The Sand Creek Massacre - Captain Silas S. Soule
letter to Major Edward Wynkoop regarding the massacre.
Wynkoop, courtesy Western History/Geneaology Department, Denver
Public Library. Soule, courtesy Byron Strom private materials, Anne
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We'll never forget
1 – William Bent
2 – No historical record of a Vogle. Most likely one of the white settlers in the area.
3 – Lt. Joseph A. Cramer, fellow soldier and friend of both Soule and Wynkoop. Cramer also wrote to Wynkoop
after the massacre. Read his letter. Cramer would later testify against Chivington in the military investigation.
4 – Lt. James Cannon, First New Mexico Volunteers. Cannon later testified against Chivington in the military
investigation. He also arrested Captain Soule’s murderer, William Squire, and soon thereafter died under
suspicious circumstances after he brought Squire to face court-martial in Denver.
5 – Most likely Jay J. Johnson, 3rd Regiment.
6 – William F. Harding, 3rd Regiment.
7 – Major Jacob Downing, a strong Chivington supporter.
8 – Kansas and Colorado territories were under siege by many warrior clans throughout 1864. Black Kettle, Left
Hand and Little Raven had pledged military support of the soldiers in fighting these militant clans as part of the
peace agreement with Wynkoop.
9 – Lt. Luther Wilson.
10 – John S. Smith, U.S. Interpreter, was camped at the Sand Creek village at the time of Chivington’s attack. He
was employed by the military to obtain information from Black Kettle regarding enemy movement in the area, and
was also conducting trade with the Sand Creek Indians with the permission of Major Anthony.
11 – Private David Louderback, 1st Regiment, was camped with Smith and wagon driver Watson Clark at the Sand
Creek village at the time of Chivington’s attack. All three survived and would later testify against Chivington in the
12 – Chief White Antelope (Southern Cheyenne), a member of the Cheyenne Council of 44. White Antelope was
among the most peaceably inclined leaders in the Cheyenne contingency of “Peace Chiefs.” A highly respected
Dog Soldier in his youth, White Antelope progressed through the Cheyenne hierarchy to become a revered leader
in his elder years. He participated in the Weld Council, and pledged to help the soldiers quell the Indian Wars of
1864. He was around the same age as Black Kettle when he was killed at Sand Creek. Legend has it that he
refused to take up arms against Chivington’s attacking troops, instead opting for an attempt to surrender.
Witnesses said that White Antelope was shot while defiantly standing in the village with his arms folded. Although
it is unlikely that anyone could hear him during the melee, legend says that he sang the Cheyenne death Song:
“Nothing lives long, except the earth and the mountains.” Several witnesses verified that he was scalped, and his
ears, nose and scrotum were severed and taken as trophies by members of Chivington’s command.
13 – War Bonnet (Southern Cheyenne), another Council of 44 member and contemporary of Black Kettle, was also
among the many Peace Chiefs killed at Sand Creek. He traveled with a contingency of intertribal chiefs to
Washington in 1863 to meet with President Lincoln.
14 - Charles Autobees – a rancher who lived near Booneville (west of Fort Lyon).
15 – Charles Bent, youngest son of William Bent who was living with his mother’s people at the Sand Creek
village. A teenager at the time of the massacre, Charles Bent went on to join in warrior raids as retribution for Sand
Creek. Charley denounced his father and reportedly tried to kill him. Charley himself was later killed by Pawnees.
16 – At the time of this letter, Soule believed George Bent (another son of William Bent) was killed in the
massacre. George was severely wounded, but he managed to escape the ambush, and he survived his injuries.
17 – Jack Smith, teenage son of John S. Smith, who lived with his Cheyenne mother in Black Kettle’s village. Jack
was taken prisoner and executed the night of the massacre. Soule's report of Jack's execution is based on
hearsay, for he had left the massacre site in the afternoon. James Beckwourth, however, testified that he
witnessed the killing. Chivington reported that young Smith was taken by a "sudden illness" and died overnight.
