A desolate piece of land in rural southeastern Colorado commemorates 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho tribe members who were murdered and mutilated by the U.S. Army.
On November 29, 1864, seven hundred members of the Colorado Territory militia embarked on an attack of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian villages. The militia was led by U.S. Army Col. John Chivington, a Methodist preacher, as well as a freemason. After a night of heavy drinking by the soldiers, Chivington ordered the massacre of the Indians. Over two-thirds of the slaughtered and maimed were women and children. For two days the soldiers roamed the nearby countryside hunting down and killing womean and children trying to escape. This atrocity has been known as the Sand Creek Massacre ever since.
Russell Contreras writes the following in an online periodical that I recommend, Indian Country Today.
The village under the care of Chiefs Black Kettle and Left Hand had believed they were under the protection of the U.S. Army and even approached the unit with white flags.
For two days, the troops shot and hunted fleeing women and children about a 35 square-mile (90.7 square-kilometer) region. Troops then cut off the body parts of those killed and kept human remains as trophies.
An Army judge would later call the unprovoked attack amid tensions with white land speculators and “a cowardly cold-blooded slaughter” of Cheyennes and Arapahos. Territorial Gov. John Evans would be forced to resign. However Chivington never faced a trial for his actions.
Contreras writes of his experiencing the voices of those murdered at Sand Creek and other places of murderous injustice.
Walking on the premises, I was reminded what civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson said in the HBO documentary “True Justice.” As a lawyer in Montgomery, Alabama, he used to walk along the Alabama River outside of downtown and hear the cries of slaves from previous generations, asking the living not to forget them.
I’ve heard a similar sound when the late civil rights leader Benny Martinez took me to a tree in Goliad, Texas, where mobs once lynched Mexican Americans. I heard it again when I visited the remains of the Amache Japanese American Relocation Center in Granada, Colorado — the site of the former World War II-era Japanese American internment camp. I recognized the cries when I was taken to the site of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
For me, coming to the Sand Creek Massacre site is not part of the dark tourism movement — visiting places connected to human tragedy just for the thrill of it. It’s part of what some scholars call “memory work,” where one engages with the past to revise accounts of history.
The raw wind whiffed as I stood alone on Sand Creek Massacre’s Monument Hill. I closed my eyes and tried to listen to the words that history hasn’t said.
There are historians who try to at least partly justify the massacre at Sand Creek. Indian youth were engaged in the cultural entrance into manhood, who were stealing and attacking the whites who were moving into their ancient territories. Peace treaties such as made by Chief Black Kettle were not sufficiently enforced in their minds.
The atrocity resulted in an investigation by the Joint Committee on the Conduct of War, and across the country most saw the massacre as a revolting butchery of mostly women and children.Many people including army commanders were horrified at Colonel John Chivington’s massacre. Hearings were held, but he never was punished. Indeed, for the rest of his life, Chivington justified his attack.
Colonel Chivington was a Methodist minister prior to taking an army command. He believed the Indians were savages to be penned up or eliminated. I always find it tragic, an affront to the Gospel of Jesus, when persons justify actions contrary to the teachings of Jesus, indeed are satanic. Attacking a peaceful sleeping village under treaty was murder. And as the article by Contreras points out, the voices of the murdered cry out.
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. Genesis 4:9-11)