The Sand Creek Massacre
Editorials From the Rocky Mountain News After the Attack
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Editorials from Denver's Rocky Mountain News following the Colorado Third Cavalry's attack on Cheyenne and Arapaho
Indians camped at Sand Creek, November 29, 1864.
Rocky Mountain News, December 17, 1864
THE BATTLE OF SAND CREEK.
Among the brilliant feats of arms in Indian warfare, the recent campaign of our Colorado volunteers will stand in history with few
rivals, and none to exceed it in final results. We are not prepared to write its history, which can only be done by some one who
accompanied the expedition, but we have gathered from those who participated in it, and from others who were in that part of the
country, some facts which will doubtless interest many of our readers.
The people of Colorado are well aware of the situation occupied by the third regiment during the great snow-storm which set in the
last of October. Their rendezvous was in Bijou Basin, about eighty miles southeast of this city, and close up under the foot of the
Divide. That point had been selected as the base for an Indian campaign. Many of the companies reached it after the storm set in;
marching for days through the driving, blinding clouds of snow and deep drifts. Once there, they were exposed for weeks to an
Arctic climate, surrounded by a treeless plain covered three feet deep with snow. Their animals suffered for food and with cold, and
the men fared but little better. They were insufficiently supplied with tents and blankets, and their sufferings were intense. At the
end of a month the snow had settled to the depth of two feet, and the command set out upon its long contemplated march. The
rear guard left the Basin on the 23d of November. Their course was southeast, crossing the Divide and thence heading for Fort
Lyon. For one hundred miles the snow was quite two feet in depth, and for the next hundred it ranged from six to twelve inches.
Beyond that the ground was almost bare and the snow no longer impeded their march.
On the afternoon of the 28th the entire command reached Fort Lyon, a distance of two hundred and sixty miles, in less than six
days, and so quietly and expeditiously had the march been made that the command at the fort was taken entirely by surprise.
When the vanguard appeared in sight it was reported that a body of Indians were approaching, and precautions were taken for
their reception. No one upon the route was permitted to go in advance of the column, and persons who it was suspected would
spread the news of the advance were kept under surveillance until all danger from that source was past.
At Fort Lyon the force was strengthened by about two hundred and fifty men of the first regiment, and at nine o'clock in the evening
the command set out for the Indian village. The course was due north, and their guide was the Polar star. As daylight dawned they
came in sight of the Indian camp, after a forced midnight march of forty-two miles, in eight hours, across the rough, unbroken plain.
But little time was required for preparation. The forces had been divided and arranged for battle on the march, and just as the sun
rose they dashed upon the enemy with yells that would put a Comanche army to blush. Although utterly surprised, the savages
were not unprepared, and for a time their defence told terribly against our ranks. Their main force rallied and formed in line of battle
on the bluffs beyond the creek, where they were protected by rudely constructed rifle-pits, from which they maintained a steady fire
until the shells from company C's (third regiment) howitzers began dropping among them, when they scattered and fought each for
himself in genuine Indian fashion. As the battle progressed the field of carnage widened until it extended over not less than twelve
miles of territory. The Indians who could, escaped or secreted themselves, and by three o'clock in the afternoon the carnage had
ceased. It was estimated that between three and four hundred of the savages got away with their lives. Of the balance there were
neither wounded nor prisoners. Their strength at the beginning of the action was estimated at nine hundred.
Their village consisted of one hundred and thirty Cheyenne and eight Arapahoe lodges. These, with their contents, were totally
destroyed. Among their effects were large supplies of flour, sugar, coffee, tea, &c. Women's and children's clothing were found;
also books and many other articles which must have been taken from captured trains or houses. One white man's scalp was
found which had evidently been taken but a few days before. The chiefs fought with unparalleled bravery, falling in front of their
men. One of them charged alone against a force of two or three hundred, and fell pierced with balls far in advance of his braves.
Our attack was made by five battalions. The first regiment, Colonel Chivington, part of companies C, D, E, G, H and K, numbering
altogether about two hundred and fifty men, was divided into two battalions; the first under command of Major Anthony, and the
second under Lieutenant Wilson, until the latter was disabled; when the command devolved upon Lieutenant Dunn. The three
battalions of the third, Colonel Shoup, were led, respectively, by Lieutenant Colonel Bowen, Major Sayr, and Captain Cree. The
action was begun by the battalion of Lieutenant Wilson, who occupied the right, and by a quick and bold movement cut off the
enemy from their herd of stock. From this circumstance we gained our great advantage. A few Indians secured horses, but the
great majority of them had to fight or fly on foot. Major Anthony was on the left, and the third in the centre.
