced and spelled as Tsashin by her Ute family.
After her rescue in May 1863, from the Arapaho who were sworn enemies of the Utes’, Shawsheen would be given the name “Susan” reportedly by the wife of the soldier who rescued her and from this she became “Ute Susan”.
Shawsheen’s father Guero, had sought to strengthen ties between his Uncompahgre Utes and the White River Utes through his daughter’s marriage to Canella, also known as Johnson 2; he was a medicine man. With this marriage Shawsheen then became known as Susan Johnson. Finally, in an 1880 newspaper article, William Byers praised Shawsheen for saving the Meeker women and Mrs. Price and titled her “God Bless Susan.”[i] By whatever name Shawsheen was known by, her courageous acts through her life entitle her to also be known as heroine and humanitarian.
Just as varied as the many versions of her name are the numerous accounts of Shawsheen’s escape from certain death. The best distilled version of Shawsheen’s story was located in a December 1933 article included in the Greeley Daily Tribune. Research by A. B. Copeland and G. H. Bradfield of the Meeker Memorial Museum. Copeland and Bradfield had been working to verify the accuracy of the “Ute Susan” story in order to place a marker in her memory in conjunction with the Colorado Historical Society and the Centennial State Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Plans were to place the Shawsheen marker next to where the historic tree once stood in Island Grove Park. This cottonwood tree was known variously as the Ute Susan Tree, Shawsheen’s Tree, Indian Tree, Susan’s Tree, and finally, the “Oldest Inhabitant of Greeley-Ute Susan Tree”.
According to a 1916 article in the Fort Collins Express, Shashien was captured by Arapahoe Indians under the leadership of Chief Left Hand when she was 18 years old. The story, as related in 1910 by Mr. John Hollowell (1834-1913) of Loveland was that in June of 1863, some Indians came to his cabin at the mouth of the Big Thompson canyon. The reason for their visit was to trade a “captive maid for a looking glass and a hat,” but Hollowell declined the “swap” and after a few days they left the area.
A few days later, a Company of soldiers camped at Laporte were ordered to go to the southeast where they had heard there was trouble between the settlers and Indians. As they approached a hill, likely Inspiration Point in Greeley, they saw an Indian camp on the opposite side of the river where a “young squaw was tied to a tree” with fagots piled around and under her feet. A report from the soldier who led this Company said after her rescue, she was taken to Laporte “where she was cared for by the Bill Carroll family” and sometime later returned to her Ute tribe.
There are, as stated, many versions of this story, but two things are certain, the “young squaw tied to a tree” was Shawsheen and the tree once stood at Greeley’s Island Grove Park until it was blown down in a windstorm between 1912 and 1913.
The author of the newspaper article stated that “because of that incident alone” Shawsheen would “be famous”. As we know, Shawsheen’s story continues and comes back full circle with her help in protecting other captive women after the Meeker Massacre on Sept. 29, 1879, but that is a story for next time.
[i] Taken from her family from near the Big Thompson River at age 16 [not 18], Susan was the name given to her by Mrs. Collier, wife of the Sergeant Collier of Captain Hardy’s Company M who was in charge of the detachment that reportedly saved Shawsheen from Arapaho captivity in May 1863. Mrs. Collier gave Shawsheen the name of Susan and she learned to speak the English language in the two months she was in the Collier home. (Colorado Transcript “Squaw Susan’s Send-Off”. 17 Dec. 1879). William Byers, in an 1880 newspaper article praised her for saving the Meeker women and Mrs. Price and called her “God Bless Susan.”