[This article appeared in The Middle American News, December 2000, p. 9.]
Proposed "Sand Creek Massacre National Memorial" Will Distort History
By Dwight Murphey
A proposal is pending in Congress to make the 12,000-acre site of the 1864 "Sand Creek Massacre," located in southeastern Colorado near the Kansas line, a national historic monument. It has been proposed by Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., himself a Southern Cheyenne who is a descendant of people in the Sand Creek village, and is supported by a coalition of public officials, American Indian historians and archaeologists.
The issue of the "Sand Creek Massacre" is so supercharged with "political correctness" that the American people are more than likely to be duped once again by a distortion of history, just as they were with the "Japanese-American Money Bill" that has caused the recent payment of $20,000-per-person compensation to those who were evacuated from the west coast during World War II.
Typical of the sort of "politically correct" presentations that can be expected on the Sand Creek issue is an article that appeared on the front page of the Wichita Eagle on October 2, 2000, by historical writer Beccy Tanner entitled "Ensuring a Massacre Will Not be Forgotten." The article tells of the proposed memorial and relates the following as facts about the "massacre":
.That a force of more than 700 volunteer militiamen attacked the Indian camp at sunrise on Nov. 29, 1864, killing some 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, most of whom were the elderly, children and babies.
.That the village's chief, Black Kettle, had a reputation as a peacemaker and ran up both an American flag and a white flag as the attack was about to begin.
.That the attack was headed by Col. John Chivington, "a former Methodist minister who said his mission in life was 'to kill Indians.'"
.That the militiamen chased down and killed Indian women and children for as far as three miles.
.That archaeological surveys have found a large number of artifacts, including bullets and cannonball fragments, but "no evidence of return fire."
.That Senator Campbell calls the "massacre" a "national disgrace."
Most Americans know only this version of the events in 1864 surrounding Sand Creek. The story was recounted in very much the same way in James Michener's novel Centennial. Old timers in Denver, however, where the militia force originated, have long said that "there is another side to the history, one that the media never tells." This proves very much to be the case when one studies the issue in any depth. Here are some facts such a study reveals:
Duane Schultz's 1990 book describing the attack as a "massacre" gives figures that just don't hold up when examined. He says vaguely that "more than a hundred" Indians were killed, two-thirds of whom were women and children. This suggests, in contradiction to several eye-witnesses, that as few as 33 warriors were among those killed. Some of these warriors were bound to have been killed in the early minutes of the attack. Somehow, the few who remained were then able to conduct a dawn-to-dusk running battle, allegedly without the benefit of pre-prepared defensive positions, against 700 cavalrymen on horseback. This less-than-credible version runs counter to the account by the militiamen themselves that, despite the original element of surprise, it quickly turned into a battle among armed forces that lasted for several hours. The argument over such details is important because almost everything about the events of that day is in dispute, and it makes a lot of difference which side to believe.
Whatever the facts are about Nov. 29, 1864, there are a number of background facts, which are mostly not in dispute but that are ignored in the standard telling, that place the attack in a much-needed perspective:
.That Denver and the white settlers all along the front range of the Rocky Mountains were left defenseless when Army troops were withdrawn to go fight in the Civil War.
.That the Minnesota uprising in 1862, with almost 800 white settlers killed, filled Coloradoans with terror.
.That in early 1863 a U.S. Indian agent reported to the governor of Colorado, John Evans (for whom Mount Evans west of Denver is named), that the Sioux, Arapaho, and Cheyenne had formed an alliance for a war of extermination against the whites.
.That Gov. Evans then travelled to several places on the plains to meet with the Indians to prevent war, but the chiefs refused to meet.
.That during the months preceding Sand Creek a total of 208 whites - men, women, children, and soldiers - were killed by the Indians in a series of raids and battles. In June 1864 the bodies of the Hungate family, killed on a ranch twenty-five miles southeast of Denver, were brought to the city for burial, with the children's throats cut so severely that their heads were barely attached to the torsos.
.That Indian representatives came to Denver in September 1864 seeking peace in keeping with a pattern of conducting warfare all spring and summer and then arranging a peace for the winter, but were told by Gov. Evans that they would have to seek peace from the military.
.That the militia force was raised in Denver as the Third Colorado Cavalry under Col. John M. Chivington's command and made a grueling winter's march to Sand Creek from Denver.
.That a number of white scalps were found in the village, confirming that the Indians at Sand Creek were among those who had attacked the settlers during the preceding months.
An excellent study of the attack and its background is William R. Dunn's 1985 book "I Stand By Sand Creek" (Fort Collins, CO: Old Army Press). Needless to say, it will be rarely cited on the issue. A more complete discussion of the three-century history of conflict between whites and Indians in American history, again placing it in historical perspective, can be found in Dwight Murphey's The Dispossession of the American Indian - And Other Key Issues in American History (Washington: Scott-Townsend Publishers, 1995).
After Beccy Tanner's report appeared in the Wichita Eagle, she was sent a copy of Murphey's study, with a note indicating the pages in which Sand Creek is discussed, but as of the time this is written three weeks later there has been no follow-up story in the paper telling the public that there is another side to be considered, nor any response from Ms Tanner.