"On the morning of November 29, 1864, 600
Cheyenne and Arapahos camped on a bend of Sand Creek were awakened by
the sound of charging hooves. Two thirds of these 600 were women and
children as the government granted able bodied men to go east and hunt
buffalo to feed their hungry families. Only 35 braves were in the camp.
This made the ensuing charge all the more frightening for the women,
children, elders, and remaining braves.
So great was the fear of the coming charge that men, women, and children
ran from their lodges into the biting cold taking no time to fully
dress. The partially dressed Indians began to gather under a huge
American flag above Black Kettles lodge (Black Kettle was given the huge
American flag and peace medals by Abraham Lincoln and Colonel A. B.
Greenwood in Washington only a year earlier and was told that as long as
the American flag was above them, no one would be harmed).
The braves present surrounded the women and
children gathered under the flag. At 8:00 am more than 700 cavalry men
under the command of Colonel John M. Chivington and Major Scott J.
Anthony, rode in and fired on the huddled Indians from two directions.
After the initial charge the US soldiers dismounted and continued the
indiscriminate killing of men, women, and children. During the killing
unspeakable atrocities and mutilations were committed by the soldiers.
Accounts from two white men, John S. Smith and Lieutenant James Connor,
described the acts of dehumanization."
According to John S. Smith, Colonel Chivington knew these Indians to be
peaceful before the massacre. Smith witnessed, as did helpless Indian
mothers and fathers, young children having their sex organs cut away.
U.S. soldiers mutilated Native American women, cutting away their
breasts and removing all other sex organs. After the Massacre, soldiers
displayed the women's severed body parts on their hats and stretched
them over their saddle-bows while riding in the ranks. The sex organs of
every male were removed in the most grotesque manner. One soldier
boasted that he would make a tobacco pouch with the removed privates of
White Antelope, a respected elder.
Conner witnessed a soldier displaying the body
parts of a woman on a stick. The fingers of Indians were cut off to get
at the rings on them. Connor remembered a baby only a few months old who
had been hidden in the feed box of a wagon for protection. When the
soldiers discovered the baby some time later, the baby was thrown onto
the frozen ground to die. In going over the site the next day, it was
noted that every corpse was mutilated in some way, and scalped.
Two other men, Robert Bent and James Beckwourth were forced to ride with
Chivington that morning. They recorded similar images. Beckwourth noted
that before the massacre, White Antelope (age 75) ran out to meet the
soldiers. He came running out to meet the command, holding up his hands
and saying Stop! Stop! He spoke in as plain English as I can. He stopped
and folded his arms until shot down.
Bent remembered seeing the shooting of a little
girl carrying a white flag. He also remembered seeing an Indian woman on
the ground whose leg had been shattered by a shell. As she lay helpless,
a soldier drew his saber, breaking the arm she had risen in defense. She
then rolled over on her other side. The soldier did not leave until
breaking her other arm with his saber, whereupon he left without killing
her. Bent saw a pregnant woman who had been cut open and disemboweled.
Her unborn child lay mutilated almost beyond human recognition beside
her. Quite a number of mothers were slain; still clinging to their
babies. Such was the scene that cold gray morning at Sand Creek,
November 29, 1864.
The most divisive issue during the Governor John Evans administration
was what has been termed the "Sand Creek Massacre." By 1864 the Plains
Indians had virtually shut down most of Colorado's overland trails,
attacked travelers, and frightened the new settlers. Major Edward
Wynkoop, after an encounter with Chief Black Kettle of the Southern
Cheyenne tribe, attempted to discuss peace on the banks of the Smoky
Hill River. The success of this meeting led to another one with Governor
Evans who somewhat vaguely and noncommittally agreed that these Native
Americans should be protected under the United States Flag. Previously,
Evans had established an Indian-fighting regiment under Colonel John
Chivington, who was eager to teach the Indians a lesson.
After Wynkoop was relieved of his peacemaking
duties, Major Scott Anthony took command of Fort Lyon. Colonel
Chivington assembled his troops and joined with others at Fort Lyon.
When the governor left the Territory for a visit to Washington,
Chivington shattered the fragile peace created by Wynkoop by attacking a
Cheyenne Indian camp at Sand Creek at dawn on November 29, 1864.
Many women, children, and elderly were killed
as a result of this engagement, which created a feeling of indignation
so strong in the East that it prompted a congressional investigation.
As a result, Dr. John Evans lost his federal
appointment as governor and Chivington's enlistment had already expired
that September so he could not be dishonorably discharged.
In addition, Colorado's statehood was delayed,
a circumstance that became the dominate aspect of Colorado politics in
the years following Sand Creek.
Several months later, Chivington made good on
his genocidal promise. During the early morning hours of November 29,
1864, he led a regiment of Colorado Volunteers to the Cheyenne's Sand
Creek reservation, where a band led by Black Kettle, a well-known
"peace" chief, was encamped. Federal army officers had promised Black
Kettle safety if he would return to the reservation, and he was in fact
flying the American flag and a white flag of truce over his lodge, but
Chivington ordered an attack on the unsuspecting village nonetheless.
After hours of fighting, the Colorado
volunteers had lost only 9 men in the process of murdering between 200
and 400 Cheyenne, most of them women and children. After the slaughter,
they scalped and sexually mutilated many of the bodies, later exhibiting
their trophies to cheering crowds in Denver.
Chivington was at first widely praised for the "battle" at Sand Creek,
and honored with a widely attended parade through the streets of Denver
just two weeks after the massacre.
Soon, however, rumors of drunken soldiers
butchering unarmed women and children began to circulate, and at first
seemed confirmed when Chivington arrested six of his men and charged
them with cowardice in battle.
But the six, who included Captain Silas Soule,
a personal friend of Chivington's who had fought with him at Glorietta
Pass, were in fact militia members who had refused to participate in the
massacre and now spoke openly of the carnage they had witnessed. Shortly
after their arrest, the U.S. Secretary of War ordered the six men
released and Congress began preparing for a formal investigation of Sand
Soule himself could not be a witness at any of the investigations,
because less than a week after his release he was shot from behind and
killed on the streets of Denver.
Although Chivington was eventually brought up
on court-martial charges for his involvement in the massacre, he was no
longer in the U.S. Army and could therefore not be punished. No criminal
charges were ever filed against him.
An Army judge, however, publicly stated that
Sand Creek was "a cowardly and cold-blooded slaughter, sufficient to
cover its perpetrators with indelible infamy, and the face of every
American with shame and indignation."
Although he was never punished for his role at Sand Creek, Chivington
did at least pay some price. He was forced to resign from the Colorado
militia, to withdraw from politics, and to stay away from the campaign
In 1865 he moved back to Nebraska, spending
several unsuccessful years as a freight hauler. He lived briefly in
California, and then returned to Ohio where he resumed farming and
became editor of a small newspaper. In 1883 he re-entered politics with
a campaign for a state legislature seat, but charges of his guilt in the
Sand Creek massacre forced him to withdraw. He quickly returned to
Denver and worked as a deputy sheriff until shortly before his death
from cancer in 1892.