Among the killed were all the Cheyenne chiefs, Black Kettle, White Antelope, Little Robe, Left Hand, Knock Knee, One Eye, and
another, name unknown. Not a single prominent man of the tribe remains, and the tribe itself is almost annihilated. The
Arapahoes probably suffered but little. It has been reported that the chief Left Hand, of that tribe, was killed, but Colonel Chivington
is of the opinion that he was not. Among the stock captured were a number of government horses and mules, including the twenty
or thirty stolen from the command of Lieutenant Chase at Jimmy's camp last summer.
The Indian camp was well supplied with defensive works. For half a mile along the creek there was an almost continuous chain of
rifle-pits, and another similar line of works crowned the adjacent bluff. Pits had been dug at all the salient points for miles. After the
battle twenty-three dead Indians were taken from one of these pits and twenty-seven from another.
Whether viewed as a march or as a battle, the exploit has few, if any, parallels. A march of 260 miles in but a fraction more than five
days, with deep snow, scanty forage, and no road, is a remarkable feat, whilst the utter surprise of a large Indian village is
unprecedented. In no single battle in North America, we believe, have so many Indians been slain.
It is said that a short time before the command reached the scene of battle an old squaw partially alarmed the village by reporting
that a great herd of buffalo were coming. She heard the rumbling of the artillery and tramp of the moving squadrons, but her people
doubted. In a little time the doubt was dispelled, but not by buffaloes.
A thousand incidents of individual daring and the passing events of the day might be told, but space forbids. We leave the task for
eye-witnesses to chronicle. All acquitted themselves well, and Colorado soldiers have again covered themselves with glory.
Rocky Mountain News, December 29, 1864
Members of the Third Colorado Cavalry were yesterday mustered out of the service of the United States, the term of their
enlistment – one hundred days – having expired. They have had a short but eventful experience as soldiers, and no doubt return to
civil life satisfied that they have done all they of anyone else could expect at their hands. The citizens of Colorado should and do
feel grateful for their services.
Unfortunately, owing to the sudden and lamented death of (paymaster) Major Fillmore, the regiment had to be mustered out
without their pay. This is a great hardship as many of them sorely need what is their due. All of them cannot immediately procure
employment here and they cannot well leave – even if they had the means – until their accounts are settled up. There is doubtless
plenty of labor to be obtained in the mountains, and good wages if they could only go there to do it.
Every effort is being made for their relief. A new paymaster will undoubtedly soon be here to pay them off, and until then our
citizens should be generous as possible, giving work to those who want it and assisting them otherwise in every way they can.
Rocky Mountain News, December 30, 1864
THE FORT LYON AFFAIR.
The issue of yesterday's News, containing the following despatch, created considerable of a sensation in this city, particularly
among the Thirdsters and others who participated in the recent campaign and the battle on Sand creek:
"WASHINGTON, December 20, 1864.
"The affair at Fort Lyon, Colorado, in which Colonel Chivington destroyed a large Indian village, and all its inhabitants, is to be
made the subject of congressional investigation. Letters received from high officials in Colorado say that the Indians were killed
after surrendering, and that a large proportion of them were women and children."
Indignation was loudly and unequivocally expressed, and some less considerate of the boys were very persistent in their inquiries
as to who those "high officials" were, with a mild intimation that they had half a mind to "go for them." This talk about "friendly
Indians" and a "surrendered" village will do to "tell to marines," but to us out here it is all bosh.
The confessed murderers of the Hungate family--a man and wife and their two little babes, whose scalped and mutilated remains
were seen by all our citizens--were "friendly Indians," we suppose, in the eyes of these "high officials." They fell in the Sand creek
The confessed participants in a score of other murders of peaceful settlers and inoffensive travellers upon our borders and along
our roads in the past six months must have been friendly, or else the "high officials" wouldn't say so.
