Massacre at Sand Creek

150 years ago today, U.S. troops slaughtered peaceful Native Americans on their reservation, which paved the way toward permanently banishing Indians from Colorado.

The Sand Creek Massacre | Image Credit: Flickr.com

The Sand Creek Massacre | Image Credit: Flickr.com

In 1851, U.S. officials signed a treaty with various Indian tribes allowing for white settlement west of Kansas in what later became Colorado. Both parties agreed “to maintain good faith and friendship in all their mutual intercourse, and to make an effective and lasting peace.”[1]

White settlement exploded during the Pike’s Peak gold rush of 1858, leading to the establishment of Denver City and other villages. This vast encroachment led to another treaty in early 1861, in which Indians agreed to live on a reservation as long as they retained the freedom of movement needed to hunt game. Movement held special importance because the reservation held little game and the land was too poor for adequate agriculture.[2]

The Territory of Colorado was established less than a month after the treaty was signed, and the Civil War broke out soon afterwards. As the war progressed, Indian movement in Colorado became gradually restricted by Federal troops hunting Confederates. To ease tensions, U.S. officials invited Cheyenne Chiefs Black Kettle and Lean Bear to Washington, where they received medals, a U.S. flag, and assurances that as long as they held the flag, no troops would attack them.[3]

But by 1864, Territorial Governor John Evans had determined that Indians were impeding Colorado’s development, so he began working to remove them from the territory. Federal troops attacked an Indian band and killed Chief Lean Bear before he could show them proof of his loyalty to the U.S. The troops were under overall command of Colonel John M. Chivington, who ordered his men to “kill Cheyennes whenever and wherever found,” regardless of whether they were peaceful.[4]

Governor Evans then ordered all peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians to report to Fort Lyon for protection. Soon afterwards, the post commander was removed for “letting the Indians run things at Fort Lyon” and replaced by Major Scott J. Anthony, an officer of Chivington’s Colorado Volunteers. Anthony assured Chief Black Kettle that he would protect the Indians if they agreed to live peacefully on the Sand Creek Reservation, some 40 miles south of Fort Lyon. Black Kettle had considered leaving Colorado, but this assurance convinced him and his band to stay.[5]

Meanwhile, Anthony worked to disarm and disband the Arapaho tribes and called for military reinforcements to attack hostiles. Colonel Chivington and some 600 men arrived on 27 November and planned to attack Black Kettle’s camp. When some officers protested that such an attack would violate pledges given to Black Kettle’s tribe, Chivington replied, “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians.”[6]

On the morning of 29 November, 700 Federal troops under Chivington and Anthony attacked Black Kettle’s tribe at Sand Creek. Most of the Indian men were out hunting when the troops descended on their camp. As the shooting began, hundreds of women and children huddled under Black Kettle’s flagpole, which held both his U.S. flag and a white flag of surrender. White Antelope, a 75-year old chief, called for the troops to stop but was shot dead.[7]

The troops rode through the camp killing men, women, and children, scalping many victims and mutilating others. Only lack of discipline and drunkenness from the night before prevented more carnage. Chivington’s men left 105 Indian women and children and 28 men dead. Federal losses were minimal and mostly caused by troops accidentally firing at each other.[8]

Chivington officially claimed to have killed up to 500 Indians. He reported, “It may perhaps be unnecessary for me to state that I captured no prisoners.” Many western settlers who feared Indian attacks applauded the action, but news of the massacre horrified easterners, including Army officials in Washington. U.S. Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck called for Chivington’s court-martial, but by that time Chivington had resigned from the Army.[9]

Members of Congress demanded an investigation of “the condition of the Indian tribes and their treatment by the civil and military authorities of the United States.” In May 1865, the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War concluded that Sand Creek was “the scene of murder and barbarity,” with Chivington’s conduct disgracing “the veriest savage” and Governor Evans’ testimony consisting of “prevarications and shuffling.” President Andrew Johnson demanded and got Evans’ resignation as territorial governor.[10]

The massacre prompted many peaceful Indians to reject Black Kettle’s calls for restraint and go on the warpath, thus ensuring more bloodshed would occur. In October 1865, the remaining Cheyennes and Arapahos signed yet another treaty with U.S. officials, under which the Indians would “relinquish all claims or rights” to the Colorado Territory. Thus, the Sand Creek massacre began a process that ended with Indians forever losing their land in Colorado.[11]

—–

  • [1] Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1970), p. 68
  • [2] Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1970), p. 68-69; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Fort_Wise
  • [3] Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1970), p. 68-70
  • [4] Richardson, Heather Cox, West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America after the Civil War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), p. 36; Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1970), p. 70-71, 73-74
  • [5] Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1970), p. 74, 84; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 602-603
  • [6] Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1970), p. 84, 86-87
  • [7] Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1970), p. 89
  • [8] Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1970), p. 91
  • [9] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 602-603; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 127-131
  • [10]Richardson, Heather Cox, West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America after the Civil War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), p. 36-37; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 131
  • [11] Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1970), p. 92-94, 101-102
Advertisements

Tagged: , , , ,

One thought on “Massacre at Sand Creek

  1. […] The Sand Creek Massacre occurred in the Colorado Territory. […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: