The Sand Creek Massacre
Letter to Rocky Mountain News - "High Officials Checkmated"
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We'll never forget
Editorials from Denver's Rocky Mountain News criticising the "high officials" rumored to be pushing for an investigation of
the Colorado Third Cavalry's attack on Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians camped at Sand Creek, November 29, 1864.
Following letter, written to the Editor of the Rocky Mountain News, and only signed with the letter “D.”
Rocky Mountain News, January 4, 1865
THE SAND CREEK BATTLE –
“HIGH OFFICIALS” CHECKMATED.
Messrs. Editors.--In the columns of the News we have noticed with considerable interest that, from "letters
received from high officials in Colorado," at Washington, they have learned that the Indians were killed after
surrendering, and that a large proportion of them were women and children, intimating that treachery on the part
of the troops was the only means by which the Indians were caught and killed. While the statement the News has
made is correct, and your severe criticism of the motives that prompted so false and slanderous a report of the
gallant men that shared in that memorable expedition, is just and well-merited, probably a few additional facts will
not be uninteresting to the general reader, and substantiated by the best of evidence, as they can be at any
time, will forever remove all doubts of the propriety of their conduct when governed even by the most rigid rules
of civilized warfare.
The history of the barbarities perpetrated by the Indians upon the plains for the past six months, as well as the
organization of the 3d Regiment Colorado Cavalry, with the hardships they encountered while making their
terrible march of two hundred and forty miles, the snow from one to three feet in depth, scantily provided with
clothing and blankets, while the piercing blasts of a Rocky Mountain winter almost paralyzed the march in many
instances of the entire column, has been too clearly shown through your columns to the world to require
repetition here, therefore we will commence with a statement of facts as received from Major Anthony,
commanding Fort Lyon, and others, as regards the position the troops and the Indians occupied, when Col.
Chivington, with his command reached Fort Lyon.
Major Anthony stated, and it was concurred in by others, that upon his arrival at Fort Lyon with orders to relieve
Major Wynkoop, he (Anthony) had a number of the chiefs and warriors of the Cheyenne nation brought into the
Post, when Major Wynkoop stated to them that in consequences of promises etc., given them by him that he
(Wynkoop) was now regarded as a prisoner; that he had no further command of the Post or troops and that
hereafter the relations of friendship or war between the troops and Indians would be regulated by Major Anthony;
that the promises he (Wynkoop) had made them being conditional, the conditions had failed, and that the
Indians must be governed entirely by the terms proposed by Major Anthony. Major Anthony then stated to the
Indians that they could remain near the Fort only upon the conditions that they would give up all their arms,
remain in a place he would designate, and regard themselves as prisoners of war, in all of which the Indians
agreed, giving up, however, only a few broken guns and worthless bows and arrows, generally used by boys, of
no practical use whatever, convincing Major Anthony of the insincerity of the Indians to comply with the terms he
had offered; after which he returned the guns, bows, arrows, etc., and informed the Indians that no peace had
been made with them, and that he could make none; and immediately ordered them to move from the vicinity of
the post, and informed them that if they again attempted to enter the Post they would be fired upon and in
several instances afterwards did fire upon them (this occurred a week before Col. Chivington's arrival) thus
giving the Indians due notice as could be required by any civilized power that they might expect a fight at any
time. This notice was not disregarded by the Indians, as they immediately afterwards moved their village about
fifteen miles further up Sand Creek, dug rifle pits under the banks on each side, and in many other ways
prepared themselves for defence (sic), as every person who accompanied the command can testify they found
them prepared at dawn on the morning of the 29th of November, '64, when after a night march of forty miles they
were brought into line in preparation for the attack, when the Indians immediately siezing [sic] their arms,
commenced a resistance which while it displayed considerable courage on their part, proved their perfect
understanding of the position they occupied as regarded peace or war.
They made no signs of peace; they expected none, but opened the fight with a determination worthy of better
men, and to the last maintained the contest with a desperation we have never seen equalled (sic), as forty-nine
dead and wounded of the troops too plainly showed when the fight had terminated.
