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The Sand Creek Massacre

 Native American Nations | A Century of Dishonor                    


The following letters were printed in the New York Tribune in the winter of 1S79. They are of interest, not only as giving a minute account of one of the most atrocious massacres ever perpetrated, but also as showing the sense of justice which is to be found in the frontiersman's mind to-day. That men, exasperated by atrocities and outrages, should have avenged themselves with hot haste and cruelty, was, perhaps, only human; but that men should be found, fifteen years later, apologizing for, nay, justifying the cruel deed, is indeed a matter of marvel.

Letter I.
In June, l864, Governor Evans, of Colorado, sent out a circular to the Indians of the Plains, inviting all friendly Indians to come into the neighborhood of the forts, and be protected by the United States troops. Hostilities and depredations had been committed by some bands of Indians, and the Government was about to make war upon them. This circular says:

"In some instances they (the Indians) have attacked and killed soldiers, and murdered peaceable citizens. For this the Great Father is angry, and will certainly hunt them out and punish them; but he does not want to injure those who remain friendly to the whites. He desires to protect and take care of them. For this purpose I direct that all friendly Indians keep away from those who are at war, and go to places of safety. Friendly Arapaho and Cheyenne belonging to the Arkansas River will go to Major Colby, United States Agent at Fort Lyon, who will give them provisions and show them a place of safety."

In consequence of this proclamation of the governor, a band of Cheyenne, several hundred in numbers, came in and settled down near Fort Lyon. After a time they were requested to move to Sand Creek, about forty miles from Fort Lyon, where they were still guaranteed ''perfect safety" and the protection of the Government. Rations of food were issued to them from time to time. On the 27th of November, Colonel J. M. Chivington, a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Denver, and Colonel of the First Colorado Cavalry, led his regiment by a forced march to Fort Lyon, induced some of the United States troops to join him, and fell upon this camp of friendly Indians at daybreak. The chief, White Antelope, always known as friendly to the whites, came running toward the soldiers, holding up his hands and crying, "Stop! Stop!" in English. When he saw that there was no mistake, that it was a deliberate attack, he folded his arms and waited till he was shot down. The United States flag was floating over the lodge of Black Kettle, the head chief of the tribe; below it was tied also a small white flag as additional security a precaution Black Kettle had been advised by United States officers to take if lie met troops on the Plains. In Major Wyukoop's testimony, given before the committee appointed by Congress to investigate this massacre, is the following passage:

"Women and children were killed and scalped, children shot at their mothers' breasts, and all the bodies mutilated in the most horrible manner. The dead bodies of females profaned in such a manner that the recital is sickening, Colonel J. M. Chivington all the time inciting his troops to their diabolical outrages."

Another man testified as to what he saw on the 30th of November, three days after the battle, as follows:

"I saw a man dismount from his horse and cut the ear from the body of an Indian, and the scalp from the head of another. I saw a number of children killed; they had bullet-holes in them; one child had been cut with some sharp instrument across its side. I saw another that both ears had been cut off. I saw several of the Third Regiment cut off fingers to get the rings off them. I saw Major Sayre scalp a dead Indian. The scalp had a long tail of silver hanging to it."
Robert Bent testified:
" I saw one squaw lying on the bank, whose leg had been broken. A soldier came up to her with a drawn saber. She raised her arm to protect herself; he struck, breaking her arm. She rolled over, and raised her other arm; he struck, breaking that, and then left her without killing her. I saw one squaw cut open, with an unborn child lying by her side."
Major Anthony testified:
"There was one little child, probably three years old, just big-enough to walk through the sand. The Indians had gone ahead, and this little child was behind, following after them. The little fellow was perfectly naked, traveling in the sand. I saw one man get off his horse at a distance of about seventy-five yards and draw up his rifle and fire. He missed the child. Another man came up and said, let me try the son of a b-. I can hit him.' lie got down off his horse, kneeled down, and fired at the little child, but he missed him. A third man came up, and made a similar remark, and fired, and the little fellow dropped."

The Indians were not able to make much resistance, as only a part of them were armed, the United States officers having required them to give up their guns. Luckily they had kept a few.

When this Colorado regiment of demons returned to Denver they were greeted with an ovation. The Denver News said: "All acquitted themselves well. Colorado soldiers have again covered themselves with glory; " and at a theatrical performance given in the city, these scalps taken from Indians were held up and exhibited to the audience, which applauded rapturously.

After listening, day after day, to such testimonies as these I have quoted, and others so much worse that I may not write and The Tribune could not print the words needful to tell them, the committee reported: " It is difficult to believe that beings in the form of men, and disgracing the uniform of United States soldiers and officers, could commit or countenance the commission of such acts of cruelty and barbarity; " and of Colonel Chivington: " He deliberately planned and executed a foul and dastardly massacre, which would have disgraced the veriest savage among those who were the victims of his cruelty."

This was just fifteen years ago, no more. Shall we apply the same rule of judgment to the white men of Colorado that the Government is now applying to the Utes? There am 130,000 inhabitants of Colorado; hundreds of them had a hand in this massacre, and thousands in cool blood applauded it when it was done. There are 4000 Utes in Colorado. Twelve of them, desperate, guilty men, have committed murder and rape, and three or four hundred of them did, in the convenient phrase of our diplomacy, " go to war against the Government; "they attempted, by force of arms, to restrain the entrance upon their own lands, lands bought, owned and paid for of soldiers that the Government had sent there, to be ready to make war upon them, in case the agent thought it best to do so! This is the plain English of it. This is the plain, naked truth of it.

And now the Secretary of the Interior has stopped the issue of rations to 1000 of these helpless creatures; rations, be it understood, which are not, and never were, a charity, but are the Ute' rightful dues, on account of lands by them sold; dues which the Government promised to pay " annually forever."

Will the American people justify this? There is such a thing as the conscience of a nation as a nation's sense of justice. Can it not be roused to speak now? Shall we sit still; warm and well fed, in our homes, while five hundred women and little children are being slowly starved in the bleak, barren wildernesses of Colorado? Starved, not because storm, or blight, or drought has visited their country and cut off their crops; not because pestilence has laid its hand on them and slain the hunters who brought them meat, but because it lies within the promise of one man, by one word, to deprive them of one-half their necessary food for as long a term of years as he may please; and " the Secretary of the Interior cannot consistently feed a tribe that has gone to war against the Government."

We read in the statutes of the United States that certain things may be done by " executive order " of the President. Is it not time for a President to interfere when hundreds of women and children are being starved in his Republic by the order of one man? Colonel J. M. Chivington's method was less inhuman by far. To be shot dead is a mercy, and a grace for which we would all sue, if to be starved to death were our only other alternative.

New York, Jan. 31st, 1880. H. H.

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A Century of Dishonor, By Helen Hunt Jackson, New York, Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square, 1885

A Century of Dishonor


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