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Colorado Governor John Evans warns that all peaceful Native Americans in the region must report to the Sand Creek reservation or risk being attacked, creating the conditions that will lead to the infamous Sand Creek Massacre.
Evans’ offer of sanctuary was at best halfhearted. His primary goal in 1864 was to eliminate all Native American activity in eastern Colorado Territory, an accomplishment he hoped would increase his popularity and eventually win him a U.S. Senate seat. Immediately after ordering the peaceful Indians to the reservation, Evans issued a second proclamation that invited white settlers to indiscriminately “kill and destroy all…hostile Indians.” At the same time, Evans began creating a temporary 100-day militia force to wage war on the Indians. He placed the new regiment under the command of Colonel John Chivington, another ambitious man who hoped to gain high political office by fighting Native Americans.
The Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe peoples of eastern Colorado were unaware of these duplicitous political maneuverings. Although some bands had violently resisted white settlers in years past, by the autumn of 1864 many Native Americans were becoming more receptive to Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle’s argument that they must make peace. Black Kettle had recently returned from a visit to Washington, D.C., where President Abraham Lincoln had given him a huge American flag of which Black Kettle was very proud. He had seen the vast numbers of the white people and their powerful machines. The Native Americans, Black Kettle argued, must make peace or be crushed.
When word of Governor Evans’ June 24 offer of sanctuary reached the Native Americans, however, most of the Indians remained distrustful and were unwilling to give up the fight. Only Black Kettle and a few lesser chiefs took Evans up on his offer of amnesty. In truth, Evans and Chivington were reluctant to see hostilities further abate before they had won a glorious victory, but they grudgingly promised Black Kettle his people would be safe if they came to Fort Lyon in eastern Colorado. In November 1864, the Indians reported to the fort as requested. Major Edward Wynkoop, the commanding federal officer, told Black Kettle to settle his band about 40 miles away on Sand Creek, where he promised they would be safe.
Wynkoop, however, could not control John Chivington. By November, the 100-day enlistment of the soldiers in his Colorado militia was nearly up, and Chivington had seen no action. His political stock was rapidly falling, and he seems to have become almost insane in his desire to kill Native Americans. “I long to be wading in gore!” he is said to have proclaimed at a dinner party. In this demented state, Chivington apparently concluded that it did not matter whether he killed peaceful or hostile Indians. In his mind, Black Kettle’s village on Sand Creek became a legitimate and easy target.
At daybreak on November 29, 1864, Chivington led 700 men, many of them drunk, in a savage assault on Black Kettle’s peaceful village. Most of the Cheyenne warriors were away hunting. In the awful hours that followed, Chivington and his men brutally slaughtered 105 women and children and killed 28 men. The soldiers scalped and mutilated the corpses, carrying body parts back to display in Denver as trophies. Amazingly, Black Kettle and a number of other Cheyenne managed to escape.
In the following months, the nation learned of Chivington’s treachery at Sand Creek, and many Americans reacted with horror and disgust. By then, Chivington and his soldiers had left the military and were beyond reach of a court-martial. Chivington’s political ambitions, however, were ruined, and he spent the rest of his inconsequential life wandering the West. The scandal over Sand Creek also forced Evans to resign and dashed his hopes of holding political office. Evans did, however, go on to a successful and lucrative career building and operating Colorado railroads.
READ MORE: Native American History Timeline
Governor of Colorado
The Governor of Colorado is the chief executive of the U.S. state of Colorado. The governor is the head of the executive branch of Colorado's state government and is charged with enforcing state laws. The governor has the power to either approve or veto bills passed by the Colorado General Assembly, to convene the legislature, and to grant pardons, except in cases of treason or impeachment.  The governor is also the commander-in-chief of the state's military forces.
Seven people served as governor of Colorado Territory over eight terms, appointed by the President of the United States. Since statehood, there have been 38 governors, serving 43 distinct terms. One governor Alva Adams served three non-consecutive terms, while John Long Routt, James Hamilton Peabody, and Edwin C. Johnson each served during two non-consecutive periods. The longest-serving governors were Richard "Dick" Lamm (1975–1987) and Roy Romer (1987–1999), who each served 12 years over three terms. The shortest term occurred on March 16 and 17, 1905, when the state had three governors in the span of 24 hours: Alva Adams won the election, but soon after he took office, the legislature declared his opponent, James Hamilton Peabody, governor, but on the condition that he immediately resign, so that his lieutenant governor, Jesse McDonald, could be governor. Thus, Peabody served less than a day as governor.
The current governor is Democrat Jared Polis, who took office on January 8, 2019.
Gov. Hickenlooper apologizes to descendants of Sand Creek Massacre
Cheyenne and Arapaho tribe members sat on the Colorado Capitol steps Wednesday morning, December 3, 2014 as part of a memorial for the victims of the Sand Creek Massacre.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, right, backed by tribal leaders, speaks to members and supporters of the Arapaho and Cheyenne Native American tribes at a gathering marking the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre, on the steps of the state Capitol in Denver, Wednesday Dec. 3, 2014. During his speech, Hickenlooper apologized on behalf of the state for the massacre. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Tears fell and heads bowed Wednesday as Cheyenne and Arapaho tribe members sat on the steps of the Capitol, listening as Gov. John Hickenlooper apologized for the atrocities of the Sand Creek Massacre.
On Nov. 29, 1864, the Colorado Territorial militia invaded a Cheyenne and Arapaho village on the Eastern Plains, killing more than 160 people &mdash most of them women and children.
“We should not be afraid to criticize and condemn that which is inexcusable. … On behalf of the state of Colorado, I want to apologize,” Hickenlooper said to tribe members at the 150th anniversary event. “We will not run from this history.”
According to the governor’s office, Hickenlooper is the first Colorado governor to offer an apology for the massacre.
For the 16th year in a row, tribe members and others have embarked on a 180-mile spiritual healing run from the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic site, which is 23 miles east of Eads, to the Capitol.
Margaret Montaño, a ceremony observer of Navajo descent, said the run symbolizes the atrocities done to indigenous people across the continent.
“The run is a cleansing to the road. It is a healing process,” she said.
Runners dressed in athletic clothes surrounded the lectern where city officials and tribal leaders in traditional dress addressed the crowd.
Miranda Cometsevah, who is of Cheyenne and Arapaho descent, started running Sunday morning. She said the days were cold and sometimes hard, but faith kept her moving.
“I just had to think my ancestors did this, so I can do this,” said Cometsevah, a resident of Oklahoma. “My ancestors would run for their lives, and I didn’t have to do that.”
She said that when she grew weary, she’d pray.
Jay Grimm, a Navajo man who works for Denver Public Schools, and about 20 American Indian students from around the city joined runners for their homestretch Wednesday.
“This event,” Grimm said, “just sheds light on a part of Colorado’s history a lot of people just don’t know.”
Elizabeth Hernandez: 303-954-1223, [email protected] denverpost.com or twitter.com/ehernandez
Two soldiers who said no
Tribal members marking the anniversary of Sand Creek also paid tribute at an old Denver cemetery to two Army officers who refused to participate in the massacre.
On Wednesday, about 70 tribal members took part in a sunrise blessing at Riverside Cemetery to honor Capt. Silas Soule and Lt. Joseph Cramer, who declined orders to open fire on an encampment of Cheyenne and Arapaho men, women and children in 1864.
Some descendants of Sand Creek survivors credit Soule and Cramer with preventing even more bloodshed.
The Sand Creek Massacre
In 1864, the United States was in the midst of civil war between the Union and Confederacy, but the bloodshed was not limited to Northern and Southern states. Union Colonel John Chivington had been sent out West to prevent Confederate troops from overrunning trade routes and gold mines in the Colorado territory. He was more than willing to carry out Evans’s cruel order.