Reports of "high officials" say that a large proportion of the Indians killed were women and children. To those
who were present, this would seem too base a fabrication to need contradiction, but fearing that many earnest
men in and out of Colorado, hearing only the lie might be deceived by its apparent truth, and condemn as unjust
the conduct of the troops on that occasion, we can state that we counted within a mile of the village where the
fight commenced, two hundred and one dead bodies of Indians, among whom we do not think there were over a
dozen women and children. They were large athletic warriors. That in the fight there were women and children
killed, none will deny, but that any number approximating to a majority of women and children were killed is a
base and wilful (sic) lie, and could come from those whose ignorance of the affair is only paralleled by their
malicious feelings toward the troops and the Territory.
Among the Indians known to have been present upon the field, were seven principal Chiefs, and many leading
warriors of the Cheyenne nation, beside Left Hand and other leading Chiefs and leading warriors of the
Arapahoes, from which any person at all acquainted with the Indian character can form their own opinion of the
numbers present. The Indian chief remains with his band to control and direct its movements, and if upon any
occasion he absents himself it is only for a short period. On this occasion all the leading chiefs of the Cheyenne
nation were together in one village, evidently for some special purpose, and does any person believe that the
warriors of the nation were far distant. Had they been hunting, as some have intimated, their squaws would have
been with them to have taken care of the game, but too many living witnesses are among us to require much
trouble in ascertaining the facts.
"High officials" again say that these Indians were killed after they had surrendered. We have yet to hear of a
single Indian upon any part of the field or upon any occasion, showing any signs or at any time offering to
surrender, but to the contrary, with surprise, all spoke of the determination manifested by the Indians, and how
strange it seemed that in not a single instance during the fight had they asked for quarter or offered to surrender.
Jack Smith, a half breed, who led a band of Indians in the attack upon the coach last summer between Forts
Lyon and Larned, on the Arkansas river, was taken prisoner, but having been a leader in almost all the
depredations perpetrated upon the whites, and it being well known that he had been constantly inciting the
Indians to commit depredations upon the whites, being well acquainted and knowing when to strike and where to
strike successfully, was during the night after his capture taken suddenly ill, I was informed, and died, for which
our gallant commander could not certainly be censured. Cholic or something else was the cause. Sad, indeed,
it was to loose (sic) so reliable a member of society, but the inscrutable ways of Providence should in our humble
opinion, never be questioned.
The battle fought most desperately and won, the village with its contents were examined. Peaceable Indians,
indeed! Decorating almost every lodge were found the scalps of murdered white men, women and children,
while one scalp, scarcely three days old, was found decorating the saddle of some brave chieftain or warrior -
one of the peaceable Indians with whom our friends, the "high officials," have so warmly sympathized. A
thousand other proofs of the high, noble qualities of the poor Lo could be obtained by a Congressional
investigation, whose disgusting details would clearly show the false position occupied by these "high officials,"
unless their sympathies are entirely with the Indian, in which case the gentlemen should be requested to leave
the whites, and go with their sympathies to the Indians. The wearing apparel of not only white men, but of white
women and children, in great abundance, were found in all the lodges of these peaceable red men, while many a
token of friendship, such as lockets, bibles and photographs, told too plainly a tale of suffering and murder of
many an emigrant family perpetrated by these greatly abused friends of the "high officials." But enough.
Did the people of Colorado, or even of the "States," expect or believe that a command of Colorado soldiers, after
witnessing the sufferings of their white brothers for the past six months, would, if they found the savage foe, sue
for peace, offer the murderers of their brothers, wives and children the hand of fellowship and returned to their
homes with the welcome intelligence that they had provided the Indians with sufficient bacon and hardbread to
subsist them comfortably through the winter, that they might be well prepared in the spring to open the campaign
with some degree of success. If such were the expectations of the people of Colorado, our advice, gentlemen, is
import your troops from the States. Obtain Brigadiers for commanders - regulars whose lives have been
devoted to the study of civilized war would be preferable - and your most ardent desires will all be gratified. And
if you do not wish to learn that the poor Indians have been killed, never allow any of the Colorado troops to
approach a village of hostile Indians.