18 – Interpretation of the letter is “Denn,” but Soule most likely is referring to Lieutenant Clark Dunn. Soule would
later testify in the military investigation that Dunn asked Chivington for permission to kill Jack Smith, but this
allegation again was based on hearsay.
19 – ‘Old Bent’ refers to William Bent, and his family, wife Yellow Woman, and children, George, Robert, Charley,
Julia and Mary.
20 – Lt. Colonel Samuel F. Tappan – not a participant in the Sand Creek Massacre, but present at Fort Lyon when it
occurred. When Chivington had arrived to commandeer the Lyon troops, Tappan was laid up with a broken ankle
suffered in a riding accident. Soule and Cramer tried to enlist his help to persuade Chivington to spare Black
Kettle's village, but Tappan was apparently too loopy on morphine to be of any assistance. It's unlikely he would
have made a difference even if he had been available, however, for he and Chivington disliked each other
immensely due to numerous past run-ins rooted in professional jealousy. Tappan, a former journalist with many
influential friends in Washington, would later spearhead the investigation into Chivington’s attack.
21 – Soule incorrectly assumed Chivington was going to Washington, based upon Chivington’s false boasts that
he would raise another regiment. In reality, Chivington’s enlistment in the military had expired in September, and
Chivington would leave the army soon after this letter was written.
22 – Soule believed at this time that Black Kettle was killed at Sand Creek, but the Chief actually escaped without
injury. Chivington erroneously reported that his men killed Black Kettle. He may have intentionally lied in order to
stir up anti-Indian sentiment in Denver and boost his reputation as an Indian fighter, or Chivington may have
actually believed Black Kettle was dead (the Indian bodies were all so thoroughly mutilated after the attack that
most were rendered unrecognizable).
23 – One Eye, a Cheyenne sub-Chief, indeed was killed at Sand Creek. He is most notably remembered as the
leader of the party that initially approached Wynkoop with Black Kettle's proposal to meet at the Smoky Hill Council,
which resulted in the rescue of four Dog Soldier captives, and led to the council with Governor Evans at Camp Weld
in Denver. One Eye once saved William Bent’s life in a Kiowa raid, and Chivington himself had designated him as
a “good Indian.”
24 – Minnemic (Eagle Head) was a warrior who aligned with Black Kettle’s efforts to make peace with the whites.
He accompanied One Eye to meet with Wynkoop in September 1864 (see footnote 23). Again, due to the
numerous rumors and inaccurate reports initially coming from Sand Creek, Soule mistakenly believed Minnemic
was killed, but the warrior actually survived and went on to become an influential Cheyenne leader.
25 – Left Hand (a Southern Arapaho sub-Chief) was severely wounded in the attack. He was taken by other
survivors to a Dog Soldier camp on the Smoky Hill River, where he died several days later.
26 - Many witnesses reported the same incident – Private George W. Pierce attempted to rescue Smith and was
shot. Some soldiers testified that he was killed by Indians, while others said he was killed by friendly fire.
27 – No record of Wilker – possibly William F. Wilder, 1st Regiment.
Three weeks after the November 29, 1864 Sand Creek Massacre,
Captain Silas Soule wrote the following letter to Major Edward
Wynkoop regarding Colonel John M. Chivington's unprovoked
attack on a large encampment of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians.
A month prior at the Camp Weld Council in Denver, Chivington and
Colorado Governor John Evans authorized Wynkoop to establish a
tentative peace agreement with Black Kettle and Arapaho chiefs Left
Hand and Little Raven at Fort Lyon, under the condition that the Indians
surrender and camp at nearby Sand Creek. Wynkoop's intention was
to protect any peaceably inclined Indians from an upcoming winter
offensive to be launched against warrior clans that were murdering
white settlers in Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska. Shortly thereafter,
Chivington led a large volunteer militia from Denver to Fort Lyon and
commandeered 250 soldiers from that post. Under protest of Captain
Soule and other Lyon officers, Chivington nonetheless ordered the
regiments to Sand Creek and attacked Black Kettle's camp. Captain
Soule and fellow Fort Lyon officer Lt. Joseph Cramer defied
Chivington's orders and refused to allow their companies to fire on the
Indians. The battle left approximately 170 Indians dead, including many
women and children, while nearly 500 fled into Kansas Indian country
without pursuit. Although the militia had been specifically commissioned
to seek out and destroy hostile warrior clans camped in Kansas,
Chivington abruptly turned his forces back to Denver, creating a swell
of controversy that had already begun before his troops returned.
