What Caused The Sand Creek Massacre

Depiction of The Sand Creek Massacre
[Depiction of the Sand Creek Massacre]

The Sand Creek Massacre was caused by a variety of reasons.  Extensive research for the past several years has revealed that communication played an integral role.  Colorado Territorial Governor John Evans issued an order in the summer of 1864 to all Indians.  He ordered them to report to the nearest fort to give up their weapons with a promise that they would be given provisions and supplies and be taught how to plant and grow crops.  He said that those who do not report, would be considered criminals.  He added that they would be hunted down, tried and sent to prison.  The Cheyenne people did not receive the order until after three months from the time it was issued.  By the time they reported to Fort Lyon, the die had been cast for them. Evans received information that the Sioux and Cheyenne were gathering at Smoky Hill.  It was reported that they were going to attack Denver City, population, 15,000.  This came on the heels of the brutal murders of the Hungate family in June of 1864.  Evans wired Secretary of War, William Seward, twice in the summer of 1864 for 10,000 troops because of his fear that a major attack on Denver City was imminent. He was turned down both times.  The American Civil War was taking place then, and that is where troops were being deployed.

The Cheyenne did meet with Governor Evans, Colonel John Chivington and several others at the meeting of Camp Weld in 1864.  Evans ordered the Cheyenne to report to Fort Lyon to turn in their guns.  Once that occurred, they were told to go to Sand Creek, about 40 miles away to wait for supplies, provisions, and others to teach them how to plant crops in place of following the buffalo, the life blood of the Cheyenne people, as well as numerous other Indian tribes.

Governor Evans and Colonel Chivington ran for Congress.  Chivington, an Indian hater, who said, amongst other things, “Nits make lice”, when speaking with a group of people.  “Nits”, according to Chivington, were Indian children.  Chivington was defeated in his run for Congress.  Evans withdrew his name from the ballot.  At the same time, Colorado Territory voters, voted down the chance for the Colorado Territory to become a state.

At the end of November in 1864, 700 troops led by Chivington, attacked over 500 Cheyennes at Sand Creek.  Arapaho and Kiowa people claim their ancestors were camping at Sand Creek as well.  It was well known, at the time, that Arapaho and Kiowas always camped about 8 miles away from the Cheyenne. Many Cheyenne, based on what their Sand Creek Massacre ancestors passed down to them, is that there were no Arapaho people at Sand Creek.  

Even though the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site is over 12,000 acres in size, the Cheyenne people, based primarily on their spiritual experiences at the site, say the Sand Creek Massacre, took place at Dawson’s Bend, a bend in Sand Creek.  Dawson’s Bend was named after William Dawson who maintained a ranch on the site for nearly 40 years. Troopers shot, mutilated, raped, burned, hung, decapitated, and literally slaughtered over 400 Cheyenne people there.  These claims evolved out of survivors of Sand Creek who passed their stories (oral histories) to their families.  This particular number of those slaughtered and murdered was given to this filmmaker by Southern Cheyenne Chief Laird (Whistling Eagle) Cometsevah in 2004. Another contributor to the Sand Creek Massacre were corrupt Indian agents.  Rather than dole out supplies and provisions sent by the United States government to honor the 1861 Treaty of Fort Wise, some Indian agents sold the goods for their own profit.

These cowardly actions of greed and self-interest, in turn, caused virtual starvation for Cheyenne people, poverty, vulnerability, and hopelessness for all.

More, later….

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