Again the pursuit was commenced; day after day and night after night, wearied, cold and hungry the column
pursued its winding way along creeks, across sand bluffs and over plains, till it reached a point about one
hundred and twenty miles west of Fort Larned approaching so near a village of Arapahoes that they sought
safety in flight, leaving their lodge poles, &c., strewn for miles along their trail. When the horses, particularly of
the Third Regiment, showing symptoms of great fatigue, it was deemed advisable to relinquish the chase, return
to Denver, muster out the members of the 3d Regiment in compliance with their contracts with the Government,
which was only for one hundred days; which has been done. And now, instead of receiving the universal
laudations of a generous people, they discover that certain "high officials" have falsely represented them to the
powers at Washington, and they are to be arraigned before the national tribunal for the murder of defenceless
(sic) women and children.
'O inconsistency, where is thy blush! How long shall our rulers be aliens, and without sympathy for us in our
misfortunes? How long shall the Colorado soldier receive abuse from "high officials," who should be the first to
applaud? How long shall "high officials" continue to tarnish the laurels of brave men with their wilful (sic) lies?
But a few short weeks since the voice of Colorado asked, why are not the Indians killed, men, women and
children all killed? The people said kill everything that wears a red skin. Make the Indians feel that they cannot,
with impunity, murder and scalp our brothers, wives and children. Make the Indian treat, with respect, the white
man when he meets him on the plain. Render safe the emigration across the plains and freight, instead of being
twenty and twenty-five cents, will be only six and eight. Reduce the price of goods so that the laboring man can
live. Make the eastern capitalist feel that it is but a gala trip across the plains, and we will soon have sufficient
means by the sale of our valuable claims to enjoy life like rational men - not live as slaves, compelled to count
every dollar in fear and trembling that cold and hunger may not reach us.
The work is done, well done, and terror reigns in the savage camp, yet certain "high officials" brand all
concerned as murderers. Let the investigation commence; let it be rigid, severe, and Colorado will emerge from
beneath the dark clouds where "high officials" have placed her, bright with the laurels of victory, and the thanks
of Congress that she has removed so many obstacles in the path of civilization.
When we shall show Congress our defenceless (sic) position, and demand a sufficient number of troops from the
States to protect the freighter, the emigrant and the isolated settler, we will obtain them, "high officials" to the
contrary notwithstanding. Now, in conclusion we will say that our only wish is that every Indian expedition
hereafter may be led by a Colorado soldier, imbued with the holy aspiration of destroying as great a number of
warriors, squaws and children, as fell in the memorable battle of Sand Creek. D.
|Sand Creek also
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Rocky Mountain News Editorials After the Sand Creek Massacre, including:
The Battle of Sand Creek – praises the Colorado third regiment. December 17, 1864.
The Third – 3rd Regiment soldiers not paid for their service at Sand Creek. December 29, 1864.
The Fort Lyon Affair – Indignation over criticism of the Sand Creek attack. December 30, 1864.
Its Effect – The consequences of a congressional investigation. December 31, 1864.
Arrival of the Third Regiment - Grand March Through Town - Details Third Regiment return to Denver after the Sand Creek
Massacre. Rocky Mountain News, December 22, 1864.
Scenes at Sand Creek – Interview of Captain John McCannon in 1881, detailing his experiences and opinions regarding the Sand
Creek Massacre. Rocky Mountain News, January 26, 1881.
Rocky Mountain News archives available at the Denver Public Library Western History Dept.
Appeal to the People, authorizing the organization of civilian militias, under the rules of militia law, to fight hostile Indian bands;
Rocky Mountain News, August 10, 1864.
Proclamation – After receiving approval from the War Department, Governor Evans calls for volunteers to join the Colorado Third
Regiment to fight Indians for a period of 100 days; Rocky Mountain News, August 13, 1864.
To Fight Indians – Rocky Mountain News editorial urges Colorado citizens to form militias at the request of Governor Evans; to
organize under the rules of militia law, and fight hostile Indian bands, Rocky Mountain News, August 10, 1864.
The Reynolds Band – Editorial defends the killing of five members of the notorious James Reynolds Gang by Colorado soldiers;
Rocky Mountain News, September 9, 1864.