Wikimedia Commons A depiction of the Sand Creek massacre done by a Cheyenne survivor, Howling Wolf.
On the morning of the Sand Creek Massacre, on Nov. 29, 1864, the colonel and his men rode down on what he described as a “Cheyenne village…from 900 to 1,000 warriors strong.” He then described how “The first shot is fired by them. The first man who falls is white…None of the Indians show signs of peace, but flying to rifle pits already prepared they fight.”
The Colonel noted that the bloody day ended with “almost an annihilation of the entire tribe” and he and his men were praised for their prowess in subduing a hostile enemy.
In fact, if not for Captain Silas Soule, the Sand Creek massacre may have gone down in history as yet another skirmish between the American military and Native tribes and the truth never to be known.
In truth, still hoping to preserve some remnants of friendly relations, Chief Black Kettle had been advised to bring his people to Sand Creek, about 200 miles outside of Denver, under the promise they would be designated “friendly Indians” and placed under the protection of the nearby fort. While most of their men were out hunting, Chivington and his men descended and the slaughter began.
Captain Soule was so horrified by what he witnessed that November day that he sent a dispatch to Major Edward Wynkoop, the commander at Fort Lyon, in which he revealed Chivington’s glorious charge for what it really was: an unprovoked slaughter of nearly 200 men, women, and children.
Wikimedia Commons Black Kettle, Wynkoop, Soule, and several other tribe members and soldiers in the outskirts of Denver shortly before the massacre.
Soule wrote: “I tell you Ned it was hard to see little children on their knees have their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized.” He described the horrific scenes during which the Cheyenne were cut down and then mutilated, with their “ears and privates…cut out for trophies.”
At the end of the day, an estimated 148 Indians who had been promised protection were dead, while Chivington had lost only 9 men.
Sand Creek Massacre: Colorado’s land grab from Native tribes
A wood engraving published in an 1868 edition of Harper's Weekly shows the Seventh U.S. Cavalry charging into Black Kettle's village subsequent to Sand Creek attack by Col. Custer at Washita. (Library of Congress)
Cheyenne chief War Bonnet, pictured during a visit to President Abraham Lincoln, was slain at Sand Creek in 1864. (Library of Congress)
Camp Weld meeting of 1864 prior to the Sand Creek Massacre when Black Kettle of the Cheyenne and Left Hand of the Arapaho went to Denver seeking assurance from Governor Evans that they wanted peace and were told to go to southeast Colorado, where the troops Chivington led subsequently attacked them. (Photos from Denver Public Library, Western History and Genealogy Collection)
In this 150th year since the Sand Creek Massacre, Colorado has made to the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes and, in particular, to the descendants of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, an incalculably important admission: The non-Native settlement of the eastern half of Colorado became possible through the coerced cession of Arapaho and Cheyenne homelands.
In Worcester vs. Georgia (1832), Chief Justice John Marshall recognized that title to lands in possession of Native people can pass to non-Native people only through the cession of those lands by the Indian tribes to the United States and, thence, under the laws of the United States to those residing in a state or territory. “The treaties and laws of the United States contemplate the Indian territory as completely separated from that of the states, and provide that all intercourse with them shall be carried on exclusively by the government of the union.”
Native people were in possession of all lands from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast of what subsequently became the continental United States. The land that now comprises the state of Colorado came into the United States through the 1803 Louisiana Purchase with France and the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with Mexico. In fact, an 1845 Fremont map plainly shows that the Arapaho and Cheyenne possessed the eastern half of what is now Colorado.
As of 1845, all lands south of the Arkansas River through the San Luis Valley and west of the Continental Divide to California were claimed by Mexico.
Colorado Territory came into being in February 1861 at the outset of the Civil War. The Union Congress carved it out of the territories of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Utah to take into one territory the whole of the Continental Divide’s mineral-bearing area running through the heart of the Rocky Mountains from Wyoming to New Mexico.
