Sand Creek Massacre Site, 1864
The location of the Sand Creek Massacre has long been, like the event itself,
the subject of controversy. In the fall of 1864, Sand Creek, in eastern Colorado,
was the refuge of Black Kettle's band of Southern Cheyenne and some Arapahos.
Black Kettle believed that his people were protected by an amnesty with the
governor of Colorado, the assurance of the officers at Fort Lyon, and the flying
of an American flag. However, in the predawn hours of November 29, 1864, the
encampment was attacked by Colorado volunteer troops led by Col. John M. Chivington.
Chivington's men killed an estimated 150-200 Indians, perhaps of whom two-thirds
were women and children.
By the 1870's there were serious doubts that the location in modern Kiowa County
commemorating the attack was accurate. Metal detector hobbyists had repeatedly
failed to find any evidence of an engagement around the site of the 1950 monument.
In addition, members of the Sand Creek Descendent Association said that Cheyenne
tradition placed the camp elsewhere. The Colorado Historical society began a
study to locate the site, but was unsuccessful. In 1998, Senator Ben Nighthorse
Campbell (Republican, Colorado), introduced legislation directing the National
Parks Service (NPS) to locate the site. The legislation was signed into law
on October 6, 1998.
AS the legislation directed, the NPS consulted on the project with the Northern
Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho, and the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of
Oklahoma, as well as the State of Colorado. Work began soon after the legislation
passed, and the NPS historian and archaeologists renewed efforts to document
the whereabouts of the massacre site. Tribal oral histories, historical archival
research, aerial photography, geomorphic studies, photographic interpretation,
and interviews with local residents contributed to the body of data archaeologists
needed to begin field investigations in late May of 1999.
With financial assistance from the American Battlefield Protection Program,
the Intermountain Region of the NPS finally concluded a successful search for
the elusive site late during the summer of 1999. NPS archaeologists Doug Scott
of the Midwest Archaeological Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, led an interagency
team consisting of volunteer professionals from the NPS, the Bureau of Land
Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Oklahoma Historical Society. Members
of the Southern Cheyenne, Southern Arapaho, Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho
Tribes and the local landowners were also active in the archaeological field
work. The field team spent two weeks working its way upstream along Sand Creek,
focusing on an area that historical research and Cheyenne oral history indicated
was the most likely candidate for the site of Black Kettle's village.
At an undisclosed point over a mile from the commemorated site, the archaeologist
began to uncover over 300 period artifacts. These included shell fragments from
artillery of the type known to have bombarded the camp (12-pounder cannonballs),
other ammunition, a cast iron kettle, cooking pot fragments, tin cups and plates,
utensils, iron arrowheads, and personal ornaments. According to Scott, "The
artifacts are mid-19th century in date and are consistent with the types of
materials found archaeologically in other Native American villages of the same
time period. There is little doubt that we have found the camp attacked by the
Colorado Volunteer Cavalry." He also noted that a low percentage of projectiles
fired by Indians versus non-Indians substantiates the consensus that the engagement
was a massacre.
The archaeological fieldwork capped the first phase of this project, which was
to find the Sand Creek Massacre site; the NPS is completing a site location
report. The second phase of the project, preparing a Special Resources Study
outlining management alternatives for the site, began in October.
Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Purchase Sand Creek Massacre Site in Colorado.
Sources: American Battlefield Protection Program; Archaeology, 52, no. 6
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