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OUT OF THE PAST
History Lessons

1864 
Sand Creek Massacre

At dawn on November 29, 1864, approximately 700 U.S. volunteer soldiers commanded by Colonel John M. Chivington attacked a village of about 500 Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians along Sand Creek - also known as Big Sandy Creek - in southeastern Colorado Territory. 

Using small arms and howitzer fire, the troops drove the people out of their camp. While many managed to escape the initial onslaught, others, particularly noncombatant women, children, and the elderly fled into and up the bottom of the dry streambed. The soldiers followed, shooting at them as they struggled through the sandy earth. At a point several hundred yards above the village, the people frantically excavated pits and trenches along either side of the streambed to protect them. Some attempted to fight back with whatever weapons they had managed to retrieve from the camp, and at several places along Sand Creek the soldiers shot the people from opposite banks and presently brought forward the howitzers to blast them from their scant defenses. 

Over the course of seven hours the troops succeeded in killing at least 150 Cheyennes and Arapahos composed mostly of the old, the young, and the weak. During the afternoon and following day, the soldiers wandered over the field committing atrocities on the dead before departing the scene on December 1st to resume campaigning." 
 
Since the day it happened, the Sand Creek Massacre has maintained its station as one of the most emotionally charged and controversial events in American history, a seemingly senseless frontier tragedy reflective of its time and place. The background of Sand Creek lay in a whirlwind of events and issues registered by the ongoing Civil War in the East and West, the overreactions by whites on the frontier to the 1862-63 Dakota uprising in Minnesota and its aftermath, the status of the various bands of Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians vis-a-vis each other as well as other plains tribes, the constant undercurrent of threatened Confederate incursions, along with the existing state of politics in Colorado and the self-aggrandizing machinations of individual politicians in that territory. Perhaps most important, the seeds of Sand Creek lay in the presence of two historically discordant cultures within a geographical area that both coveted for disparate reasons, a situation designed to insure conflict.

Sand Creek Massacre Project Special Resource Study/Environmental Assessment.
Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site
Sand Creek Massacre Site Location Study




Finding Sand Creek
History, Archeology, and the 1864 Massacre Site
by Jerome A. Greene and Douglas D. Scott, 
University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.


The intriguing story of archeological research and discovery that lies at the heart of this book is overshadowed by the tragic events that made "Sand Creek" a site of terrible shame and resentment. The massacre that occurred there in an indisputable dark stain on America's frontier settlement story, but the exact location of the event was uncertain until the authors, along with tribal members and National Park Service staff, used oral histories, written records and extensive fieldwork to pinpoint the site and provide new insights into the events that transpired.

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