Captain Silas S. Soule
Major Edward W. Wynkoop
|Sand Creek also
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Shortly before the Sand Creek attack, Major Wynkoop, who had promised military protection for the Indian
prisoners, was suddenly relieved of his Fort Lyon command and ordered to immediately ride to Fort Riley,
Kansas and report to Major General Samuel Curtis.
Because Fort Lyon and Wynkoop were under Curtis's command - and not Chivington's - Curtis believed
Wynkoop was acting on his own in direct violation of official policy to not treat with any Indian tribe. Although
during the Weld Council Governor Evans and Colonel Chivington clearly instructed Black Kettle and the other
peace chiefs to submit to military authority and arrange a peace agreement with Wynkoop, General Curtis
(commanding the District of Kansas) apparently knew nothing of these orders. Wynkoop left Fort Lyon just two
days before Chivington's Colorado Third Regiment volunteer militia arrived.
Following the attack, an angry Wynkoop apprised Curtis of the events leading up to Chivington's attack,
accusing the Colonel and his militiamen of coldblooded murder. Similar accusations coming from Fort Lyon,
including disturbing reports of the slaughter of women and children and wholesale scalping of the dead, led
Curtis to order Wynkoop to conduct an investigation into the charges. Among the first to report to Wynkoop was
his close friend, Captain Soule, who served as second in command at Lyon when the incident began . . .
Letter from Captain Silas Soule to Major Edward Wynkoop regarding Sand Creek Massacre
(unedited, with footnotes added):
Fort Lyon, C.T.
December 14, 1864
Two days after you left here the 3rd Reg't with a Battalion of the 1st arrived here, having moved so
secretly that we were not aware of their approach until they had Pickets around the Post, allowing no
one to pass out! They arrested Capt. Bent 1 and John Vogle 2 and placed guards around their
houses. They then declared their intention to massacre the friendly Indians camped on Sand Creek.
Major Anthony gave all information, and eagerly Joined in with Chivington and Co. and ordered Lieut.
Cramer 3 with his whole Co. to Join the command. As soon as I knew of their movement I was
indignant as you would have been were you here and went to Cannon's 4 room, where a number of
officers of the 1st and 3rd were congregated and told them that any man who would take part in the
murders, knowing the circumstances as we did, was a low lived cowardly son of a bitch. Capt. Y. J.
Johnson 5 and Lieut. Harding 6 went to camp and reported to Chiv, Downing 7 and the whole outfit
what I had said, and you can bet hell was to pay in camp.
Chiv and all hands swore they would hang me before they moved camp, but I stuck it out, and all the
officers at the Post, except Anthony backed me. I was then ordered with my whole company to Major
A- with 20 days rations. I told him I would not take part in their intended murder, but if they were going
after the Sioux, Kiowa’s or any fighting Indians, I would go as far as any of them 8. They said that
was what they were going for, and I joined them. We arrived at Black Kettles and Left Hand's Camp
at daylight. Lieut. Wilson 9 with Co.s "C", "E" & "G" were ordered to in advance to cut off their herd.
He made a circle to the rear and formed a line 200 yds from the village, and opened fire.
Poor Old John Smith 10 and Louderbeck 11 ran out with white flags but they paid no attention to
them, and they ran back into the tents. Anthony then rushed up with Co’s “D” “K” & “G” to within one
hundred yards and commenced firing. I refused to fire and swore that none but a coward would. for
by this time hundreds of women and children were coming toward us and getting on their knees for
mercy. Anthony shouted, "kill the sons of bitches" Smith and Louderbeck came to our command,
although I am confident there were 200 shots fired at them, for I heard an officer say that Old Smith
and any one who sympathized with the Indians, ought to be killed and now was a good time to do it.
