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The Sand Creek Massacre
The Hungate Massacre - June 11, 1864
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The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. XXXIV, Part IV

Page 329 Chapter XLVI. CORRESPONDENCE, ETC.-UNION.

HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF COLORADO,
Denver, Colo. Ter., June 12, 1864.

Governor JOHN EVANS, Territory of Colorado:

GOVERNOR: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication dated 11th instant, referring to Indian depredations,
&c., and am pleased to be able to reply that prompt measures have been taken, with such means as are at present available, to
protect the people and to pursue and punish the Indians. But as you will perceive by the letter of the colonel commanding to yourself,
dated June 3, 1864, the services of the military are imperatively required

Page 330 LOUISIANA AND THE TRANS-MISSISSIPPI. Chapter XLVI.   

at another part of the Territory and district, and the aide which the district commander is most anxious to afford by the presence of his
troops upon this scene of trouble must necessarily be temporary, as the orders of the department command, of which you have
received notice, rendered no other alternative possible.

In view of this state of affairs, it is most respectfully suggested that the militia of this Territory might be of considerable service in this
emergency by garrisoning certain points that are likely to be threatened, thus relieving from such duty what mounted troops there are
now on the Platt, who could be used in the pursuit and punishment of the Indians, and to perform absence of the district commander, I
have taken the liberty to make this suggestion, believing that by such measures promptly taken our out-settlements may be protected
and the Indians pursued and brought to punishment.

I am, Governor, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. S. MAYNARD,

Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.


HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF COLORADO,
Denver, Colo. Ter., June 12, 1864.

Captain J. C. DAVIDSON,

First Cavalry of Colorado:

CAPTAIN: I have this day received a letter from His Excellency Governor John Evans in relation to the Indian depredations which were
commenced yesterday, and which, after mentioning the facts contained in inclosed letters of J. S. Brown, contains following postscript:

Since writing the above there has arrived a messenger from Mr. Van Wormer's ranch, 10 miles south of the cut-off road, on Box Elder.
He says that yesterday afternoon the Indians drove off his stock, burned Mr. Van Wormer's house, and murdered a man who was in
Mr. Van Wormer's employ, his wife, and two children, and burned his house also.

You will take from the command still remaining to you as strong a detachment as can be spared and leave your camp secure, and
proceed out after these Indians. Lieutenant Dunn's command has been seen at about 8 this a. m. near Box Eldere, and about 8 miles
from the Indian camp, and headed directly for it. From the information received it is presumed that the Indians are in force, and it will
be as well to proceed so as to be in supporting distance of Lieutenant Dunn. In this matter you will use your own discretion, as, being
upon the ground, your sources of information will be much better. Be not misled by the flying rumors, and do not keep your command
out longer than there is prospect or success nor encumber your command with prisoner Indians.

J. M. CHIVINGTON.


CAMP DUNN, COLO. TER., June 12, 1864.

Lieutenant J. S. MAYNARD,

Acting Assistant Adjutant-General:

SIR: Pursuant to instructions received from dispatch headquarters last night, I have sent Lieutenant Dunn with 50 men of Company C,
but as your order is for the detachment to join the command within

Page 331 Chapter XLVI. CORRESPONDENCE, ETC.-UNION.   

forty-eight hours, they cannot follow the Indians with any hope of overtaking them. I wish you would order me to pursue them until I do
overtake them or something definite.

Yours, in haste,

JOE C. DAVIDSON,

Captain, Commanding Camp Dunn.


HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF COLORADO,
Denver, Colo. Ter., June 12, 1864.

Captain J. C. DAVIDSON,

First Cavalry of Colorado:

Yours of this date received. When that order was written it was thought the Indians were encamped within a few miles of your
command, and that forty-eight hours would be sufficient to overtake, kill, and return. Use your own discretion in regard to following the
Indians, but do not delay a moment longer than there appears to be a prospect of success.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. S. MAYNARD,

Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.

________________


Page 353 CORRESPONDENCE, ETC. - UNION. Chapter XLVI.

HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF COLORADO,
Denver, Colo. Ter., June 13, 1864.

Major C. S. CHARLOT,

Asst. Adjt. General, Department of Kansas:

Afternoon of 11th, Indians stole 100 horses and mules from parties on Box elder, Kiowa, and Coal Creeks, about 20 miles from
Denver; burned houses on two ranches; murdered ranchman, his wife, two children; ravished woman before killing. I sent orders to
Captain Davidson, commanding Company C (detained on Cherry Creek by flood), to send out detachment 50 men in pursuit, with
orders to rejoin command en route to lyon within two days; also ordered Lieutenant Chase, with detachment from Fremont's Orchard,
in pursuit. Governor Evans has called upon militia, who are unmounted, never drilled, scattered, and consequently inefficient.
Settlements so scattered they cannot be guarded.

J. S. MAYNARD,

Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.


HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF COLORADO,
Denver, Colo. Ter., June 13, 1864.

Major C. S. CHARLOT,

Assistant Adjutant-General, Dept. of Kansas:

MAJOR: I have the honor to furnish herewith, for the information of the commanding general, copy of letter of Messrs. Brown, Corbin,
and Darrah, dated Denver, june 13, 1864, relative to Indian thefts and massacres. I also furnish copy* of letter of His Excellency
Governor Evans, of this territory, threatening of the same subject, and requesting aid of the very scanty military force now at hand in this
emergency. As will be seen by telegram of Colonel Chivington, commanding district, to Major-General Curtis, dated 8th instant, ten of
the twelve companies of cavalry in the district are en route to fort Lyon in obedience to orders of the commanding general. One of the
companies remaining is at Fremont's Orchard, the other at Fort Garland. Company C, which has principally participated in the recent
scouting and hunting of Indians, were making as rapid marching for Lyon as the state of their stock and of the swollen streams
permitted (the high water having swept off all bridges), as will be seen by my telegram of this date to you.

I ordered a party of this command in pursuit of the Indians, limiting their time of absence from their command, as, in view of the
major-general's telegram of 10th instant to Colonel Chivington, I

Page 354 LOUISIANA AN THE TRANS-MISSISSIPPI. Chapter XLVI.   

did not feel that I would be justified in taking another course. From information received, I believed that the troops were within 15 miles
of their camp, and that the summary punishment ordered to be given them could be effected with but little delay. From later information
it appears that these attacks have been preconcerted, and that the Indians cannot be reached by the detachment of Company C in the
limited time given them. Hence I have ordered Captain J. C. Davidson to proceed with another detachment of Company C in pursuit of
the Indians, o exercise his own direction in the pursuit, but not to continue it longer than he thinks there is prospect of success. Since
writing the above the bodies of the Hungate family, refereed to in letter of Messrs. Brown, Corbin, and Darrah, have been brought to
Denver. They are horribly mutilated; the man and woman scalped.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. S. MAYNARD,

Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.

[Inclosure.]

DENVER, COLO. TER., June 13, 1864.

Captain MAYNARD,

Acting Assistant Adjutant-General:

DEAR SIR: We, the undersigned, desire to lay before you such facts connected with the Indian massacre on Box Elder Creek of
Saturday, the 11th instant, as came within our personal observation, and other perfectly reliable information obtained from Mr.
Johnson, who lives near the scene of that inhuman outrage. We left this town yesterday morning, upon information received that about
40 to 50 mules belonging to the undersigned, Messrs, Brown and Darrah, freighters, had been stampeded in the boldest manner in
broad daylight by Indians belonging to the Cheyenne tribe. Mr. Brown's mules were stampeded from Coal Creek, on the main highway
from here to the Missouri River, and only 13 miles from Denver. This fact is mentioned to show the boldness of the operation.

Ascertaining that that Indians, after taking a northeasterly direction (for the purpose of misleading pursuit, probably), had turned, and
crossed the road near Box Elder Creek, we proceeded to that locality, and thence up that creek about 6 miles, where we met Mr.
Johnson coming down, who imparted the startling intelligence that the family of a ranchman named Hungate, living a few miles farther
up, had been brutally murdered by Indians, the ranch burned to the ground, and about 30 head of horses and mules driven off. The
massacre had occurred on the day previous, some time shortly afternoon, and Mr. Johnson had just assisted a party the mill above in
removing the bodies of the murdered woman and children. His statement was substantially as follows; The party from the mill and
himself, upon reaching the place, ha found it in ruins and the house burned to the ground. About 100 yards from the desolated ranch
they discovered the body of the murdered woman and her two dead children, one of which was a little girl of four years and the other
an infant. The woman had been stabbed in several places and scalped, and the body bore evidences of having been violated. The two
children had their throats cut, their heads being nearly severed from their bodies. Up to this time the body of the man had not been
found, but upon our return down the creek, on the opposite

Page 355 Chapter XLVI. CORRESPONDENCE, ETC.- UNION.   

side, we found the body. It was horribly mutilated and the scalp torn off. The family are spoken of by their neighbors as having been
very worthy and excellent people. Such is a correct statement of the terrible affair, which occurred only a little more than 20 miles from
Denver, and we will only add that the settlers in all that region of country are much alarmed, and justly so; and unless the military in
force proceed against the Indians at once all the ranches will be deserted, and much suffering probably ensue.

Very respectfully, yours,

J. S. BROWN.

D. C. CORBIN.

THOS. J. DARRAH.

____________

Page 462 LOUISIANA AND THE TRANS-MISSISSIPPI. Chapter XLVI.

CAMP CONBY, COLO. TER., June 19, 1864.

