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Background on the Sand Creek Massacre

Page history last edited by Michelle Cassidy 10 years, 7 months ago

From Colin Calloway, Our Hearts Fell to the Ground: Plains Indian Views of How the West Was Lost (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1996), p. 102-3.


"The Sioux war in Minnesota in 1862 sent a wave of terror through frontier communities who felt vulnerable owing to the diversion of able-bodied men to the Civil War. Many settlers feared the Indians would seize the opportunity to attack, and rumors that Confederate agents were at work among southern Plains tribes added to the tension. Fears in Colorado reached fever pitch late in 1863 when the military transferred troops from the territory to Missouri despite objections that the inhabitants would be left defenseless. Many historians believe that the authorities in Colorado deliberately set in motion an Indian war as the best way to prevent further troop withdrawals, and that the territorial governor, John Evans, regarded defeating the Indians as the best way of clearing the territory for development and securing statehood with himself as senator. Testifying before a congressional investigating committee, frontiersman Kit Carson said that 'the authorities in Colorado, expecting that their troops would be sent to the Potomac, determined to get up an Indian War.'


In this tense atmosphere, any thefts or raids committed by Indians were apt to be interpreted as evidence of a major uprising. Tensions with Indians increased in the spring and summer of 1864, and in June four Arapahos killed a family named Hungate near Denver. The mutilated bodies were put on display in Denver, and settlers in Colorado were outraged. Governor Evans issued a proclamation advertising "friendly Indians" who wished to avoid being mistaken for hostiles to place themselves under the protection of the military at Fort Lyon. Black Kettle and White Antelope of the Southern Cheyennes and Left Hand of the Southern Arapahos did so and, believing themselves safe, their people set up camp. On November 29, in the face of a snowstorm and anxious to score a victory before their enlisted term expired, the militia of the Third Colorado Cavalry under Colonel John Chivington attacked the village. [. . .] The soldiers killed and mutilated men, women, and children. White Antelope died singing his death song; Black Kettle survived, only to be killed in Custer's attack on his village on the Washita River four years later. Congress demanded an investigation but the massacre sparked the general Indian war that Coloradans had feared and predicted."


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