The Sand Creek Massacre, Colorado
Civil War Time
1. Review of Sand Creek Massacre and relationship to the Civil War and it's Leaders at
2. Biographical data of Governor John Evans.
3. The Sand Creek story on PBS Documentary "The West"
4. The After Math
Sand Creek Massacre Relationship to the Civil War
While General William T. Sherman, USA was making his March to the Sea, destroying and pillaging
everything in his path, another grim spectacle was taking place in the West under the command of
Colonel John M. Chivington, USA. This offensive was against the Cheyenne Indians of Colorado
and Chief Black Kettle at Sand Creek.
John Chivington was a Methodist minister from Ohio who settled in Denver in 1860.
He was a very large man and made very imposing speeches. A friend of his called him a crazy
preacher who thinks he is Napoleon Bonaparte. Chivington commanded the 1st Regt from
Colorado of Union troops to force the Confederate push into New Mexico back in 1862. He
became Colonel after the Regiments commander resigned.
He said, that he believed he could run an empire, he once told a friend.
When John Evans became Governor, the two of them had desires to punish the Indians for rebelling
against the White intrusion into their lands.
Governor Evans sent a message to Secretary of War Edward Stanton that was filled with
inaccuracy. He said the alliance of Indians on the plains is now undoubted. He said a large force say
10,000 troops will be necessary to defend the lives and put down hostilities. Unless they can be
sent at once we will be cut off and destroyed.
Evans knew that they could not be sent at once. The Union Army of 1864 was involved in the Civil
War. They could not send this type of force. The US Army allowed them to raise a regiment to be
known as the 3rd Colorado to be enlisted for 100 days. Governor Evans even declared martial law.
He even stopped wagon trains from leaving the area.
On November 28, 1864, while General William T. Sherman was marching through Georgia, Colonel
Chivington began his attack at Sand Creek against Black Kettle. The troops came in and killed
women, children, and some men that day. The babies were slaughtered by beating their brains out.
The dead were scalped and other horrible acts were done to the bodies of the dead. One hundred
ninety-eight Indian women and children were killed. Twenty five men were killed. The soldiers lost
nine killed and thirty eight wounded. Though Black Kettle and his wife survived he would be killed
four years later by General George Armstrong Custer at the Chief's village.
The "Bloody 3rd Colorado" were heroes for a while, but they would live in disgrace
as the carnage of Sand Creek was revealed.
On December 28, 1864 the 3rd Colorado was mustered out and Col. Chivington found himself
without a job. He would move to Nebraska to live the rest of his life trying to defend his actions at
General William T. Sherman would finish the Civil War and then became commander of the army
over the Indian Wars of the West after General Sheridan.
1. George B. Grinnell, The Fighting Cheyennes, 1956.
2. Col. William A. Ganoe, The History of the US Army, 1964.
3. Robert G. Athearn, WT Sherman and the Settlement of the West, 1956.
4. The Soldiers, TLB, 1973.
5. PBS Series, The West.
6. Colorado State Archives
"All we ask is that we have peace with the whites. We want to hold you by the hand. You are our
father. We have been travelling through a cloud. The sky has been dark ever since the war began.
These braves who are with me are willing to do what I say. We want to take good tidings home to
our people, that they may sleep in peace. I want you to give all these chiefs of the soldiers here to
understand that we are for peace, and that we have made peace, that we may not be mistaken by
them for enemies. I have not come here with a little wolf bark, but have come to talk plain with you."
-Motavato (Black Kettle) speaking to Gov. Evans, Col. Chivington, Maj. Wynkoop & others
in Denver, autumn, 1864
Black Kettle had been a great warrior in his youth. Now, in late summer of middle age, he was a
widely recognized Chief of the Southern Cheyenne. Accompanied by Lean Bear, he had recently
been to Washington and shook hands with the Great Father Lincoln. Lean Bear and Black Kettle
had been friends since they were babies; it must have blown their minds to visit the Capitol City. It is
not hard to imagine them walking amidst all the bustle and building thinking,, just what are these
white folks trying to do? President Lincoln presented them with pretty medals to wear and papers
stating that they were good friends of the United States. But since then, things had been getting more
confusing on the plains. There was talk of soldiers attacking Cheyenne.