The 1864 Sand Creek Massacre was the pivotal event in the ultimate removal of the Arapaho and Cheyenne people from eastern Colorado. The 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty had guaranteed possession of the lands from the North Platte River in the territory of Wyoming to the territory of New Mexico south of the Arkansas River.
Following the 1858 discovery of gold in western Kansas Territory, non-Natives rushed onto the Arapaho and Cheyenne lands comprising the High Plains and the eastern slope of what became Colorado Territory. Just prior to the creation of Colorado Territory, the United States also in February 1861 had negotiated the Treaty of Fort Wise with some of the Arapaho and Cheyenne chiefs.
This treaty shrunk the Cheyenne and Arapaho lands to a reservation in southeastern Colorado. The 1862 Homestead Act passed by the Union Congress made possible the conveyance of ceded Indian land to non-Native persons.
A peaceful village led by Left Hand of the Arapaho and Black Kettle of the Cheyenne, along with other peace chiefs of both tribes, encamped at the reservation under the direction of Colorado’s territorial governor, John Evans, who also served as superintendent of Indian Affairs for the territory.
On Nov. 29, 1864, Colorado Cavalry volunteers serving 100-day enlistments in the U.S. Army under the command of Colonel John Chivington of the Colorado Territory ravaged these people.
This year, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s executive order creating the Sand Creek Massacre Commemoration Commission admits the facts of this horrendous wrong.
“On November 29, 1864, approximately 675 United States soldiers killed more than 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho villagers who were living peacefully near Fort Lyon, Colorado, a place where American negotiators had assured they would be safe. Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle’s village had raised a U.S. flag as symbols of peace, but Colonel John Chivington ignored the banners and ordered his troops to take no prisoners.
“Ambushed and outnumbered, the Cheyenne and Arapaho villagers fled on foot to the bottom of the dry stream bed. After eight hours, the shooting finally stopped and the village was pillaged and set ablaze. Most of the dead were women, children, and elderly men. The few survivors sought safety in neighboring camps, but the descendants’ lives were forever changed. The Sand Creek Massacre deeply impacts the sovereign tribal nations whose ancestors were massacred that tragic day, and preventing atrocities such as this in the future is imperative.”
Likewise, the Colorado General Assembly’s 2014 resolution unanimously recognized the Sand Creek Massacre as an unjust killing of peacefully assembled Arapaho and Cheyenne which reverberates today upon their descendants:
“Be It Resolved by the Senate of the Sixty-ninth General Assembly of the State of Colorado, the House of Representatives concurring herein: That we, the members of the General Assembly, acknowledge the devastation caused by the Sand Creek Massacre and seek to raise public awareness about the tragic event, the Cheyenne and Arapaho people, and events surrounding it.”
The University of Denver’s report on the role of its founder, John Evans, assigns culpability for the Sand Creek Massacre to Territorial Gov. Evans, who also held the office of Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Colorado Territory:
“While not of the same character, Evans’ culpability is comparable in degree to that of Colonel John Chivington, the military commander who personally planned and carried out the massacre. Evans’ actions and influence, more than those of any other political official in Colorado Territory, created the conditions in which the massacre was highly likely.”
The Sand Creek Massacre provoked a general uprising by the Plains tribes that resulted in the removal of the Cheyenne and Arapaho from Colorado Territory under the 1865 Little Arkansas Treaty and the 1867 Medicine Lodge Treaty.
The 1865 treaty contains an explicit admission that the Arapaho and Cheyenne massacred at Sand Creek were at peace while under the protection of the U.S. flag:
“The United States being desirous to express its condemnation of, and, as far as may be, repudiate the gross and wanton out-rages perpetrated against certain bands of Cheyenne and Arrapahoe Indians, on the twenty-ninth 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 … .”