The Battery then came up in our rear, and opened on them. I took my Comp’y across the Creek, and
by this time the whole of the 3rd and the Batteries were firing into them and you can form some idea
of the slaughter.
When the Indians found there was no hope for them they went for the Creek and got under the banks
and some of the bucks got their Bows and a few rifles and defended themselves as well as they
could. By this time there was no organization among our troops, they were a perfect mob – every
man on his own hook. My Co. was the only one that kept their formation, and we did not fire a shot.
The massacre lasted six or eight hours, and a good many Indians escaped. I tell you Ned it was hard
to see little children on their knees have their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized. One
squaw was wounded and a fellow took a hatchet to finish her, and he cut one arm off, and held the
other with one hand and dashed the hatchet through her brain. One squaw with her two children,
were on their knees, begging for their lives of a dozen soldiers, within ten feet of them all firing - when
one succeeded in hitting the squaw in the thigh, when she took a knife and cut the throats of both
children and then killed herself. One Old Squaw hung herself in the lodge - there was not enough
room for her to hang and she held up her knees and choked herself to death. Some tried to escape
on the Prairie, but most of them were run down by horsemen. I saw two Indians hold one of anothers
hands, chased until they were exhausted, when they kneeled down, and clasped each other around
the neck and both were shot together. They were all scalped, and as high as half a dozen taken from
one head. They were all horribly mutilated. One woman was cut open and a child taken out of her,
White Antelope 12, War Bonnet 13 and a number of others had Ears and Privates cut off. Squaws
snatches were cut out for trophies. You would think it impossible for white men to butcher and
mutilate human beings as they did there, but every word I have told you is the truth, which they do not
deny. It was almost impossible to save any of them. Charly Autobee 14 save John Smith and
Winsers squaw. I saved little Charlie Bent. 15 Geo. Bent was killed 16.
Jack Smith 17 was taken prisoner, and murdered the next day in his tent by one of Dunn’s Co. “E”
18. I understand the man received a horse for doing the job. They were going to murder Charlie
Bent, but I run him into the Fort. They were going to kill Old Uncle John Smith, but Lt. Cannon and
the boys of Ft. Lyon, interfered, and saved him. They would have murdered Old Bents family 19, if
Col. Tappan 20 had not taken the matter in hand. Cramer went up with twenty (20) men, and they
did not like to buck against so many of the 1st. Chivington has gone to Washington to be made
General, I suppose, and get authority to raise a nine months Reg’t to hunt Indians 21. He said
Downing will have me cashiered if possible. If they do I want you to help me. I think they will try the
same for Cramer for he has shot his mouth off a good deal, and did not shoot his pistol off in the
Massacre. Joe has behaved first rate during this whole affair. Chivington reports five or six hundred
killed, but there were not more than two hundred, about 140 women and children and 60 Bucks. A
good many were out hunting buffalo. Our best Indians were killed. Black Kettle 22, One Eye 23,
Minnemic 24, and Left Hand 25. Geo. Pierce 26 of Co. “F” was killed trying to save John Smith.
There was one other of the 1st killed and nine of the 3rd all through their own fault. They would get
up to the edge of the bank and look over, to get a shot at an Indian under them. When the women
were killed the Bucks did not seem to try and get away, but fought desperately. Charly Autobee
wished me to write all about it to you. He says he would have given anything if you could have been
I suppose Cramer has written to you, all the particulars, so I will write half. Your family is well. Billy
Wilker 27, Col. Tappen, Wilson (who was wounded in the arm) start for Denver in the morning. There
is no news I can think of. I expect we will have a hell of a time with Indians this winter. We have (200)
men at the Post – Anthony in command. I think he will be dismissed when the facts are known in
Washington. Give my regards to any friends you come across, and write as soon as possible.
(signed) S.S. Soule