The town of Aspen was settled in 1880-1881 by prospectors migrating over the Continental Divide from Leadville in search of mineral riches, particularly sliver ore. In June 1880, "Colonel" Kirby from Texas was the first prospector to die in Aspen, succumbing to "mountain fever" following a "wearying journey of the Red Mountain trail." He was buried in what was to become Ute Cemetery, at the time a rolling, privately owned vacant field southeast of town.
Although it was to have been replaced by two successor cemeteries in Aspen, Ute Cemetery continued to be used by the town's working class and poor. It is estimated that at least 200 graves are located on site, over half of which are unmarked.
By 1935, only 700 people remained in Aspen and the town looked as if it was bound for obscurity. The Depression ended the use of Ute Cemetery, and in the decades since 1930 only three burials have taken place there. Aspen's emergence as a ski resort following World War II breathed new life into the sleepy town. Outdoor enthusiasts began to visit and populate city, but Ute Cemetery still fell into disuse and disrepair. With no family left in the Roaring Fork Valley to tend the graves, Ute Cemetery was abandoned and the site began its long slide into decay.
In the late 1990's, with historic preservation a high priority in Aspen, local residents began to urge the city to restore the cemetery. This resulted in a two-year restoration process that began with the listing of the site in the National Register of Historic Places. In 2001, a detailed preservation plan was completed by a preservation consultant, landscape architect, and stonework consultant, providing guidance for the study and restoration of Ute Cemetery. Biographical information was collected about many of the persons buried there and the property documented in detail.
During the spring, summer and fall of 2002, well-attended volunteer work days and efforts by Aspen Parks & Recreation Department staff resulted in the removal of debris, along with thinning of vegetation where it was impacting the condition of marked grave sites. Walking trails were improved and a new entrance gateway constructed. Two monuments dedicated to those who are buried at Ute cemetery were installed at the entryway. Perhaps most significantly, a professional stonework crew launched the detailed and lengthy process of restoring the carved stonework at the site. When completed during the summer of 2003, Ute Cemetery became one of the few cemeteries in Colorado to have undergone complete restoration.
The restoration of Ute Cemetery was paid for in part by a State Historical fund grand from the Colorado Historical Society and funding from the City of Aspen.