The Sand Creek Massacre

courtesy of Colorado Historical Society


The Sand Creek Massacre.  Nothing tells of the hate the white man had against the Native Americans as this horrible historic event.

It was a terrible time for the Native American people who made Colorado their home.

Because of westward expansion, some pioneers felt the Native Americans were in the way of their settling the state. 

However, many lived peacefully with their native neighbors.  Both helped each other and became good friends.

Settlers started fencing off and plowing up the eastern part of the state, destroying buffalo migration patterns.

The Cheyenne and Arapaho, two of the many plains tribes who called Colorado home, relied on the buffalo for food, shelter and clothing.

With the coming of farmers and ranchers, this way of life disappeared.

The newly arrived malcontents urged the governor of Colorado, to do something about the Indians in their way.

Eastern reporters, such as Horace Greeley stated that the Indians "must die out-there is no help for them."

Indian agent for Colorado, William Bent, agreed with Greeley, to an extent.

In 1846, Bent tried to get the government to help the Native Americans learn to become farmers, not be obliterated from the state.

Bent had discussed this with the Cheyenne and Arapaho leaders and they were willing to take his advice and become farmers.

He was ignored by the government so he sent another report asking for action.  It read:

"The concourse of whites is constantly swelling and incapable of control or restraint by the government.

This suggests the policy of promptly rescuing the Indians and withdrawing them from contact with whites.

These numerous and warlike Indians, pressed upon all around by the Texans, by the settlers of the gold region, by the advancing people of Kansas and from the Platte, are already compressed into a small circle of territory, destitute of food and itself athwart by a constantly marching line of emigrants.

A desperate war of starvation and extinction is therefore imminent and inevitable, unless prompt measures shall prevent it."

Bent did get a response to his report.  The Treaty of Fort Wise was signed by the Cheyenne and Arapaho in February, 1861 and by President Abraham Lincoln in December of 1861.

A tiny spot of land was given to the two tribes along the Arkansas River and the Platte River. This is where the Sand Creek Massacre happened.

The treaty stated that the Indians would be given $450,000, as well as a sawmill, grinding mills for grain and a tool shop.

They were to buy tools, build houses and fence and farm the land with the money they received.

All whites were not allowed on the land except for government officials doing business there, traders and men who were half Indian.

Black Kettle, leader of the Cheyennes, was sure he could get the other leaders to sign the treaty.

Albert Boone, new Indian agent and grandson of Daniel Boone, thought he was confident to deliver the government's promises.

It might have worked, but along came the Civil War.  Troops were pulled out of Colorado, and because of what happened with treaties signed by other Native American tribes, the Indians knew that our government would not keep its promises.

And so the settlers started to infringe again on the native people's land and war with the whites began anew.

Reports arrived in newspapers and to the government telling of some Indian attacks.  Didn't say anything about the settlers causing it though.

People back east demanded action be taken against the Indians.  Colorado Governor Evans wanted a war so he could get the native people off the land.

So he asked the War Department for help.  And who answered him?  Colonel John M. Chivington, the man responsible for the Sand Creek Massacre.

Chivington was highly respected back east.  He had been a Methodist preacher, abolitionist and the commander of the Colorado Volunteer Troops in the Civil War.

Now he took command of the Colorado Calvary and marched his men to an area near Fort Lyons where the Cheyenne and Arapaho were camped.

The Indians camped here thought they were doing as the Governor requested.  They were on Sand Creek as the CO at Ft. Lyons had asked. They did not leave the camp except to pick up rations at the fort and to hunt.

These native people were living peacefully, doing what was asked of them. Then on November 29, 1864, they were attacked.  The Sand Creek Massacre had begun. 

George Brent, son of William Brent, was in the camp that day and wrote:

"At dawn I was still in bed when I heard shouts and the noise of people running about the camp.

I jumped up and ran out of my lodge.  From down the creek a large body of troops was advancing at a rapid trot, some to the east of the camps, others on the opposite side of the creek to the west.

More soldiers could be seen making for the Indian pony herds to the south of the camps; in the camp itself all was confusion and noise.

Men, women and children rushing out of their lodges partly dressed; women and children screaming at the sight of the troops; men running back into the lodges for their arms.

Other men, already armed or with lassos and bridles in their hands, were running for the herds to attempt to get some of the ponies before the troops could reach the animals and drive them off.

I looked toward the chief's lodge and saw that Black Kettle had a large American flag tied to the end of a long lodge pole and was standing in front of his lodge.

I heard him call to his people not to be afraid, that the soldiers would not hurt them; then the troops opened fire from both sides of the camp.

The Indians began running, but they did not seem to know what to do or where to turn.

The women and children were screaming and wailing.  We ran up the creek with the cavalry following us, one company on each bank, keeping right after us, firing all the time.

Many of the people had preceded us up the creek, and the dry bed of the stream was now a terrible sight: men, women and children lying thickly scattered on the sand, some dead and the rest too badly wounded to move.

Here the troops kept us besieged until darkness came on."
quote from Colorado Historical Society

Needless to say, Chivington sent a glowing report to his superior of his battle with the the Indians and the Sand Creek Massacre.

The man was a coward.  Instead of confronting the Indians in open warfare, he attacked sleeping people at the break of dawn and massacred them.

So, of course, the Indians waged a more fierce war against the settlers of the Colorado plains.

Chivington was never brought to justice for his crime.  He remains to this day the most hated man in Colorado history.

The U.S. government finally recognized the Sand Creek Massacre and erected a monument to the Native Americans murdered on the site.

Today, on the anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre, every November 29th, Native Americans and whites come together to honor the fallen brothers and sisters on that fateful day, over 140 years ago.


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