In the scant 14 years from 1851 to 1865, the Arapaho and Cheyenne were deprived of their homelands lying between the North Platte River and the Arkansas River, which were then opened up to homesteading. Eventually, homestead entries in Colorado as a whole totaled 107,618 and covered 22.1 million acres of land.
Only Montana and North Dakota experienced more entries, according to Carl Ubbelohde, et.al., in “A Colorado History” (WestWinds Press, 1972).
Colorado’s 2014 commemoration of the Sand Creek Massacre admits this manifest injustice.
Gregory Hobbs is a justice on the Colorado Supreme Court.
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Colorado governor orders Native Americans to Sand Creek reservation - HISTORY
Military Buildup & The Massacre
At dawn on November 29, 1864, approximately 675 U.S. volunteer soldiers attacked a village of about 750 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho at Sand Creek. As noncombatants ran through the sand pits troops followed, committing atrocities and killing elders, women, and children.
Aftermath & Looking Forward
Land and livelihood continued to be taken under the guise of westward expansion. Massacres continued to follow the Indians. History and the truth of what happened were redefined.
Every square foot of land in the Americas acquired by European nations and the United States once belonged to American Indians.
Peace Chief, Southern Cheyenne
George was the mixed-race son of Owl Woman, daughter of a Cheyenne chief, and the American William Bent.
Commander of the 3rd Colorado Cavalry who lead the Sand Creek Massacre
Remembered for disobeying orders and refusing to fire on the peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho
Santa Fe National Historic Trail
Flown as a sign of peace over the village at Big Sandy Creek
Courtesy of History Colorado H.6130.37
Courtesy of the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Ohio Gift of Mrs. Jacob D. Cox
The Sand Creek Massacre was the result of a convergence of historical forces that spanned over three decades. First, American traders such as William Bent, Ceran St. Vrain, and Louis Vasquez built trading posts on the Colorado plains that pulled American Indians into a network of international commerce. Then, the conclusion of the Mexican-American War in 1848 added a massive amount of territory to the western United States, prompting American expansion under the belief of “Manifest Destiny.” As this was going on, epidemics of Old World diseases continued to decimate Cheyenne and Arapaho populations in Colorado and elsewhere. Finally, the Colorado Gold Rush in 1858–59 and the outbreak of the Civil War prompted the organization of the Colorado Territory in 1861.
Ten days before the territory’s establishment, US officials organized a peace council at Fort Wise in southeastern Colorado to renegotiate the terms of the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty, which had granted more than 40,000 square miles of present Colorado to the Cheyenne and Arapaho. The terms of the Treaty of Fort Wise reduced indigenous lands by over 90 percent, exacerbating tensions between older Indian leaders and younger warriors and further weakening the Native Americans’ already tenuous position in Colorado.
At the end of March 1862, Abraham Lincoln appointed John Evans—an Illinois town developer, university founder, and railroad entrepreneur—as the second territorial governor of Colorado. Evans calculated that Colorado’s mining riches would make it a major rail destination in the West. The Cheyenne and Arapaho increasingly posed a threat to that vision. Additionally, Evans and other Colorado officials feared that the Confederacy, which already had a strong influence in Colorado, would form an alliance with Native Americans. Evans also worried about the potential of a large-scale massacre of whites, like the one in Minnesota involving the Santee Dakota in August 1862. The murder of the Hungate family on Box Elder Creek near Denver in June 1864 appeared to confirm the territorial governor’s darkest nightmares. Evans wired Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that Indians of the Colorado plains had committed “extensive murders” within a day’s ride of Denver and demanded that troops of the First Colorado Cavalry be returned to Denver. The bizarre decision to display the mutilated bodies of the Hungate family on the streets substantially contributed to the terror among the territory’s white population.