One morning Lean Bear rode out to meet the Bluecoats as they approached the Cheyenne camp
on Ash Creek. He wore the medal and brought the papers to show the soldiers that he was
peaceful. When he was close enough, they opened fired and killed him. Black Kettle did not
understand this. He and Lean Bear tried to avoid conflicts and steered their people away from the
unforseen dangers encountered through too much contact with buffalo hunters, stage roads, white
man's forts and railroads. The warriors of the Southern Cheyenne, the young men who comprised
the Dog Soldiers, were more attracted to leaders like Roman Nose who loved a good fight,
especially if there seemed to be a noble cause. As things got crazier on the plains, indiscriminate
attacks became mutual fare. The Dog Soldiers believed that they could realize their ends through
armed struggle and conducted a guerrila war along the Platte, launching many bloody raids against
the inexorable advance of the whites across the Great Plains. In 1864, officials in Colorado issued
an ultimatum; all friendly Indians should surrender by reporting to the local forts where they would
be instructed on what to do and be protected. Hostile Indians and those not complying with this
form of surrender would be hunted down and killed. The soldiers who killed Lean Bear had been
instructed to kill Indians, period.
Governor John Evans of the Colorado Territory, had leaned on his connections in Washington and
received permission to raise a new regiment for protection against marauding Indians. The possibility
of peace offered by Black Kettle, White Antelope and other Cheyenne chiefs was not what Evans
had in mind. Evans wanted to satisfy his constituents and had already commited himself to a course
of action. He felt it would compromise his credibility with his connections in DC as well as betray the
locals who desired to avoid conscription by joining a regiment to fight poorly armed Indians rather
than well-seasoned Confederate troops. As the Governor explained, "They have been raised to kill
Indians, and they must kill Indians."
On November 29, 1864, troops under the command of Colonel John M. Chivington, a former
Methodist preacher with political ambitions, attacked and destroyed the Cheyenne camp of Chief
Black Kettle and Chief White Antelope by Sand Creek, on the plains of eastern Colorado. Upon
hearing the approaching soldiers in the early morning light, White Antelope went out to meet them.
The Bluecoats raised their rifles and White Antelope sang a death song as the bullets tore through
him. Black Kettle stood in the middle of the camp and raised his American flag as well as a white
flag in case anyone thought the first one was just a souvenir. The previous year in Washington,
Colonel Greenwood, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, had presented Black Kettle with this huge
34 star flag, saying that soldiers would not fire upon anyone standing under the Stars and Stripes.
Black Kettle always mounted it above his tipi in the middle of the village when he stayed in one
place for any length of time. He and the other chiefs in his camp had already declared themselves at
peace and were led to believe they had done what they were told to do. They were now under the
military protection of Fort Lyon. So the Chief held up the poles in the early November air and his
breath condensed into mist as he called to his people and with prayerful confidence, told them not to
be afraid, that the soldiers would not hurt them. Chivington's troops then opened fire from both sides
of the camp, shooting directly into the crowd around Black Kettle and scattering them.
Conservative estimates figure the Indian dead at 105 women and children and 28 men. The Army
also drove off about six hundred horses and mules. In a few nauseating hours, a gang of white devils
had "destroyed the lives and power of every Cheyenne and Arapaho chief who had held out for
peace." (Dee Brown) The slaughter would soon caused a massive public reaction, but what exactly
had happened on the banks of Sand Creek was not immediately obvious to the general public.
