Colorado Plaque Sets Historic Record Straight on 1864 Indian Massacre
The Associated Press
Denver, CO, Nov. 30, 2002

For nearly a century, the 1864 massacre of more than 150 Arapaho and Cheyenne women, children and elderly at Sand Creek was memorialized as a victory for Union forces in the Civil War.

But on Friday, a plaque was installed at the Civil War Memorial at Colorado's State Capitol that set the record straight.

"This is as close to an official apology for the massacre that occurred 138 years ago (Friday) as is possible," said former state Sen. Bob Martinez, who led the campaign to tell the true story.

A memorial erected at the Capitol in 1909 by the Pioneer's Association called the massacre by the Colorado militia on Nov. 29, 1864, a victory for Union forces in the Civil War.

"It is a great day today," said Laird Cometsevah, president of the Southern Cheyenne Sand Creek Descendants Association and a tribal chief.

"I think this is something we needed to do to help bring healing," said rancher Bill Dawson, who owns much of the land where the massacre occurred.

Robert Tabor, chief tribal chairman the Cheyenne Arapaho of Oklahoma, also welcomed the plaque and the decision to create a national historic site near the killing fields outside Chivington, 180 miles southeast of Denver.

"We still need the truth to be told in our schools," he added.

The memorial began with a 15-mile healing run Thursday.

At the time of the attack, settlers in Denver were terrified the Confederacy would use Indians as surrogates. Anti-Indian sentiment was fanned when the scalps of a family killed by a roving band of Indians were put on display in Denver.

Many Indians, deprived of their traditional hunting grounds, were starving. "I now think a little powder and lead is the best food for them," said Colorado Territorial Gov. John Evans in July 1864.

While offering an amnesty to peaceful Indians, Evans authorized Col. John Chivington to attack them. Chivington, a lay Methodist minister, was known as "the fighting parson" for defeating Confederate forces from Texas in an ambush at Apache Canyon in New Mexico. He led 1,000 men in a dawn attack on Arapahos and Cheyennes who were camped at a site where they had been told to go by the U.S. Cavalry.

Evans was fired by President Lincoln and Congress condemned the attack, but Chivington and others involved were never punished.

The Sand Creek memorial erected in 1909 includes a soldier atop a square carrying a Sharps carbine and saber, with two cannons in front. It listed Sand Creek as one of the 22 Civil War battles fought by Union forces.

The federal government is acquiring land for the national historical site. Negotiations are under way.

Minneapolis-based Southwest Entertainment Inc., which operates two casinos for tribes in Oklahoma, is buying some of the land to make it available for the historical site.

Martinez led the drive in the State Legislature to recognize the massacre at the Capitol. He first suggested having the reference to Sand Creek chiseled off, but Indian leaders said they wanted Coloradans to remember what happened.

"I'm glad the word 'Sand Creek' is left on this statue because is part of our Colorado history," said Cometsevah.

The Legislature chose to add a plaque giving the details of the massacre, calling it a battle that was "both inappropriate and an insult to the memory of those Colorado Civil War veterans who fought and died in the actual Civil War battles that are listed on the memorial."

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