Why the Sand Creek Massacre needs to be remembered

At_the_Sand_Creek_Massacre,_1874-1875

This past weekend marked the 150th anniversaries of two bloody events in US history: The Battle of Franklin, a Union victory over Confederate forces at Franklin, Tenn., in the waning months of the Civil War; and the Sand Creek Massacre, in which US cavalry forces attacked an Indian camp of mostly women, children and old men more than 1,000 miles away in the Colorado Territory.

Both were routs, although only in the first were the odds anywhere near being even.

At Franklin, Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood’s Army of the Tennessee was annihilated by Union Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield’s Army of Ohio, while at Sand Creek a force of 700 Union cavalrymen destroyed a village of Cheyenne and Arapahoe in an unprovoked attack that claimed as many as 200 lives.

The anniversary of the former, which effectively destroyed the Army of Tennessee as a fighting force, was noted by history aficionados, particularly Civil War buffs, and through media accounts, while the latter, among the most brutal of many assaults on Native Americans by US forces during the War Between the States, went relatively unnoticed outside Colorado.

My first brush with the Sand Creek Massacre, albeit tenuous, came earlier this year, when I visited a historic graveyard in the West Coast town where I attended high school, in Santa Cruz, Calif. Evergreen Cemetery features the final resting place for dozens of Civil War veterans, including Lanader Prindle, who served in the 3rd Colorado Cavalry Regiment.

Living in the South for the past 15 years, and away from California for nearly all of the past 30 years, I had little knowledge of units that served in the west during the War Between the States. In addition, the 3rd Colorado piqued my interest because it came from a territory, as Colorado was still a dozen years away from statehood.

It was after a bit of research that I learned that the 3rd Colorado, along with the 1st Colorado Cavalry and a company of the 1st New Mexico Cavalry Regiment, took part in the Sand Creek Massacre, another aspect of US history I knew little about.

The stage was set for the Sand Creek Massacre when Black Kettle, a chief of the Southern Cheyenne, led his band to Fort Lyon in southeastern Colorado, according to provisions of a peace parlay held in Denver in September 1864.

Colorado’s leaders, including Col. John Chivington, a former Methodist pastor, and Colorado territorial governor John Evans, had adopted a hard-line against Indians, whom white settlers accused of stealing livestock.

Chivington made no qualms about his view toward Native Americans: “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! … I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians. … Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.”

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