The soldiers, many of them drunk, had killed indiscriminately. After the battle, they went on to
scalp, bash in skulls and otherwise mutilate the dead. Officers and enlisted men alike cut off the
private parts of men, women and children and kept them as souvenirs. Others cut off fingers to
obtain rings. Women and children prisoners were killed and scalped by the Bluecoats who were
"wading in gore" as Chivington had promised. A full two weeks after the massacre, the Colonel was
honored with a big parade through the streets of Denver. He even appeared onstage displaying
some of his grisly trophies. A Denver editorial boasted, "Among the brilliant feats of arms in Indian
warfare, the recent campaign of our Colorado volunteers will stand in history with few rivals, and
none to exceed it in final results." They go on to state, "Colorado soldiers have again covered
themselves with glory."
Caught up in his own demented illusions, Chivington decided to publicize the cowardice of
Captain Silas Soule (1839-1865) and other officers at Fort Lyon who denounced the treacherous
attack, saying that it would be murder and a disgrace to the Army to participate in such a thing.
Ordered to accompany the expedition or face court-martial, they went along, but ordered their
troops to stand down unless fired upon. When Chivington oinked in Denver about Soule, Captain
Soule's men could no longer contain themselves and in proud defense of their leader, spoke about
what they had seen and heard that day. Soule wrote, that it was "... hard for me to see little children
on their knees begging for their lives, to have their brains beaten out like dogs." This led to an
investigation into Chivington's conduct which was not a popular move in Denver that year and
proceedings were conducted under a cloud of intimidation. But Soule, who had previously schemed
with the Jayhawks, and helped the Underground Railroad, and who had fought alongside Chivington
against the Confederates at Glorieta Pass, had seen too much that was contrary to his ideals at Sand
Creek that day to be shut down. He knew Black Kettle and his people and that this was a peaceful
band seeking refuge. It was deceit to consider the Army's actions as anything but cold-blooded
murder. Soule spoke out against the deeds of his old commander and alerted the world to the
holocaust happening in the American west. Soon afterwards, he was shot by a friend or supporter of
Chivington who moved to California and was never brought to justice. Major Wynkoop, an
eyewitness to events preceding the slaughter at Sand Creek, offered this report to the American
Geographical and Statistical Society at the Cooper Institute, on Christmas Eve, 1864. It appeared
on page one of the New York Tribune;
In regard to the causes of the Indian war which has existed, at intervals, since 1863, speaking
alone from my own personal knowledge, I would say, without hesitation that the initiative has in
every instance been taken by our own people. Ten years ago I was one of a party of 17 adventurers
who started from the Territory of Kansas to seek their fortunes in the region of the Rocky
Mountains that was then known as the Pike's peak country, now the Territory of Colorado. During
our journey thither we passed through numerous bands of Indians, viz.: Kiowas, Comanches,
Arapahos, Cheyennes, and Apaches. Thousands of them were camped along the Arkansas River,
all the way to the Rocky Mountains. We were treated hospitably by them and with the utmost
kindness; we were the vanguard of an army of emigrants, who were soon to take possession of their
hunting grounds, and it would have been but a simple effort for them to have crushed us at that time
had they felt so disposed. But, on the contrary when the nucleus which we formed had gathered
together hundreds of gold seekers at the mouth of Cherry Creek where now stands the city of
Denver and the Indians knew that the supposed treasures of these mountains would attract
thousands who must necessarily encroach upon their rights, still their intercourse was of the most
As the emigration continued to flow in during the years '58, '59, '60, '61 and '62, I know of no
instance in which the friendly relations, existing between the Indian and the white man were
interrupted. But during the year 1863 that country was cursed with the presence of a man in power,
the commander of a military District, in which was included the Territory of Colorado, whose
position gave him absolute sway, and whose name is synonymous with infamy, Col. J. M.
