Sand Creek Massacre

Privacy Level: Open (White)

Surnames/tags: Category: Native American History Category: U_S_Civil_War Battles
Profile manager: Carole Taylor private message [send private message]
This page has been accessed 442 times.

Help improve profiles related to the Sand Creek Massacre; see Project Goals, below.

About the Massacre

The Sand Creek massacre (also known as the Chivington massacre, the battle of Sand Creek or the massacre of Cheyenne Indians) was a massacre of Cheyenne and Arapaho people by the U.S. Army in the American Indian Wars that occurred on November 29, 1864, when a 675-man force of the Third Colorado Cavalry under the command of U.S. Volunteers Colonel John Chivington attacked and destroyed a village of Cheyenne and Arapaho people in southeastern Colorado Territory, killing and mutilating an estimated 70–500 Native Americans, about two-thirds of whom were women and children. The location has been designated the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site and is administered by the National Park Service. This was part of a series of events known as the Colorado War and was preceded by the Hungate massacre. [1]

Colonel John Milton Chivington (January 27, 1821 – October 4, 1894) was a war criminal, American Methodist pastor and Mason who served as a colonel in the United States Volunteers during the New Mexico Campaign of the American Civil War. His hatred of Native Americans was implacable. Shortly before the massacre at Sand Creek he made a speech in Denver in which he called for the scalping of even Native American infants, saying, “Nits make lice.”[2]

Chivington gained infamy for leading a 700-man force of Colorado Territory militia during the massacre at Sand Creek in November 1864. An estimated 70–163 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho – about two-thirds of whom were women, children, and infants – were killed and mutilated by his troops. Chivington and his men took scalps and other body parts as battle trophies, including human fetuses and male and female genitalia. [3]

A national historic site commemorates one of the worst atrocities ever perpetrated on Native Americans.

While visible evidence of the crime is scarce, the “witness pool,” as Campbell calls it, is unusually large. Indian survivors drew maps of the attack, painted it on elk hides and told of the massacre to their descendants. But for white Americans at the time, the most damning testimony came from soldiers, who not only described the massacre but also fingered their commanding officer, a larger-than-life figure regarded, until then, as a war hero and rising star.

John Chivington stood 6-foot-4, weighed over 200 pounds, and used his booming voice to good effect as a minister and ardent abolitionist before the Civil War. When war broke out, he volunteered to fight rather than preach, leading Union troops to victory at Glorieta Pass, in New Mexico, against a Confederate force that sought to disrupt trade routes and invade the Colorado gold fields.

That 1862 battle—later hailed as the “Gettysburg of the West”—ended the Rebel threat and made Chivington a colonel. But as Colorado troops deployed east, to more active campaigns, conflict increased with Indians in the thinly settled territory. Tensions peaked in the summer of 1864, following the murder of a white family near Denver, a crime attributed at the time to raiding Cheyenne or Arapaho. The territorial governor, John Evans, called on citizens to “kill and destroy” hostile natives and raised a new regiment, led by Chivington. Evans also ordered “friendly Indians” to seek out “places of safety,” such as U.S. forts.

The Cheyenne chief Black Kettle heeded this call. Known as a peacemaker, he and allied chiefs initiated talks with white authorities, the last of whom was a fort commander who told the Indians to remain in their camp at Sand Creek until the commander received further orders.

But Governor Evans was intent on the “chastisement” of all the region’s Indians and he had a willing cudgel in Chivington, who hoped further military glory would vault him into Congress. For months, his new regiment had seen no action and become mockingly known as the “Bloodless Third.” Then, shortly before the unit’s 100-day enlistment ran out, Chivington led about 700 men on a night ride to Sand Creek.

“At daylight this morning attacked Cheyenne village of 130 lodges, from 900 to 1,000 warriors strong,” Chivington wrote his superior late on November 29. His men, he said, waged a furious battle against well-armed and entrenched foes, ending in a great victory: the deaths of several chiefs, “between 400 and 500 other Indians” and “almost an annihilation of the entire tribe.”

This news was greeted with acclaim, as were Chivington’s troops, who returned to Denver displaying scalps they’d cut from Indians (some of which became props in celebratory local plays). But this gruesome revelry was interrupted by the emergence of a very different storyline. Its primary author was Capt. Silas Soule, a militant abolitionist and eager warrior, like Chivington. Soule, however, was appalled by the attack on Sand Creek, which he saw as a betrayal of peaceful Indians. He refused to fire a shot or order his men into action, instead bearing witness to the massacre and recording it in chilling detail.

“Hundreds of women and children were coming towards us, and getting on their knees for mercy,” he wrote, only to be shot and “have their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized.” Indians didn’t fight from trenches, as Chivington claimed; they fled up the creek and desperately dug into its sand banks for protection. From there, some young men “defended themselves as well as they could,” with a few rifles and bows, until overwhelmed by carbines and howitzers. Others were chased down and killed as they fled across the Plains.

