Silas S. Soule
Two Letters Regarding the Sand Creek Massacre
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We'll never forget
Captain Silas Soule wrote the following two letters to
his mother Sophia Soule, describing the disturbing
images at the Sand Creek Massacre and his refusal to
participate. Many historians argue that Soule's candid
and at the time private comments written just days after
the attack provide damning evidence of the impropriety
of Colonel John Chivington's actions at Sand Creek.
At the time of the Sand Creek controversy in 1865,
Captain Soule, Major Edward Wynkoop, Lt. Joseph
Cramer, and Lt. Colonel Samuel Tappan were accused
of conspiring to lie about Sand Creek in order to
destroy Chivington's reputation and political ambitions.
While its can be argued that Tappan, whose dislike for
Chivington was no secret, might have had a political
axe to grind. But there is no evidence to suggest that
Soule had any vested interest in Colorado or national
politics. The record also shows that Wynkoop's career
before and after Sand Creek was deeply rooted in both
the military and non-elected positions in the service of
|Captain Silas S. Soule
courtesy Byron Strom private materials,
Anne Hemphill Collection
Fort Lyon, C.T.
Dec. 18, 1864
I received a letter from you to-night and you bet I was glad to hear from you. I ought to write oftener, but I am so
lazy and have so little that would interest you that I neglect to write. I wrote to Annie and sent the letter by Mr.
Gould who belongs in Brunswick, I believe. He has served three years in my Regament, is going to Bath. You
will see him and he will tell you every thing you want to know. I have not received any letter from Will since he
left Lawrence. I think I will write to him in the morning although I don't believe he will receive it, the mails are so
irregular. I receive letters from Annie and Em quite often and endeavor to answer them as soon as possible. I
still have hopes of going to Maine this winter, but may not until spring.
We have had considerable trouble with Indians this fall. The day you wrote, I was present at a Massacre of
three hundred Indians mostly women and children. It was a horrable scene and I would not let my Company fire.
They were friendly and some of our soldiers were in their Camp at the time trading. It looked too hard for me to
see little Children on their knees begging for their lives, have their brains beat out like dogs. It was a Regament
of 100 days men who accomplished the noble deed. Some of the Indians fought when they saw no chance of
escape and killed twelve and wounded forty of our men. I had one Horse shot. I have been an Indian scout for
at least three weeks, but don’t think I will have much more at present.
Tell Annie and Em that I am just beginning to receive papers from them for which I am very gratefull. Give my
love to every body and tell them that I would be glad to hear from them. I do not write near as often as I used to
for I have so much to do to keep my Co. papers correct. I am responsible for fifty thousand dollars worth of
government property which must be attended to. I will write occasionally. Don’t get worried for there is not the
least danger in the world of my getting killed, and as I am the most interested party, you shouldn’t fret. I believe
I will write a letter to Uncle Ben.
Jan. 8, 1865
Fort Lyon, C.T.
I suppose you are anxious to hear from me. I should have written oftener if I had not been so busy fixing up my
papers. Our Reg. has been mustered out, their 3 years having expired, and all the officers are relieved from
duty at this Post, and I amongst the rest want to get my papers all square so if I go out I can start for the States
right off. But the officers think that I will be retained in the Veteran organization. At any rate I can if I wish and I
have been thinking the matter over and believe it is best, for if I go back I don’t know of any thing I could go at
that would pay for I am too lazy to work you well know. The only chance would be to marry a rich widow. Do you
think there is a good chance in Maine or will I find richer ones out west?
I had applied for a leave of absence to go to Maine and just received answer from it saying that our Regt. was to
be immediately reorganized, so I will have to wait and may not see you before March. I suppose you have seen
Mr. Gould. I sent a letter by him. He will tell you all about killing Indians.
I spent New Year’s day on the battle ground counting dead Indians. There were not as many killed as was
reported. There was not more than one hundred and thirty killed, but most of them were women and children
and all of them scalped. I hope the authorities at Washington will investigate the killing of those Indians. I think
they will be apt to hoist some of our high officials. I would not fire on the Indians with my Co. and the Col. said
he would have me cashiered, but he is out of the service before me and I think I stand better than he does in
regard to his great Indian fight.
I am reforming in regard to my bad habits, Mother, for I have left off chewing tobacco and smoking a pipe, but I
will smoke cigars when I can get them. I don’t drink, so you see I am getting quite responsible and will stand a
chance of getting a wife when I go down east. I am going to write Will this evening. I have not written since he
went south. I wish you a Merry Christmas and happy New year. Wish I could send you a present, but our Pay
master died Christmas and we have had no pay for 4 months. I am almost broke.