The band of marauders in whose possession were found scores of horses and mules stolen from government and from
individuals; wagon loads of flour, coffee, sugar and tea, and rolls of broad cloth, calico, books, &c, robbed from freighters and
emigrants on the plains; underclothes of white women and children, stripped from their murdered victims, were probably
peaceably disposed toward some of those "high officials," but the mass of our people "can't see it."
Probably those scalps of white men, women and children, one of them fresh, not three days taken, found drying in their lodges,
were taken in a friendly, playful manner; or possibly those Indian saddle-blankets trimmed with the scalps of white women, and
with braids and fringes of their hair, were kept simply as mementoes of their owners' high affection for the pale face. At any rate,
these delicate and tasteful ornaments could not have been taken from the heads of the wives, sisters or daughters of these "high
That "surrendering" must have been the happy thought of an exceedingly vivid imagination, for we can hear of nothing of the kind
from any of those who were engaged in the battle. On the contrary, the savages fought like devils to the end, and one of our pickets
was killed and scalped by them the next day after the battle, and a number of others were fired upon. In one instance a party of the
vidette pickets were compelled to beat a hasty retreat to save their lives, full twenty-four hours after the battle closed. This does not
look much like the Indians had surrendered.
But we are not sure that an investigation may not be a good thing. It should go back of the "affair at Fort Lyon," as they are pleased
to term it down east, however, and let the world know who were making money by keeping those Indians under the sheltering
protection of Fort Lyon; learn who was interested in systematically representing that the Indians were friendly and wanted peace. It
is unquestioned and undenied that the site of the Sand creek battle was the rendezvous of the thieving and marauding bands of
savages who roamed over this country last summer and fall, and it is shrewdly suspected that somebody was all the time making
a very good thing out of it. By all means let there be an investigation, but we advise the honorable congressional committee, who
may be appointed to conduct it, to get their scalps insured before they pass Plum creek on their way out.
Rocky Mountain News, December 31, 1864
We fear that the representations that have been made to the authorities at Washington, respecting the “Fort Lyon affair,” about
which we had something to say yesterday, will tell sadly against the prosperity of Colorado, and enhance the difficulties of
procuring adequate protection to travel on the plains. Its effect upon the public mind at Washington is shadowed more or less in
the dispatch of the 29th, and if that prejudice cannot be entirely removed, it will be hard to prevail upon Congress, or the
Departments, to give our Territory and its roads the security they actually need. The representations that have been made by the
“high officials” referred too, place our people, and our military authorities and forces, in the light of aggressors upon the rights of
The spirit that prompted such representations is as contemptibly mean as the representations themselves are outrageously false,
as every one in this country well knows. Unfortunately, Colorado is saddled with a lot of uneasy spirits, among whom are these
“high officials,” who would drag her down to hell, if so doing they could further their own political ambition, or put money in their
pockets. Their hate is as vindictive as their consciences are unscrupulous. They will take desperate chances upon forever
damning themselves to work a temporary injury to those who differ with them upon questions of public policy.
These are the men who call for “Congressional Investigation” of the affair at Fort Lyon. They care not what difficulties they may
throw around the vital question of securing peace and safety along the Platte and Arkansas roads. They care not for the security of
Colorado’s frontier settlements, nor for the lives of their defenceless (sic) women and children. They would blast the prospects of
the Territory for years to come, and for what? Solely and simply to vent their spite upon two or three men against whom they have
personal animosities, or whose power and popularity they envy and fear.
Since matters have reached this pass, we call upon those who have seen the workings of things at Fort Lyon for some months
past, to make public such facts as they know. Our columns are at their service. We are assured that there are soldiers who have
been serving in the First and Third regiments, who can tales unfold that would put to blush these “high officials” and their friends, if
they are not totally lost to all sensibility and consciousness of right.
Let the investigation go on.
Dec. 17 and 30 articles available at:
United States, Congress, House of Representatives. "Massacre of the Cheyenne Indians," Report on the Conduct of the War, 38
Cong., 2 sess., Washington, Government Printing Office, 1865 (pp. 56-58)
|Sand Creek also
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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.
High Officials Checkmated – Letter to editor criticizes “High Officials” rumored to be pushing for an investigation into the Sand
Creek Massacre. Rocky Mountain News, January 4, 1865.
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.