Soule estimated the Indian dead at 200, all but 60 of them women and children. He also told of how the soldiers not only scalped the dead but cut off the “Ears and Privates” of chiefs. “Squaws snatches were cut out for trophies.” Of Chivington’s leadership, Soule reported: “There was no organization among our troops, they were a perfect mob—every man on his own hook.” Given this chaos, some of the dozen or so soldiers killed at Sand Creek were likely hit by friendly fire.

Soule sent his dispatch to a sympathetic major. A lieutenant at the scene sent a similar report. When these accounts reached Washington in early 1865, Congress and the military launched investigations. Chivington testified that it was impossible to tell peaceful from hostile natives, and insisted he’d battled warriors rather than slaughtering civilians. But a Congressional committee ruled that the colonel had “deliberately planned and executed a foul and dastardly massacre” and “surprised and murdered, in cold blood” Indians who “had every reason to believe that they were under [U.S.] protection.”

That authorities in Washington paid attention to distant Sand Creek was striking, particularly at a time when civil war still raged back East. Federal condemnation of a military atrocity against Indians was likewise extraordinary. In a treaty later that year, the U.S. government also promised reparations for “the gross and wanton outrages” perpetrated at Sand Creek.

Chivington escaped court-martial because he had already resigned from the military. But his once-promising career was over. He became a nomad and failed entrepreneur rather than a Congressman. Soule, his principal accuser, also paid for his role in the affair. Soon after testifying, he was shot dead on a Denver street by assailants believed to have been associates of Chivington.

Another casualty of Sand Creek was any remaining hope of peace on the Plains. Black Kettle, the Cheyenne chief who had raised a U.S. flag in a futile gesture of fellowship, survived the massacre, carrying his badly wounded wife from the field and straggling east across the wintry plains. The next year, in his continuing effort to make peace, he signed a treaty and resettled his band on reservation land in Oklahoma. He was killed there in 1868, in yet another massacre, this one led by George Armstrong Custer.

Many other Indians, meanwhile, had taken Sand Creek as final proof that peace with whites was impossible and promises of protection meant nothing. Young Cheyenne warriors, called Dog Soldiers, joined other Plains tribesmen in launching raids that killed scores of settlers and paralyzed transport. As a result, says the historian Ari Kelman, the massacre at Sand Creek accomplished the opposite of what Chivington and his allies had sought. Rather than speed the removal of Indians and the opening of the Plains to whites, it united formerly divided tribes into a formidable obstacle to expansion.

Sand Creek and its aftermath also kept the nation at war long after the South’s surrender. Union soldiers, and generals such as Sherman and Sheridan, were redeployed west to subdue Plains Indians. This campaign took five times as long as the Civil War, until the infamous massacre at Wounded Knee, in 1890, all but extinguished resistance.

“Sand Creek and Wounded Knee were bookends of the Plains Indian Wars, which were, in turn, the last sad chapter of the Civil War,” Kelman says.

Project Goals

The goal of this project is to add the additional information/DATA here:

  1. Daily Mining Journal, September 12, 1865
  2. Roster of Soldiers
  3. Official Report of the Battle of Sand Creek
  4. 500 INDIANS KILLED and Our losses: listed
newspaper item
  1. Colorado Historical Newspapers Results 1 to 20 of 78 for " Sand Creek Massacre?"

Right now this project just has one member, me. I am Carole Taylor.

Here are some of the tasks that I think need to be done. I'll be working on them, and could use your help.

  • Adding all the Soldiers to Sand Creek Massacre category .
  • Adding all the Indians that are said to be there. (except for 1 thing, we have proof that Cheif Black Kettle/his wife survived the massacre.

Sand Creek Massacre names

Will you join me? Please post a comment here on this page, in G2G using the project tag, or send me a private message. Thanks!

  • Login to edit this profile and add images.
  • Private Messages: Send a private message to the Profile Manager. (Best when privacy is an issue.)
  • Public Comments: Login to post. (Best for messages specifically directed to those editing this profile. Limit 20 per day.)

Comments: 2

Leave a message for others who see this profile.
There are no comments yet.
Login to post a comment.
FYI. Cheyenne-12 is mentioned in the newspaper graphic.

Best! Richard Jordan, Amherst County, Virginia

posted by Richard (Jordan) J
Hi Carole, Thanks for starting this project. My profile of Giles Ilett will now point to it. I will leave on his profile my commentary on the history of the adjujnct 100-day 3rd Regimental Cavalry's involvement in the Massacre. Perhaps there can be a link from your site to that profile, for some background 'color'.

Will this project identify the adjunct Regiment as distinct from the 3rd Cavalry regulars?

Also, J. Crook kindly added, to Giles' profile, several historical sources (newspaper articles) regarding Giles life in Fairplay, which help make his nearly 30 years as a Park Co. miner come to life.

posted by Weldon Smith