"I felt myself in the presence of superior beings; and these were representatives of a race that I heretofore looked upon without exception as being cruel,treacherous, and bloodthirsty without feeling or affection for friend or kindred." Major Edward W. "Tall Chief" Wynkoop,U.S. Army, speaking about One Eye and Eagle Head,Southern Cheyenne.
The Sand Creek Massacre by Robert Lindneux,1936
What took place at Sand Creek on 29 November 1864 was a premeditated murder of innocent men, women and children. Deliberately arranged – the word staged would not be an exaggeration – by John Evans and John Chivington, with the help of Major Scott Anthony, it reflected the racist attitudes of the new Americans on the frontier at the time. Fed by the myths as well as a fear of the unknown, miners and adventurers, attracted to the area around Denver by the discovery of gold in 1858 at Pike’s Peak Colorado, held the native population in contempt, and wanted them out of the way by whatever means it took.
Not all the southern Cheyenne and Arapaho were peaceful, and those who were hostile were both dangerous and impossible to catch, never mind do battle with. They ranged across the Smoky Hill River country creating difficulties for settlers and travellers. Evans and Chivington decided it would benefit their political ends to be seen to be dealing with the ‘Indian Problem’, so they created the situation whereby a peaceful village was in a location where they would have an excuse to savage it, and savage it they did. So appalled by the prospect were some of the soldiers that they even refused to follow orders to take part. The former commander of Fort Lyon, Major Edward W ‘Tall Chief’ Wynkoop, who was a fair, even handed man, had been replaced by Major Scott Anthony at Chivington’s request to the commander of the area Major General S.R. Curtis. Wynkoop had mistakenly seen his role as peacemaker: by arranging meetings between Governor Evans and seven Cheyenne and Arapaho leaders and by telling Cheyenne and Arapaho leaders to settle near Fort Lyon, he threatened to scupper Chivington and Evans’s plans for a famous victory. But Anthony, taking command on November 2nd, told them to camp away from the fort, reassuring them that they were safe.
On November 29 the troops rode in from across the creek led by Anthony and Chivington. Chivington halted midstream and turned to address his men.
‘Men, strip for action. I don’t tell you to kill all ages and sex, but look back on the plains of the Platte, where your mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters have been slain, and their blood saturating the sands of the Platte.’ the first thing the native Americans knew about it was the thundering hooves of the troopers’ horses which some mistook for buffalo.
Realising the danger one of the first up was Spotted Antelope, or White Antelope as he was known by the new Americans. This elder statesman of the Cheyenne rushed towards the soldiers waving a white flag and yelling to the people not to be afraid. ‘Stop, stop’, he shouted in clear English, but they rode on, shooting him down, killing him where he stood. They met with little resistance as the inhabitants fell over themselves to withdraw to safety, moving up the dry stream bed with soldiers in pursuit. Subsequently the soldiers meted out a brutal and cowardly attack, committing atrocities on the peaceful and unsuspecting Cheyenne and Arapaho.
The local populace in Denver viewed the aggressors as heroes but easterners looked at the incident quite differently. A Joint Congressional Committee was established and Major Wynkoop was reinstated at Fort Lyon. Wynkoop was quick to gather evidence and the Congressional report blamed those who had engineered the massacre. Chivington always maintained he was right to be proud of his ‘victory’ but the evidence says differently and he was not to benefit politically from his perfidy, even though his accomplice Evans was to go on to higher office as had been the plan when the two of them had originally plotted the murder of innocent, peaceful ‘savages’.