Lieutenant J. S. MAYNARD,

Actg. Asst. Adjt. General, Dist. of Colorado, Denver, Colo. Ter.:

SIR: I have the honor to inform you that I arrived at this place at 2 this p. m. I have been on the march ever since I left Denver, at the
same time scouting. I sent 50 men under Lieutenant dun out this morning, with three days' rations, as that is as long a time as we can
take rations without packing, and we have no saddles. As I am very tired and not well, I will not give detail of march till to-morrow.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,

JOE C. DAVIDSON,

Captain, First Cavalry of Colorado.
The Hungate Massacre

On June 11, 1864, an Indian raiding party believed to be
Arapahos attacked and brutally murdered a young family
on the Issac Van Wormer ranch near Box Elder Creek
(vicinity of present-day Elizabeth, Colorado).  A small
posse of ranchers, freighters and soldiers searching for
Indian cattle thieves soon discovered the hideously
mutilated bodies of Van Wormer’s ranch hand, Nathan
Hungate, his wife Ellen, and two daughters, Laura (age
two), and Florence (five months).  Hungate's body was
mutilated and scalped, Ellen had been raped before she
was stabbed repeatedly and scalped, and the children
were nearly decapitated.  Van Wormer, who was away
from the ranch at the time, undoubtedly escaped a similar
fate.

The horrified and angry freighters brought the ravaged
Hungate bodies to Denver and displayed them in the
center of town, sending a shock wave across the
Colorado Territory.  Although the Sand Creek Massacre
was the culmination of settlers’ anger over many other
larger Indian raids after the Hungate murders, this specific
incident became a focal point of Governor Evans’
argument that the Indians had initiated a full-scale war
against the citizens of the Plains territories.
Most contemporary historians concluded that the Hungate massacre was a bloody retaliation to an ongoing feud
between a few Arapaho warriors and Van Wormer, who had a confrontation with the Indians over stock stolen from his
ranch the previous year (
see Timeline - Summer 1863).  Although the names of the true Hungate murderers may never
be known (there were no eyewitnesses to the murders), most researchers concluded that the likely suspects were four
Arapaho warriors.  This conclusion was based on the available official records, rumors, and the later reminiscences of
both pioneers and Indians, who at one time or another implicated at least three Arapahos by name – Chief Roman Nose,
Medicine Man, and Notnee.   

Based on these numerous and conflicting reports, the traditional historical account of the Hungate massacre emerged:
Early on the day of June 11th, Nathan Hungate and another hired hand by the name of Miller left
the Van Wormer ranch in search of missing calves. Shortly after Hungate and Miller left, four
Arapaho warriors arrived at the ranch, apparently bent on revenge for the year-long feud with Van
Wormer.  The warriors raped, murdered and scalped Ellen Hungate, and cut the two children’s
throats before stealing Van Wormer’s livestock and burning the ranch house and Hungate’s
cabin.  Hungate and Miller soon spotted the smoke in the distance.  Miller then allegedly retreated
to find help, but he could not convince Hungate to come with him.  In a futile attempt to save his
family, Hungate frantically rode to the ranch and was murdered and scalped by the Arapahos.
The Hungate murders indeed became one of many critical events that led to the Sand Creek Massacre, but the widely
accepted historical account of what exactly happened on Issac Van Wormer’s ranch that day leaves many unanswered
questions.  At the time of the Hungate murders, seeking a rational explanation for the senseless and seemingly
unwarranted brutality of this atrocity was understandably trumped by the panic it initiated among Denver’s citizens,
who lived every day in fear of a war with the Plains tribes.  Later scholarly study of the crime, under calm and rational
circumstances, then forged the traditional Hungate murder story.  This account, however, doesn’t inquire into any
reason why a handful of warriors would commit such a heinous crime in retaliation for a petty, year-old dispute with
Van Wormer, who wasn’t even at the ranch when the Hungates were attacked.

A recent archaeological study of the Hungate massacre site has uncovered new evidence that challenges this
traditional story.  Dr. Jeff Broome, of Arapahoe Community College in Denver, posits a new theory based on these
artifacts and his examination of 19th century Indian depredation claims that reveal clues never before associated with
the Hungate massacre.  

Broome questions the validity of the historical account that claims four Arapahos exacted such brutal revenge for a
minor dispute with Van Wormer, which occurred a year prior – a confrontation that, although contentious, ended
without a fight.  Broome further questions why the Arapahos, who until the Hungate attack were raiding and stealing
livestock with little bloodshed, would viciously murder an innocent man, woman, and two children who were not
involved in the alleged “feud” with Van Wormer.  

Broome provides a compelling argument that the Hungate murder story is entirely different than the accepted historical
account.  He suggests that Nathan Hungate may have confronted a much larger party of marauding warriors, killing
one or more of them, and igniting a terrifying battle to protect his doomed family.

Kclonewolf.com is grateful to obtain the kind permission of Dr. Broome to post his fascinating new study on this site.
The following military dispatches reflect the panic caused by the Hungate murders:
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