Chivington. Having had his command reduced by frequent calls of troops to take the field against
those who were endeavoring to dissever our Union, found that it was necessary to do something to
retain him in the most exalted position he had ever held--that of a commander of a military district
where troops were not really required. He, therefore, thought it was politic to inaugurate an Indian
war. Finding a good opportunity, on the pretense that a certain hunting party of Cheyenne Indians
had run off some stock which they had found on the prairie, and at the time were driving toward a
ranch to return to their lawful owners, he ordered a detachment of his troops to make an attack
They naturally defended themselves, and the consequence was a skirmish, in which some lives
were lost; and from that arose the cry of an Indian war. Under the orders of this monster, the troops
then took the field to kill all Indians that they might meet. The Indians, in retaliation for the wrongs
had been imposed upon them, naturally committed depredations whenever they had an opportunity;
but after this state of affairs had existed for a couple of months, under the influence of the older and
wiser heads of their race, retired from the highways and the vicinity of the settlements, and sued for
peace. An armistice existed for a short time, and then came the fearful massacre of Sand Creek,
with the details of which almost every one is familiar, where Indian women and children were
murdered in cold blood by United States troops and their bodies mutilated in the most horrible
A year later, Black Kettle, still determined to find a way to live in peace with white men,
again met with US government treaty makers at the mouth of the Little Arkansas River in
"Although the troops have struck us, we throw it all behind and are glad to meet you in peace and
friendship. What you have come here for, and what the President has sent you for, I don't object to,
but say yes to it... The white people can go wherever they please and they will not be disturbed by
us, and I want you to let them know... We are different nations, but it seems as if we were but one
people, whites and all... Again, I take you by the hand, and I feel happy. These people that are with
us are glad to think that we can have peace once more, and can sleep soundly, and that we can live."
-Motavato (Black Kettle), October, 1865
The chiefs present at the meeting on the Little Arkansas, signed away all claims of the Southern
Cheyenne and Arapaho to the Territory of Colorado and agreed to 'perpetual peace'. As agreed,
they moved south of the Arkansas River where they enjoyed a few good seasons, able to resume
some semblance of their former lives and attempt to raise their families on the grassy plains. "These
were happy days for us," recalled George Bent, a half-breed who married Black Kettle's niece. But
there were soon problems. The government did not hold up their part of the bargain and failed to
supply the Indians with arms and ammunition as promised. Game was becoming scarcer every day;
and unable to procure subsistence for their families, with no means to acquire the absolute
necessities of life, some became desperate.
According to Major Wynkoop, "Some of the wilder spirits, incensed at treatment which they
supposed to be most unjust, started on the war-path against the whites, but they were the outlaws of
their tribe, and were so declared by those chiefs whom I saw after they had committed their
depredations. Their whole race should not have been made responsible for the evil doings of a few,
for the head men of their tribe, with whom I held council, considered that those outlaws had done
more injury to their own people than to mine, and were willing and anxious to deliver them up to us
to be handed over to justice; but the troops were in the field and the Indians in flight before the same
could be consummated."
The next council was at Fort Larned, Kansas in the fall of 1866, General Winfield Scott Hancock
presiding. The Indians called him Old Man of the Thunder, and he was intent on getting something
done. Maybe it was the shadow of defeat hanging over him from the Civil War, the repeated insults
to his warrior's pride suffered under Confederate clout, but Hancock was not a good man to have
sent west. Back in '62, the press had dubbed him Hancock the Superb for his military exploits. This
was the man who wasted Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg . But by the fall of '64 he left his field
command because of discouragement and burn out. His men had been severely butchered, his guns
had been overrun, the glory had faded in a series of defeats during the Virginia campaign. Grant had
sent Hancock's men to the slaughter in a futile charge at Cold Harbor. Discouraged with the quality
of the new troops under his command, Hancock was no longer in the mood to rebuild and chose to
move on. Having come west, he was intent on a no-nonsense session that would produce results.
He had presidential ambitions and actually ran against Garfield in 1880, but we're getting ahead of
ourselves. First, he must enact the heroic deeds which would make his name a household word. The
General especially wanted to meet with the leaders of the Dog Soldiers. He was angry and insulted
that the great warrior Roman Nose had not come to the council. In response, Hancock marched his
troops out toward the Indian camp. The Indians, many of whom had been at Sand Creek, could
quickly see where this was leading and sent most of the women and children away on ponies.
