Iowa Man Makes Unexpected Donation to Ute Land Trust

Offering land to remedy a historical injustice

Sanchez Reservoir
Sanchez Reservoir, near Wild Horse Mesa.
Jeffrey Beall/Creative Commons

In 2015, Rich Snyder did what Americans do when they have a little money: he bought a piece of property, built a home and settled there with his dog. Snyder lived in a few acres in Colorado, near the New Mexico border, which he’d purchased for around $3,000 — far less than the going rate for farmland in Iowa, where he grew up.

Not long afterwards, Snyder made a discovery on the land that would leave him unsettled — and would ultimately cause him to donate the land after a few years. In doing so, however, Snyder — who had lived a solitary existence up until that point — may well have forged a connection with a much larger community.

At the Denver Post, Andrew Kenney explored the story of Snyder’s life. Snyder makes his living working as a plumber and sculpting large metal trees from leftover copper; his work has taken him all over the western United States. As he settled in to the land, a 2.51-acre parcel on Wild Horse Mesa — he began to notice artifacts everywhere he looked. “He figures that roadwork above his property changed the land’s drainage, washing out sand and revealing the artifacts,” Kenney writes.

Snyder began to wonder about the artifacts’ origin — which eventually led him to the Ute Indian Tribe, and Snyder donating the land to the Ute Land Trust. Kenney describes the Trust as having a mission “to reconnect the tribe with their ancestral lands across the West.”

Snyder isn’t the only person to make such a donation; unfortunately, his left him with nothing in his bank account. But his actions have also given him a connection to the people he encountered as a result of donating the land:

Members of the Ute tribe brought him on stage last year at the National Congress of American Indians in Denver, where he was wrapped in a ceremonial blanket and asked to speak to the crowd. Later, he was given a huge buffalo fur at the Bear Dance on the Uintah & Ouray Reservation.

Snyder is quoted as saying, “I never felt energy like that in my life.” It’s a moving conclusion to a fascinating look at one man’s idiosyncratic way of righting a historical wrong.

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