A chilly breeze blows in from the west as drops of water fall from above like tears rolling off the cheeks of a crying child. The dreary weather amplifies the sullen and deplorable tragedy of events that unfolded in the fields next to Sand Creek.
In November of 1864, a temporary village of 700 Cheyenne and Arapaho indians had formed within the northern boundaries of the 1861 Fort Wise Treaty lands, a part of the eastern Colorado territory. They felt safe and secure, protected by an agreement with the United States from years prior. The camp was stirring from the morning light, when a rumble of hoof beats made a presence along the horizon. Thinking the buffalo herds were near, the people gathered from their tipis. But what they saw were 675 blue uniformed soldiers, calvary and armaments marching in their direction.
Peace Chief Black Kettle raised a US flag and a white flag to signal their peaceful intentions. The chief, along with White Antelope, Standing In The Water, and Arapaho chief Left Hand walked towards the mounted soldiers and asked for a negotiation between sides – not seeking any conflict. Ignoring the request, the cavalrymen crossed the creek and fired into the chiefs killing all but Black Kettle.
Col. John Chivington, who led the forces, arrived with the artillery and order the four howitzers upstream to prevent indians from fleeing. Soldiers began chasing after the people running in all directions, spread out over several square miles. The soldiers turned their four howitzers onto the village, tipis and surrounding shores of the Sand Creek, tearing through everything, including the flesh of men, women and children. With no where to hide in this treeless prairie, some attempted to dig sand pits into the creek bed, unfortunately they were digging their own graves.
By the early afternoon, the soldiers had exhausted their ammunition and had chased down scores of people out in the prairie, killing those they found. Of the Cheyenne and Arapaho, 165 to 200 people were killed, another 200 were wounded or maimed. The soldiers lost 16 men with 70 wounded, many of whom were taken down by their own cross-fire.
The following day, the soldiers looted, scalped and mutilated the dead. Taking body parts as macabre trophies of their deed. They ransacked and burned down the village upon their departure. As they arrived in Denver a few days later, many of them showed off their souvenirs to the cheering and also horrified townsfolk.
The incident was brought forth to a Congressional Joint Committee who had strong condemnation of the massacre and bloodshed. Col. John Chivington, along with many of the soldiers, offered testimony of the events which occurred, but not one of the soldiers were indicted or tried in military or civilian court.
Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, Colorado