The History of Bent County

by Charles W. Bowman

Chapter VI

The Sand Creek Massacre

John ChivingtonThe Indian outbreak which originated with the farming experiment in the spring of 1864 was not effectually subdued till the treaty next year at the Little Arkansas. The Indians were determined not to submit to the sort of life proposed at Point of Rocks. There was more or less killing and stealing all through 1864, if we except a brief armistice secured by Col. Bent, with the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, lasting from some time in the summer of 1864 till the last of November, and it is probable that scattered bands of these had hardly been gathered in before the new incentive to war was given by Chivington's deed at Sand Creek.
   Col. Bent's effort for peace had been seconded by Capt. Wynkoop, in command at Fort Lyon, who assured the Indians, as they visited the fort from time to time, that, if they would discontinue their depredations and go into camp, he would issue rations to them. The visits of the Indians became quite regular, and were of the most friendly character. They came in parties of twenty to forty, often including women. They visited the houses of citizens and officers, ate with them, and on every occasion passed around the pipe as an assurance of their friendly feelings. When this condition of affairs had existed probably three months, there were in camp on Big Sandy, on the line of their reservation, 600 men, women and children, including several chiefs, of whom Black Kettle was most conspicuous. Rations were being issued to them about once every two weeks as they applied.
   About the 25th of November, Wynkoop, the Post Commander, had occasion to leave the fort on a trip East, and was succeeded by Capt. Anthony as Post Commander. Capt. Soule, with a company of Colorado volunteers, was a part of the garrison. Wynkoop met the overland coaches not far from the site of Dodge, on which Robert L. Lambert and wife, Walter Stickney, and several military officers with their wives, bound for Fort Union, were passengers. Capt. Wynkoop was especially particular to inform the passengers that they need have no fears of the Indians. Mr. Lambert quotes Wynkoop as saying: "Now, gentlemen, the Indians are all friendly. I have just completed a treaty with them, and have a good understanding. If you see any of them, don't fire on them; allow them to come into your camp, for they are perfectly friendly." Mr. Lambert had left the fort only ten days before, and says no trouble had been anticipated, and such was the sense of security that the party had in no sense prepared for danger.
   Without inquiring into the military condition, the particular rank of officers, or the number or name of regiments stationed in Colorado, it is sufficient to premise that those were war times with the whites. The nation was engaged in a vital internecine struggle, so that it is probable few officers or men of the regular army remained in the country. Fort Lyon was occupied by a company of the Ninth Wisconsin Artillery. The white settlers were few and isolated. Col. Boones', eighty miles west of Fort Lyon; a stage station at Bent's old fort; Moore and Bent, at the mouth of the Purgatoire; Prowers, at the mouth of the Caddo; and Fort Lyon, comprised the white settlements on the river. On the 27th of November, these settlers witnessed Col. Chivington, with a regiment of what were known as "100-day men," including a company of Mexicans, marching down the Arkansas from the direction of Pueblo, arresting all persons found on the way, and placing guards at the ranches and stations. Reaching Fort Lyon on the 28th, he at once assumed command. That night, with the additional troops available at the fort, he started for the Indian village on Sandy, thirty miles distant, taking Robert Bent as guide. The camp was reached at daylight on the 29th. The Indians were asleep in their lodges, their ponies grazing on the hillsides, the American flag flying form the tent of the head chief, Black Kettle. No time must now be lost. A rush was made upon the camp, and the Indians, completely surprised, awoke to meet death and resist it as best they could. They were shot down as fast as found. The soldiers at first found easy work, but the Indians, within a few minutes, began to defend themselves with their bows and arrows, but, before the superior weapons and overwhelming numbers, they were as nothing. The Mexicans became frantic, threw away their guns and pounced upon the more defenseless with their knives. Women and children were seized by the hair and their throats cut or their bowels ripped open. The Indians began to scatter with intent of escape, and, being pursued, many hand-to-hand conflicts ensued. Chief O-kin-nee, it is said, after having escaped beyond danger, deliberately returned to his fate, choosing rather to die with his people than survive them alone. The Indians were pursued that day and a part of the next, when the troops went into camp at Pleasant Encampment, not far from the State line. It is worthy of record that Capt. Soule, with his entire company, after having marched to the spot, refused to participate in the attack on the village, but stood by as silent witnesses of what must have impressed them as something akin to crime. The Indian loss, as repeatedly stated by them, was 128, principally women and children. The whites lost from twelve to fifteen, most of them dying from arrow wounds in hospital, at Fort Lyon. Very few were killed outright.
   Maj. Colley was the Indian agent at this time, and was assisted in the business of the office by his son. "Old John Smith," representing young Colley, was in the Indian camp at the time of the attack, having gone there to trade. During the engagement, Smith's son, Jack, was shot by a soldier while sitting near his father in their tent. George and Charles Bent were also in the camp. The former received two wounds, but both escaped. Chivington capture from 500 to 1,000 ponies, being the major part of what the Indians had, and there can be no doubt that numbers who made their escape did so on foot; in fact, for several days afterward, half-starved old squaws and children were occasionally picked up on the plains and brought to the fort. At Pleasant Encampment, the stage passengers who had previously met Capt. Wynkoop, saw the troops and were first apprised of the fight. Chivington was in command, and had with him his baggage-wagons, a few tents, and a large band of Indian ponies under herd.
   The writer is aware that various and far different accounts of this massacre have appeared. Public opinion has nevertheless properly named it a massacre. It is no matter for wonder those engaged under Chivington should have sought to justify themselves in the part they took. The same might be expected of their friends; and, considering numerous outrages and atrocities committed by the Indians along the lines of travel about this time, it is not strange that the whites should have become incensed against them as a whole. The Indians do not write for the newspapers, hence their cause must wait, like truth, through "the eternal years of God," for vindication. When passion shall have given way to candid reason in the generations to come, the tragedy of Big Sandy, if not classed as a crime against civilization, will at least be denominated a mistake.
   In the council of 1865, as appears from Section 6 of the resulting treaty, the subject of the massacre was fully canvassed, and the conclusion there reached, by such men as William S. Harney, Kit Carson and William Bent, Commissioners, and embodied in that treaty, is worthy of large acceptance. Said section, as ratified by the Senate of the United States, contains the following striking language:

"The United States, being desirous to express its condemnation of, and, as far as may be, repudiate the gross and wanton outrages perpetrated against certain bands of Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians on the 29th day of November, A.D. 1864, at Sand Creek, in Colorado Territory, while the said Indians were at peace with the United States, and under its flag, whose protection they had, by lawful authority, been promised, and induced to seek, and the Government, being desirous to make some suitable reparation for the injuries then done, will grant 320 acres of land, by patent, to each of the following-named chiefs of said bands, viz.: Make-tah-vey-e-to, or Black Kettle; Oh-tah-ha-ne-so-weel, or Seven Bulls; Alik-ke-home-ma, or Little Robe; Moke-tah-vo-ve-hoe, or Black White Man; and will in like manner grant to each person of said bands made a widow, or who lost a parent upon that occasion, 160 acres of land, the names of such persons to be ascertained under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior: Provided, That said grants shall be conditional that all devices, grants, alienations, leases or contracts relative to said lands made or entered into during the period of fifty years form the date of such patents, shall be unlawful and void. Said lands shall be selected under direction of the Secretary of the Interior, within the limits of country hereby set apart as a reservation for the Indians parties to this treaty, and shall be free from assessment and taxation so long as they remain inalienable. The United States will also pay, in United States securities, animals, goods, provisions, or such other useful articles as may, in the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior, be deemed best adapted to the respective wants and conditions of the persons named in the schedule hereto annexed, they being present and members of the bands who suffered at Sand Creek on the occasion aforesaid, the sums set opposite their names, respectively, as a compensation for property belonging to them, and then and there destroyed or taken from them by the United States troops aforesaid."

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