Two months later, Evans received congressional approval to raise a new regiment of US volunteers to bolster the territory’s defenses. The new Third Colorado Cavalry fell under the command of Colonel John M. Chivington, an ambitious citizen-soldier in command of the military district of Colorado. Chivington, a former Methodist pastor who hated both slavery and Native Americans, had his own motives for precipitating war on the plains.
Meeting on the Little Arkansas
To accomplish the joint goals of reparations and removal, the United States sent a treaty delegation—led by Colonel Henry Leavenworth and including Colorado notables Kit Carson and William Bent—to the banks of the Little Arkansas River, where they arrived on October 4, 1865. There the party waited until several Cheyenne and Arapaho bands arrived on October 11, with their numbers eventually totaling more than 4,000. Among them were Black Kettle’s Cheyenne and Little Raven’s Arapaho—both of whom had been at Sand Creek—as well as five other Cheyenne bands and six other Arapaho bands.
The treaty with the Cheyenne and Arapaho was concluded on October 14. In addition to calling for an end to hostilities between the parties, the treaty established a small reservation for both American Indian nations in what is now western Oklahoma. However, the government had already removed other Indians to that area and would have to move them again to make space for the newcomers. Until then, the Cheyenne and Arapaho were allowed to “reside upon and range at pleasure throughout … that part of the country they claim as originally theirs, which lies between the Arkansas and Platte Rivers.”
In addition to annuities listed at twenty dollars per person for forty years, the Little Arkansas Treaty included reparations for the “gross and wanton outrages” of the Sand Creek Massacre. These included monetary reparations, as well as grants of 640 acres within the old 1861 reservation to members of affected families, including the Bent children and the extended family of John Prowers and his Cheyenne wife, Amache. The treaty also promised 320-acre grants within the new reservation to the leaders of bands killed at Sand Creek, including Black Kettle, and 160-acre grants to “each other person of said bands made a widow, or who lost a parent,” in the massacre.
Following the treaty with the Cheyenne and Arapaho—which was later amended to include a small number of Jicarilla Apache—a second treaty was signed with leaders from the Comanche and Kiowa nations on October 18.
The letters of Soule and Cramer
Soule’s noble act of compassion at Sand Creek is humbly conveyed in a letter to his mother included in the Denver Public Library Western History Collections: “I was present at a Massacre of three hundred Indians mostly women and children… It was a horrable scene and I would not let my Company fire.”
Refusing to participate, Soule and the men of Company D of the First Colorado, along with Cramer of Company K, bore witness to the incomprehensible. Chivington’s attack soon descended into a frenzy of killing and mutilation, with soldiers taking scalps and other grisly trophies from the bodies of the dead. Soule was a devoted abolitionist and one dedicated to the rights of all people. He stayed true to his convictions in the face of insults and even a threat of hanging from Chivington the night before at Fort Lyon.
In the following weeks, Soule and Cramer wrote letters to Major Edward “Ned” Wyncoop, the previous commander at Fort Lyon who had dealt fairly with the Cheyenne and Arapaho. Both harshly condemned the massacre and the soldiers who carried it out. Soule’s letter details a meeting among officers on the eve of the attack in which he fervently condemned Chivington’s plans asserting “that any man who would take part in the murders, knowing the circumstances as we did, was a low lived cowardly son of a bitch.”
Describing the attack to Wynkoop, Soule wrote, “I refused to fire and swore that none but a coward would.” His letter goes on to describe the soldiers as “a perfect mob.”
This account is verified by Cramer’s letter. Detailing his own objections to Chivington, whom he describes as coming “like a thief in the dark,” Cramer had stated that he “thought it murder to jump them friendly Indians.” To this charge, Chivington had replied, “Damn any man or men who are in sympathy with them.”
In Soule’s account, he writes, “I tell you Ned it was hard to see little children on their knees have their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized.”
While few Americans – especially those living outside of Colorado – may know their names, Soule and Cramer are honored and revered by the ancestors of the people they tried to save. According to David F. Halaas, former Colorado state historian and current historical consultant to the Northern Cheyenne, without their courage in disobeying Chivington’s orders and keeping their men from the massacre, “the descendants probably wouldn’t be around today,” and there would be no one to tell the stories.