Hancock told the remaining young men to bring the others back. The warriors rode off, but did not
return. Hancock waited a few days, then inventoried and burnt over 300 lodges, turning everything
these people possessed to ashes. Now whole families were destitute, in a starving condition, and
without shelter on the open prairie. The enraged Dog Soldiers struck back with renewed vigor.
General J.B. Sanborn, one of the Indian Comissioners wrote, "For a mighty nation like us to be
carrying on a war with a few straggling nomads, under such circumstances, is a spectacle most
humiliating, an injustice unparallelled, a national crime most revolting, that must, sooner or later, bring
down upon us or our posterity the judgement of heaven."
Hancock was recalled and his troops were sent elsewhere. General Sherman arranged the council
next fall. The government wanted the Indians to share a reservation south of the Arkansas and
would provide land and cattle to assisst in their assimilation. Over four thousand Indians were
present for the discussions at Medicine Creek Lodge, although the lack of Cheyennes at this
gathering disturbed the US commisioners. Their main goal was to convince the Dog Soldiers to
accept the land south of the Arkansas as a move in the direction of peaceful co-existence. Roman
Nose was not interested in accepting these limits and his band moved north. Still, many leaders of
the Dog Soldiers were coaxed into attentding;
"We were once friends with the whites but you nudged us out of the way by your intrigues,
and now when we are in council you keep nudging each other.
Why don't you talk, and go straight, and let all be well?"
-Motavato (Black Kettle) to the Indians gathered at Medicine Creek Lodge, October, 1867
When the gallant Roman Nose was killed in a wreckless charge against a group of scouts in the
fall of 1868, many of these young warriors lost heart in the struggle and headed south to join Black
Kettle's band. Black Kettle was glad to see them return and warmly accepted the braves back into
his fold. No doubt he spoke with them about the futility of making war against the whites. He had
just returned from Fort Cobb a few days before. There he had met with General Hazen who
assured him that his village would not be attacked. The General issued them some coffee, sugar and
tobacco, knowing that he would probably never see them again. Hazen was well aware of
Sheridan's plans. Black Kettle had resisted the entreaties of some of his people, including his wife, to
move their camp downriver closer to larger encampments of Cheyennes, Kiowas, and Apaches
wintered there. He refused to believe that Sheridan would order an attack without first offering an
opportunity for peace. This was a serious miscalculation.
Abraham Lincoln had commented that Sheridan was, "One of those long-armed fellows with short
legs, that can scratch his shins without having to stoop over." The Indians thought the stocky
commander looked like a little bear with a bad attitude. A Comanche who had surrendered walked
up to Sheridan, and smiling, pointed to himself, and said; "Tosawi, good Indian." Sheridan is then
reported to have said ,"The only good Indian is a dead Indian." Sheridan would one day become
Commander in Chief of the entire US army (1884-1888).
Before dawn, the cavalry stormed the 51 lodges, killing men, women, and children. Hard
Backside Custer reported over 100 killed, although only 11 of these were warriors. This was
Custer's first major engagement with the Indians. According to Bent,
Black Kettle and his wife, Medicine Woman, both rushed out of the lodge at the first booming of
the guns. Black Kettle mounted a horse and helped his wife up behind him and started to cross the
Washita River, but both the chief and his wife fell at the river bank riddled with bullets; the horse
was also killed at the same time. Red Shin tells me that the soldiers rode right over Black Kettle and
his wife and their horse as they lay dead on the ground, and that their bodies were all splashed with
mud by the charging soldiers...
Following Sheridan's plan to cripple resistance, Hard Backside ordered the slaughter of the Indian
pony and mule herd estimated at near 900 animals. The lodges of Black Kettle's people, with all
their winter supply of food and clothing, were torched. The loss of winter supplies, and the loss of
heart through sheer misery, convinced many bands to accept reservation life.
Note: In April 1996, the United Methodist Church, at its national convention in Denver, formally
apologized to the Arapaho and Cheyenne Indian tribes for the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864.