Senator Releases Massacre Letters
Thursday September 14, 2000
By Matt Kelley - Associated Press Writer

Washington (AP) - Nearly 136 years after Colorado Militia troops ambushed and massacred more than 150 American Indians on the banks of Sand Creek, a senator related to a survivor of the attack is sponsoring a plan to create a memorial at the site.

At a hearing on the proposal Thursday, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell read from two recently discovered letters written by soldiers who objected to the 1864 atrocity. One, Capt. Silas Soule, detailed the gruesome scene where troops slaughtered Cheyenne and Arapaho women, children and elderly men.

"It is hard to see little children on their knees have their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized" wrote Soule, who was murdered in Denver shortly after testifying at a congressional inquiry.

Campbell, a Northern Cheyenne whose great grandfather's second wife survived the attack, said the descriptions brought tears to his eyes. The Colorado Republican is backing a bill to create a national historic site on more than 12,000 acres of "killing fields" on the plains of southeastern Colorado.

"Can you imagine cutting open a pregnant woman and taking out the baby and then scalping the baby? My God!" Campbell said. "It's the worst atrocity I've heard of."

The National Park Service supports Campbell's proposal to create the Sand Creek historic site, which would help protect the area from artifact poachers and allow Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal members to create a burial ground there for the remains of the victims.

Rancher, Bill Dawson, on whose land much of the killing ground lies, and other area land owners are willing to sell their property to create the memorial.

Campbell said he guessed the bill had a "50-50" chance of passing Congress before lawmakers adjourn for the year, which is scheduled for early October.

Steve Brady, president of the Northern Cheyenne Sand Creek Descendants, said the historic site would commemorate "the unspeakable horror of ethnic cleansing"

The massacre began at dawn on Nov. 29, 1864, when nearly 1,000 men under the command of Col. John M. Chivington, surrounded hundreds of Indians camped on the banks of Sand Creek. Soule and other witnesses said Chivington wanted to kill Indians and did not care that this group was peaceful and had been promised by other U. S. troops that they would be left alone if they flew an American flag.

The troops opened fire on the mostly unarmed Indians with guns and howitzers, then chased down many who tried to flee. The soldiers mutilated the bodies, taking away scalps, ears, fingers and genitals as trophies.

Although the congressional probe sparked by Soule and Lt. Joe Cramer condemned the massacre, those involved were never punished and the reparations promised in a treaty were never paid. Chivington has a town in the area named for him.

Brady and other Cheyenne and Arapaho leaders said they are still trying to get remains of Sand Creek victims returned to tribes. The Colorado Historical Society has at least one scalp from a Sand Creek victim, and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln has the cranium of another, they said.

Having a final resting place for those remains is important to the descendants of the massacre victims, said Joe Big Medicine, who works to reclaim remains for the Southern Cheyenne Tribe.

"It's important for us to have it remembered by the American people," Big Medicine said, "It's important to remember what they did to our people. They killed our people."

On the Net: Some of the testimony at the congressional inquiry is reprinted at:

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