The Sand Creek Massacre Occurred – 11/29/1864

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Tragically, peaceful Southern Arapahoe and Cheyenne Indians are met by Colonel John Chivington and a band of Colorado volunteers and are massacred at Sand Creek, Colorado on November 29th, 1864.

The long struggle to possess the Great Plains of eastern Colorado was the main reason why the massacre at Sand Creek occurred. Ownership of the area (ranging from the Nebraska border to north of the Arkansas River) were guaranteed to the Arapahoe and Cheyenne through the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty. Yet, droves of Euro-American miners swarmed across the region to discover gold in the Colorado’s Rocky Mountains by the end of the decade; this caused huge amounts of pressure on the resources that could be provided in the arid plains. 

Tensions started to increase between the Native Americans and the new settlers by 1861. Eventually, a Cheyenne delegation led by Chief Black Kettle and leaders of the Arapahoe met with the Federal government and agreed on a new settlement on February 8th, 1861.

The Native Americans would receive annual payments and own a 600-square mile reservation in return for giving up most of their land. The delegation thought that their bargaining ability would be at risk if hostilities would continue. Within the tribes decentralized political landscape, Black Kettle and the other delegates represented a segment of the Arapahoe and Cheyenne tribes. Others frowned against this new agreement known as the Treaty of Fort Wise.

The tribes were unable to sustain themselves though receiving Federal payments and possessing the new reservation. Tensions begin to rise up again while violence sporadically broke out between Native Americans and the Anglos during the Civil War. Governor John Evans of the Colorado territory tried to isolate defiant Native Americans by asking “friendly Indians” to camp alongside military forts to be given protection and supplies in June of 1864. Also, the governor asked for volunteers replenish the military that left when the majority of the normal soldiers in Colorado were deployed to other regions during the Civil War. Evans met with several other chiefs and Black Kettle to create a new peace; all parties left satisfied in August of 1864. Black Kettle moved his tribe to Fort Lyon, Colorado where the officer in charge persuaded him to go near Sand Creek to hunt.

What happened next could only be perceived as an act of deceit. On November 29th, Chivington took his troops to the plains where the unsuspecting Native Americans were and attacked them; children, men and women were scattered and hunted down. The one-sided nature of the battle is reflected in the casualties. While Chivington’s men totaled nine that were killed, the amount of Black Kettle’s followers that were massacred were 148 which more than half of them were children and women. The volunteers for Colorado went back and set fire to the village, murdered the wounded and their bodies were mutilated.

While the monstrosity of what the troops committed was praised originally, the acts were quickly condemned when the circumstances emerged about the massacre. Chivington abandoned his budding political career and resigned from the military. Black Kettle escaped and while attempting his efforts for peace; his followers eventually accepted a different reservation in Indian Territory in 1865.      

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