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Sand Creek Massacre Insights

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150 years ago this weekend the Third Colorado Cavalry converged on the southeastern Colorado camp of mainly Cheyenne and Arapahoe people.  The troop of 600 killed about 200 people-- mostly women, children and older men.

Konnie LeMay, reporter for Indian Country, offered these insights into the event:

·         The murder of Chief Lean Bear in the spring of 1894 ignited hostilities, and also echoed ominously in in action at Sand Creek.  Chief Lean Bear was part of a delegation negotiation with President Abraham Lincoln, so he didn’t expect trouble when soldiers approached his village on the Smoky Hill River.  He and his men were shot before reaching the soldiers.

·         Left Hand, the Arapaho chief was killed with his family at Sand Creek.  Left Hand advocated for peace with the white settlers.  He spoke fluent English, Lakota, and Cheyenne.  He tried unsuccessfully to vote in the Denver election of 1861.

·          Governor John Evans was appointed governor of the Colorado Territory.  The millionaire Chicago businessman repeatedly requested additional troops when hearing false rumors of plans to attack Colorado settlements.  The Governor’s actions reflected the state of panic felt by parts of the white community after the Dakota War.  Evan’s requests were ignored due to the Civil War.  The rumor got a foothold with the brutal murder of the Hungate family outside Denver.  They were allegedly killed by four Arapaho men.

·         Col. John Chivington was a Methodist minister who led the Sand Creek attack.  He commanded The Third Colorado Cavalry, a unit hired for 100 days to protect the white population.  They became known as the “Bloodless Third” because they had nothing to do.  Chivington was ambitious, and an expensive failure like the 100 day regiment would have been damaging to his political career.

The massacre was felt 475 miles to the north.  The town Casper, Wyoming was named for Lt. Caspar Collins.  Collins was killed in a revenge attack at the Battle of the Platte Bridge near Casper.