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Sand Creek Massacre Remembered


Condemned by Congress, the Sand Creek Massacre marked the plains with blood, sparking warfare from Texas to the Canadian border. On the morning of November 29, 1864, U.S. Army Volunteers attacked a peaceful camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho, mutilated the dead, and looted the village. The massacre left behind about two hundred Cheyenne and Arapaho dead and many more wounded, with women and children comprising two-thirds of the casualties according to articles from the National Park Service.

Often given as a cause for the savagery of the massacre on Sand Creek, the murder of the Hungate Family forms one of the mysteries of 1864’s sordid history. Nathan (29 years), Ellen (25), Laura (2 ½) and Florence (under 6 mos.) The Hungates were killed along Running or Box Elder Creek at or near the cabin of their employer about 25 miles southeast of downtown Denver on June 11, 1864.  There are many suspects in the murders, but a single individual or group has never been singled out with reasonably certainty.

Many Coloradoans blamed the Cheyenne or Arapaho, as reflected in the Coroner’s inquest on June 14. It stated that the family, “… came to their death by being feloniously killed by some person or persons to the jury unknown, but supposed to be Indians[.]”

Experienced frontiersman Jim Beckwourth doubted the family had been killed by either the Cheyenne or Arapaho because of the manner of death, according to the June 15th Daily Commonwealth.

Lone Bear, long a friend of white society, tried to secure peace across the Colorado Plains in 1864. U.S. Army Colonel John Chivington remarked on his conduct as a prominent Cheyenne peace chief and “wrote out a certificate of [Lone Bear’s] good character, stating that he was a friendly Indian.”

Following negotiations with Territorial Governor John Evans, Lone Bear came to the peace village at Sand Creek, which Chivington and his men attacked on November 29, 1864.

Lone Bear’s daughter Walking Woman married John Prowers, a local landowner and settler. Prowers testified that, “I was taken prisoner one Sunday evening, about sundown, by men of company E, first cavalry of Colorado, by orders of Colonel Chivington… and not allowed to leave the house for two nights and a day and a half… because I had an Indian family. The colonel commanding thought I might communicate some news to the Indians encamped on Sand [C]reek.” Even his association with white society could not protect Lone Bear; during the chaos of the massacre, soldiers killed Lone Bear.

In the aftermath of Sand Creek, Lone Bear’s family relocated to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). Walking Woman stayed in Colorado’s Arkansas Valley, becoming an area matriarch under the name of AmacheProwers. During World War II, the federal government interned Japanese-Americans near Granada, Colorado, a camp soon nicknamed after her. Now a National Historic Landmark, Camp Amache connects the experiences of the Cheyenne and Arapaho at Sand Creek to those of Japanese-Americans in World War II.

As the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War noted in 1865, the “truth is that [Chivington] surprised and murdered, in cold blood, the unsuspecting men, women, and children on Sand creek [sic], who had every reason to believe they were under the protection of the United States authorities, and then returned to Denver and boasted of the brave deeds he and the men under his command had performed.”

This is the 150th anniversary of this tragedy.  On November 29, 2014 those who lost their lives will be remembered as part of the commemoration activities taking place in the park.  A complete schedule of events is available from the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.

In collaboration with the Northern Arapaho, Northern Cheyenne, and Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, the National Park Service manages the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site for all Americans to understand and learn from our past.

Information for this article came from The Prowers Journal and the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.

To contact the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site outside of Eads, Colorado, call (719) 438-5916.

The Boulder History Museum did an interview with Jeff Campbell, a National Park interpreter about the Sand Creek Massacre.  There are two parts to the conversation.  Here are the links:

Part One

Part Two