The Sand Creek Massacre
Major Edward Wynkoop Reports on Investigation into Attack
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Major Edward W. Wynkoop reports the results of his investigation at Fort Lyon regarding the Sand
Responding to rumors of alleged misconduct by Major Wynkoop regarding the treatment of Indians at Fort Lyon, General Samuel
Curtis relieved Wynkoop of his command in early November 1864 and ordered him to go to Fort Riley to answer o the charges.
Major Scott Anthony replaced Wynkoop and soon learned of the arrangement Wynkoop had made with the Cheyennes and
Arapahos under the terms of the Camp Weld Council. Anthony agreed with Wynkoop’s decision to allow Black Kettle’s Cheyennes
and the Arapahos under Left Hand to camp at Sand Creek as prisoners under the protection of the army. Wynkoop departed for
Fort Riley just days before the Sand Creek Massacre, confident that once he explained the situation to General Curtis, a peace
agreement could be arranged with the Indian prisoners.
Following the attack at Sand Creek by Colonel John M. Chivington’s Colorado Third Volunteer Regiment, Major Wynkoop was
ordered to return to Fort Lyon and conduct an investigation of the attack. Wynkoop interviewed soldiers present at the attack, and
took affidavits from Indian interpreter John Smith, Agent Samuel Colley, Lt. Joseph Cannon, Lt. Wm. Minton, Private David
Louderback, and teamster Watson Clark. On January 15, 1865, an obviously enraged Wynkoop returned the following report:
United States War Dept. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.
Series I Volume XLI, Part I, pp. 959-962.
FORT LYON, COLO. TER., January 15, 1865.
SIR: In pursuance of Special Orders, Numbers 43, headquarters District of Upper Arkansas, directing me to assume command of
Fort Lyon, as well as to investigate and immediately report in regard to late Indian proceedings in this vicinity, I have the honor to
state that I arrived at this post on the evening of the 14th of January, 1865, assumed command on the morning of the 15th of
January, 1865, and the result of my investigation is as follows, viz:
As explanatory, I beg respectfully to state that while formerly in command of this post, on the 4th day of September, 1864, and after
certain hostilities on the part of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians, induced, as I have had ample proof, by the overt acts of white
men, three Indians (Cheyennes) were brought as prisoners to me, who had been found coming toward the post, and who had in
their possession a letter written, as I ascertained afterward, by a half-breed in the Cheyenne camp as coming from Black Kettle
and other prominent chiefs of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Nations, the purport of which was that they desired peace, had never
desired to be at war with the whites, &c., as well as stating that they had in their possession some white prisoners, women and
children, whom they were willing to deliver up provided that peace was granted them. Knowing that it was not in my power to insure
and offer them the peace for which they sued, but at the same time anxious, if possible, to accomplish the rescue of the white
prisoners in their possession, I finally concluded to risk an expedition with the command I could raise (numbering 127 men) to
their rendezvous, where, I was informed, they were congregated to the number of 2,000, and endeavor by some means to procure
to aforesaid white prisoners, and to be governed in my course in accomplishing the same entirely by circumstances. Having
formerly made lengthy reports in regard to the details of my expedition, I have but to say that I succeeded--procured four white
captives from the hands of these Indians--simply giving them in return a pledge that I would endeavor to procure for them the
peace for which they so anxiously sued, feeling that under the proclamation issued by John Evans, Governor of Colorado and
superintendent of Indian affairs (a copy of which becomes a portion of this report), even if not by virtue of my position as a U. S.
officer, highest in authority in the country, included within the bounds prescribed as the country of the Arapahoe and Cheyenne
Nations, that I could offer them protection until such time as some measures might be taken by those higher in authority than
myself in regard to them, I took with me seven of the principal chiefs, including Black Kettle, to Denver city, for the purpose of
allowing them an interview with the Governor of Colorado, by that means making a mistake, of which I have since become painfully
aware--that of proceeding with chiefs to the Governor of Colorado Territory, instead of to the headquarters of my district to my
In the consultation with Governor Evans the matter was referred entirely to the military authorities. Colonel J. M. Chivington, at that
time commander of the District of Colorado, was present at the council held with these Indian chiefs, and told them that the whole
matter was referred to myself, who would act toward them according to the best of my judgment until such time as I could receive
instructions from the proper authorities. Returning to Fort Lyon I allowed the Indians to bring their villages to the vicinity of the post,
including their squaws and papooses, and in such a position that I could at any moment with the garrison I had have annihilated
them had they given any evidence of hostility of any kind in any quarter. I then immediately dispatched my adjutant, Lieutenant W.
W. Denison, with a full statement to the commanding general of the department asking for instructions, but in the meanwhile
various false rumors having reached district headquarters in regard to my course I was relieved from the command of Fort Lyon
and ordered to report at headquarters. Major Scott J. Anthony, First Cavalry of Colorado, who had been ordered to assume
command of Fort Lyon previous to my departure, held a consultation with the chiefs in my presence and told them that, though
acting under strict orders, under the circumstances he could not materially differ from the course which I had adopted, and allowed
them to remain in the vicinity of the post with their families, assuring them perfect safety until such time as positive orders should
be received from headquarters in regard to them. I left the post on the 25th day of November for the purpose of reporting at district
headquarters. On the second day after leaving Fort Lyon, while on the plains, I was approached by three Indians, one of whom
stated to me that he had been sent by Black Kettle to warn me that about 200 Sioux warriors had proceeded down the road
between where I was and Fort Larned to make war, and desired that I should be careful--another evidence of these Indians' good
faith. All of his statement proved afterward to be correct. Having an escort of twenty-eight men, I proceeded on my way, but did not
happen to fall in with them. From evidence of officers at this post I understand that on the 27th day of November, 1864, Colonel J.