Your affectionate Son,
|Sand Creek also
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Soule's two letters, written in December 1864 and January 1865, reveal several important issues at the center of the
government's Sand Creek Massacre inquiries, which took place three months later.
1. The number of Indians killed. Soule inspected the battle site on January 1, 1865, with a detachment of about 30 First
Regiment soldiers led by Captain Booth, Chief of Cavalry In the Upper Arkansas District. In his letter, Soule puts the number of
dead Indians at 130 but lowered that to 69 in his testimony before the military inquiry. He also mentions that "most" were women
and children. The testimonies of nearly all First Regiment soldiers and officers gave varied Indian casualty estimates between
50 and 200, while Chivington and his Third Regiment soldiers and officers reported much higher numbers ranging from 400 to
600. The inconsistency continued on the matter of women and children killed, with First Regiment men reporting approximately
two-thirds, while Third Regiment men claimed a lower percentage. Chivington himself claimed he saw very few women or
children killed. Historical records now estimate Indian casualties at 160 to 175, with two-thirds being women and children.
2. Soldier casualties. Soule writes that 40 soldiers were wounded and 12 killed. This number has consistently remained in
3. The brutality of the attack. Soule's lament of watching children begging for their lives and "have their brains beat out like
dogs," and his comment about all of the dead being scalped is consistent with later testimonies given by other First Regiment
4. The alleged conspiracy against Chivington. Soule comments, "I hope the authorities at Washington will investigate the killing
of those Indians. I think they will be apt to hoist some of our high officials . . ." He also mentions that the Indians at Sand Creek
were friendly, and there were soldiers trading at the camp at the time of the attack. These comments, all later corroborated by
other witnesses, provide more evidence of military impropriety than a political conspiracy. At the time of Soule's letters, Wynkoop
was conducting interviews of soldiers who were at Sand Creek, and rumors were in the air that Tappan and others were
pressing Washington for an investigation. These reactions appear more indicative of a genuine concern that a militia,
sanctioned by the government and led by a Union officer, had inappropriately attacked Indians later proven to have surrendered
as prisoners of the Army.
5. The murder of Silas Soule during the investigation of Sand Creek. In his letters, Soule unwittingly foreshadowed his own
death in his comment about Chivington's animosity toward him. Several witnesses testified that Chivington threatened Soule
before the Sand Creek attack, when Soule protested Chivington's plan. Soule writes in his letter that Chivington also threatened
him with a dishonorable discharge for Soule's refusal to allow his company to fire on the Indians. Some "historical" accounts on
the Internet, and in one poorly researched book, claim that Chivington arrested Soule and several others after Sand Creek.
These accounts have no historical basis in fact. It is further reasonable to assume that Soule himself would have mentioned an
arrest in one of these letters. Verified accounts prove that Soule (as he suggests in his letter) was mustered out of the Army
soon after Sand Creek, and then joined the Veteran's Service and assigned to the Denver Provost Guard. Soule was a Provost
Marshal when he testified against Chivington at the military investigation in the spring of 1865. Prior to his testimony, he received
numerous threats from Chivington supporters, and narrowly escaped one assassination attempt. Shortly after his testimony,
Soule was murdered on a Denver street by Charles Squire, a known criminal who was enlisted as a private in the Colorado
Second Regiment. Rumors abounded that Squire, who fled Colorado after killing Soule, was hired by Chivington, but no
evidence has ever emerged to connect Chivington to the murder. Another rumor pervaded that Squire, with no known ties to the
Sand Creek controversy, committed the crime because of an unrelated incident with Soule. A more plausible theory points to
Squire's crime as a random criminal act fueled by alcohol. Witnesses reported that Squire confessed to killing Soule without
stating any reason other than a convoluted rambling about self defense. Squire was later arrested in New Mexico and brought
back to face a military court martial for the murder, but he escaped with the help of two confederates shortly before his trial giving
further rise to rumors of a Chivington conspiracy. Historical evidence, however, points to the likelihood that Squire's escape may
have been arranged by a family member who feared that Squire would be killed by supporters of the popular Soule.
Stan Hoig: The Sand Creek Massacre
Gary L. Roberts: Sand Creek, Tragedy and Symbol
Tom Bensing: Silas Soule: A Short, Eventful Life of Moral Courage
Go to BIBLIOGRAPHY for citation
The letters of Silas S. Soule 1861 – 1864
Recounting His Experiences in the Colorado Territory
Transcribed from his actual letters in Denver Library Western History Dept.
Some misspellings are left as it from originals
Call: cmss rbv59 m67-1163 WH/GEN stx 6