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Contemplating the Sand Creek Massacre

EADS — “Profound, symbolic, spiritual, controversial—a site unlike any other in America.” These are the words used by the National Park Service to describe a remote National Historic Site in southeastern Colorado. Just as I had stumbled accidentally into the Amache Japanese Internment Camp while driving through southeastern Colorado, so I stumbled across the story of the Sand Creek Massacre while researching the internment camp. One of my sources stated that the camp got its name from a Cheyenne Indian woman named Amache, who was the wife of Prowers, a prominent resident. Amache was the daughter, I read, of Ochinee, or Chief Lone Bear, who had been killed at the Sand Creek Massacre. While I had heard of the massacre, I knew little about it, so I decided to find out more. I began my research at the La Veta Library, and my friend Hugh, when he learned of my interest, sent me an account of the event from a new book he had read. I was amazed to learn that it had taken place within driving distance of Huerfano County, where I now lived, and only a short way from the Amache Internment Camp. I was appalled that two such tragic chapters in American history could be so closely connected. What I learned was both horrifying and heart-breaking. Leading up to the massacre was the typical trail of tears that white settlers forged on their way west; broken treaties, infringements on lands promised to the tribes, hostile reactions by the Indians. Settlers were already bent on homesteading

on Colorado land, but the discovery of gold in 1859 brought a flood of prospectors who ignored the rights of the native people. Governor Evans, who wanted the Indians removed to open the way for full-fledged settlement, was not sympathetic to Colorado’s original inhabitants. Meanwhile, the Civil War raged in the eastern half of the country, and Colorado troops, who itched to be fighting, felt stymied as they were retained in the territory. U.S. Army Colonel John Chivington, a former Methodist minister from Ohio, who had fought against the Confederates at the Battle of Glorietta Pass, NM, was particularly anxious for the fame and excitement of war. Denied access to it in the fight against the Confederacy, he decided to create it in Colorado. The fall of 1864 found 500 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, under the leadership of Chiefs Black Kettle, White Antelope, and Left Hand, encamped on the banks of Sand Creek, invited there by the U.S. government and under the US Army’s protection. On November 29, 1864, Colonel Chivington, leading the Colorado Third Regiment, approached the camp with nearly 700 US soldiers. He ignored the American and white flags the chiefs held out and began the brutal attack which became known as the Sand Creek Massacre. The slain were mostly women, children and old men, their bodies brutalized and parts carried away as souvenirs. The attackers were greeted as heroes when they returned to Denver. That word of the massacre quickly traveled east to Washington DC, where it was condemned by newspapers and government officials as “a foul and dastardly mission… gratifying the worst passions that ever cursed the heart of man.” The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War began an investigation, and as the truth became known, Chivington and the soldiers who participated (some had refused) were condemned. As a result of that day, Governor Evans, who had encouraged the actions, was removed from office, and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs was replaced. Due to a quirk in the military code, Chivington, whose commission as an officer had expired in September, could not be tried. He believed until his death that his actions were justified. That day, nearly 150 years ago, has been as described as “eight hours that would change the Great Plains forever.” Embittered Cheyenne dog soldiers took vengeance on settlers in Colorado and Kansas. The survivors began a war that lasted until the Battle of Summit Springs in 1868. Ignored for many years, in 1999 archaeologists, accompanied by Native American observers, discovered the location of the massacre, and on April 28, 2007, National Park Service officials, along with representatives of the North and South Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, dedicated the site as the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site. Located in short-grass prairie and sage scrubland, it sits at the end of a long dirt road where Hwy 96 and CR 54 and CR W come together, north of tiny community, Chivington, named for the colonel. The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes hold an annual “Spiritual Healing Run each year, attended by a tribal members from several states. There is no charge to visit the site, which is open 9-4 weekdays in the winter and all week in the summer and fall. Information can be obtained by calling 719-438-5916.

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