M. Chivington, with the Third Regiment of Colorado Cavalry (100-days' men) and a battalion of the First Colorado Cavalry, arrived at
Fort Lyon, ordered a portion of the garrison to join him under the command of Major Scott J. Anthony, and against the remonstrance
of the officers of the post, who stated to him the circumstances of which he was well aware, attacked the camp of friendly Indians,
the major portion of which were composed of women and children.
The affidavits which become a portion of this report will show more particularly than I can state the full particulars of that massacre.
Every one of whom I have spoken to, either officers or soldier, agree in the relation that the most fearful atrocities were committed
that ever was heard of. Women and children were killed and scalped, children shot at their mothers' breasts, and all the bodies
mutilated in the most horrible manner. Numerous eye-witnesses have described scenes to me coming under the eye of Colonel
Chivington of the most disgusting and horrible character. The dead bodies of females profaned in such a manner that the recital is
sickening, Colonel J. M. Chivington all the time inciting his troops to these diabolical outrages. Previous to the slaughter
commencing he addressed his command, arousing in them by his language all their worst passions, urging them on to the work
of committing all these atrocities. Knowing himself all the circumstances of these Indians, resting on the assurances of protection
from the Government given them by myself and Major Scott J. Anthony, he kept his command in entire ignorance of the same, and
when it was suggested that such might be the case, he denied it positively, stating that they were still continuing their
depredations, and laid there, threatening the fort. I beg leave to draw the attention of the colonel commanding to the fact
established by the inclosed affidavits that two-thirds or more of that Indian village were women and children, and he is aware
whether or not the Indians go to war taking with them their women and children. I desire also to state that Colonel J. M. Chivington
is not my superior officer, but is a citizen mustered out of the U. S. service, and also that at the time this inhuman monster
committed this unprecedented atrocity he was a citizen by reason of his term of service having expired, he having lost his
regulation command some months previous.
Colonel Chivington reports officially that between 500 and 600 Indians were left dead upon the field. I have been informed by
Captain Booth, district inspector, that he visited the field and counted but sixty-nine bodies, and by others who were present that but
a few, if any, over that number were killed, and that two-thirds of them were women and children. I beg leave to further state for the
information of the colonel commanding that I have talked to every officer in Fort Lyon, and many enlisted men, and that they
unanimously agree that all the statements I have made in this report are correct.
In conclusion allow me to say that from the time I held the consultation with the Indian chiefs on the headwaters of Smoky Hill up to
the date of the massacre by Colonel Chivington, not one single depredation had been committed by the Cheyenne and Arapahoe
Indians. The settlers of the Arkansas Valley had returned to their ranches from which they had fled, had taken in their crops and
had been resting in perfect security under assurances from myself that they would be in no danger for the present, by that means
saving the country from what must inevitably become almost a famine, were they to lose their crops. The lines of communication to
the States were opened and travel across the plains rendered perfectly safe through the Cheyenne and Arapahoe country. Since
this last horrible murder by Colonel Chivington, the country presents a scene of desolation; all communication is cut off with the
States except by sending large bodies of troops, and already over 100 whites have fallen as victims to the fearful vengeance of
these betrayed Indians. All this country is ruined; there can be no such thing as peace in the future, but by the total annihilation of
all the Indians on the plains. I have the most reliable information to the effect that the Cheyennes and Arapahoes have allied
themselves with the Kiowas, Comanches, and Sioux, and are congregated to the number of 5,000 or 6,000 on the Smoky Hill. Let
me also draw the attention of the colonel commanding to the fact stated by affidavit that John S. Smith, U. S. interpreter, a soldier,
and citizen, were present, in the Indian camp by permission of the commanding officer of this post, another evidence to the fact of
these same Indians being regarded as friendly, also that Colonel Chivington states in his official report that he fought from 900 to
1,000 Indians, and left from 500 to 600 dead upon the field--the sworn evidence being that there was but 500 souls in the village,
two-thirds of them being women and children, and that there were but from 60 to 70 killed, the major portion of which were women
and children. It will take many more troops to give security to travelers and settlers in this country, and to make any kind of
successful warfare against these Indians. I am at work placing Fort Lyon in a state of defense, having all, both citizens and
soldiers, located here, employed upon the works, and expect soon to have them completed, and of such a nature that a
comparatively small garrison can hold the fort against any attack by Indians. Hoping that my report may receive the particular
attention of the colonel commanding, I respectfully submit the same.
Your obedient servant,
E. W. WYNKOOP,
Major, Comdg First Colorado Vet. Cav. and Fort Lyon.
Lieut. J. E. TAPPAN
Actg. Asst. Adjt. Gen., District of Upper Arkansas
Wynkoop was ordered to return to Fort Lyon by order of Colonel James H. Ford, Colorado Second Regiment, who took command
of Fort Riley by order of General Curtis in late December 1864. Around the same time, Curtis ordered Colonel Thomas Moonlight
to take command of Denver’s military district, replacing Chivington, who would officially muster out of the army in January 1865.
(See December 1864 reports - December 20-31)
Chivington’s term of service, however, had expired in September of 1864, a point that Wynkoop mentions in his report. In the later
investigations of the Sand Creek Massacre, Wynkoop and Lt. Colonel Samuel Tappan raised many questions about this fact,
questioning Chivington’s authority to take over the command of the Colorado Third Volunteers from Lt. Colonel George Shoup, who
was the regimental commander. Chivington’s authority came into further question when he commandeered 250 troops from the
Colorado First Cavalry at Fort Lyon on his way to Sand Creek – troops under the authority of the Upper Arkansas District.
Hoig, Stan The Sand Creek Massacre
Roberts Gary L. Sand Creek: Tragedy and Symbol
See bibliography for citation
|Sand Creek also
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