The Sand Creek Massacre

The image at left is part of a larger depiction of the Sand Creek massacre, painted on elk hide by Northern Arapaho artist Eugene Ridgely. His great-grandfather Lame Man survived the attack. Soldiers attack after most of the warriors have left to go hunting (far right). The Cheyenne chief White Antelope stands by the American flag and white peace flag at the center of the camp, yelling to the soldiers that they are mistakenly attacking a peaceful camp (center), but they ignore him. Women, children and the elderly flee, pursued by the soldiers, who kill and mutilate them (left).

The Sand Creek Massacre is one of the most controversial and widely discussed incidents in the history of Native/White relations in North America, rivalled only by events such as the Battle of Little Bighorn, the Trail of Tears, and the stories of Pocohantas and of the First Thanksgiving. The basic details are as follows: in late November, 1864, a group of volunteer Colorado militia under the command of Col. John Chivington attacked a camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians along Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado. The Indians had gone there at the request of the Governor of Colorado, in order to escape ongoing military campaigns against other groups of Cheyenne and Arapaho who were perceived to be more hostile to Whites. Around 250 or more Indians, mostly women, children and elderly, were killed in the attack on the camp, despite the presence of flags being flown which were the agreed-upon indicators of a peaceful camp.

The attack was initially celebrated as a victory in Colorado, but soon condemned throughout the nation by many. Congressional investigations were conducted, and individual soldiers wrote letters and accounts which described the massacre and mutilation of the victims. Several participants were strongly critical of Chivington, and one was eventually murdered in Denver by Chivington's supporters. The entire affair was condemned by Congress, but no one was ever held accountable, and Chivington refused to apologize to the end of his life. The Cheyenne and Arapaho people continue to this day to view this as the greatest violent injustice ever committed against them. The massacre set off a war which lasted for three years (1864-67), in which hundreds more died on both sides.

"You could think it impossible for white men to butcher and mutilate human beings as they did there, but every word I have told you is the truth..."
Read excerpts from letters written by soldiers present at the massacre.

"They ran from Sand Creek, Colorado to Ethete, Wyoming..."
Learn about the Sand Creek Spiritual Healing Run, the modern response

"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives..."
Learn about the new Sand Creek National Historic Site

 

 

Site copyright Regents, University of Colorado and
Colorado Endowment for the Humanities

Arapaho Project Home