The horrific descriptions of Soule and Cramer prompted several official inquiries into the atrocity. Both men also testified before an Army commission in Colorado as witnesses. While the officers and soldiers responsible escaped punishment, their testimony brought widespread condemnation upon Chivington, who defended the massacre for the rest of his life.
These investigations also ended the political career of the Colorado territorial governor, John Evans, who had issued two proclamations calling for violence against Native people of the plains, and for organizing the 3rd Colorado Cavalry Regiment in which Chivington was placed in command.
Interpreter and Intermediary
According to fellow Arapaho Sun Road, Friday played an important diplomatic role during the 1840s and 1850s. In July 1843, he translated for the party of American explorer John C. Frémont in what is now northern Colorado, and the next spring he performed a similar duty for Rufus Sage on the Arkansas River. In September 1851, Friday was at the council in Kansas that eventually produced the Treaty of Fort Laramie, but he and several other Arapaho and Cheyenne leaders left early to serve as delegates to Washington, DC. The US government hoped the Indian leaders would be impressed enough by American military power to adhere to the terms of the treaty, signed in October while Friday was on his way to Washington.
Friday continued his role as intermediary throughout the 1850s, interpreting for an Arapaho-Mormon encounter in Wyoming in 1857 and for Little Owl’s band during a visit to Ferdinand V. Hayden’s surveying party in 1859. His consistent calls for peace with whites, even as they grew more hostile toward his people during the 1860s, drew the ire of other Northern Arapaho leaders. By that time, the Northern Arapaho had been mostly forced out of Colorado by political campaigns that sought land for whites to mine or farm. These campaigns were punctuated with violent acts, such as the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864. By the late 1860s, only Friday’s band of Northern Arapaho remained in Colorado, numbering about 175 along the Cache la Poudre.
This Day in History - November 29, 1864: 133 Cheyenne & Arapaho Massacred at Sand Creek
THIS DAY IN HISTORY - On November 29, 1864, seven hundred members of the Colorado Territory militia embarked on an attack of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian villages. The militia was led by U.S. Army Col. John Chivington, a Methodist preacher, as well as a freemason. After a night of heavy drinking by the soldiers, Chivington ordered the massacre of the Indians. Over two-thirds of the slaughtered and maimed were women and children. This savage atrocity has been known as the Sand Creek Massacre ever since.
While the exact number of American Indians killed that day varies, award-winning historian Alan Brinkley wrote that 133 Indians were killed, 105 of whom were women and children.
For years, the United States had been engaged in conflict with several Indian tribes over territory. The Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851 had given the Indians extensive territory, but the Pikes Peak gold rush in 1858 and other factors had persuaded the U.S. to renegotiate the terms of the treaty. In 1861, the Treaty of Fort Wise was signed by Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs. The treaty took from the Indians much of the land given to them by the earlier treaty, reducing the size of their reservation land to about 1/13th of the original amount.
Although the peace seeking chiefs signed the treaty to ensure the safety of their people, not all of the tribes were happy with the decision. In particular, a group of Indians known as the Dog Soldiers, made up of Cheyenne and Lakota, were vehemently opposed to having white settlers on what the Indians still referred to as their land.
In 1864, a group of Civil War soldiers under Chivington, with the blessing of Colorado governor John Evans, began to attack several Cheyenne camps in Colorado. Another attack on Cheyenne camps occurred in Kansas by forces under the command of Lieutenant George S. Eayre. The Cheyenne retaliated for the attack, furthering the aggression of the U.S. forces.
In an attempt to maintain peace, two chiefs, Black Kettle and White Antelope, tried to establish a truce. They were advised to camp near Fort Lyon in Colorado and fly an American flag over their camp to establish themselves as friendly.
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