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|A Misplaced Massacre
|TIPS ON VISITING THE SAND CREEK MASSACRE SITE
The Sand Creek Massacre occurred in a remote, unpopulated region of southeastern Colorado. The site is
virtually as isolated and sparsely populated today as it was in 1864, which makes traveling there an enhanced
learning experience, particularly for individuals and groups involved in a concentrated historical study of the
incident. Keep in mind the NPS monument site is only a small area within a much larger region where the entire
incident took place. The monument is the approximate location where most of the victims were ambushed and
Chivington subsequently lost control of his command. Many Indians managed to escape and mount a defense
against the attack that continued for hours up the creek (on the present day Bowen Ranch). Researchers
should consider the controversy surrounding the site location. Not surprisingly driven by greed, modern day
politicians, lawyers, land owners and profiteers bickered over the precise location of the Sand Creek attack.
Some things never change.
The site is located in the arid high desert region of Colorado. The Big Sandy River (often called ‘Sand Creek’)
rarely has any water in this particular region where the massacre occurred. The land is a mesh of coarse
grasses and sagebrush, pummeled by constant winds in the summer and dry cold temperatures in winter. With
the limited availability of water in this region, one can drive for many miles without spotting any game. As you
take the long drive to the site, survey the vast emptiness of life and imagine the futility and frustration of the
Cheyenne and Arapaho people who were banished to this region and expected to survive.
For those who are studying the massacre and the intricate web of war, politics, power and deceit that prevailed
among both the US government and the Cheyenne tribal hierarchy, you should include visits to Bent’s Old Fort
near La Junta and the Old Fort Lyon/Big Timbers regions near Lamar. All of these areas can be visited on a
day-long field trip. Because this area of Colorado retains much of the ‘feel’ of the 19th Century, exploring the
entire area will enhance your understanding of the challenges that confronted Wynkoop’s command and the
Cheyenne and Arapaho people who were ambushed at Sand Creek.
In earlier years, trying to find the site was a major challenge; today, however, the state has erected helpful
directional highway signs now that the site is owned and maintained by the National Parks Service. Don’t be
misled, however! Although maintained by the Parks Service, the site is extremely remote, accessible only by
miles of dirt roads, and it has no amenities other than a restroom at the ranger station near the entrance of the
monument site! The site is literally in the middle of ‘Nowhere’ and you should plan your trip accordingly. Be
sure you have plenty of gas before you go, and watch for severe weather warnings (there is no shelter in the
event of hail, snow, tornadoes, etc). Be sure your vehicle is in good condition, because AAA will never find you
in the event of a breakdown, and the ranches in the region are dozens of miles apart.
There is limited lodging available in the towns of Lamar and La Junta, and don’t expect any five-star hotels!
There is no lodging available north of the site (Kit Carson is the only town between Lamar and Limon, and you
won’t find any decent lodging there).
For people living between Denver and Pueblo, you can make a round-trip in one day and still have time to
explore La Junta, Fort Lyon/Lamar and the massacre site. A day trip can be accomplished for all who live within
How to get there:
From Front Range:
1. Follow Chivington’s Route
Chivington’s militia, as well as the military in general, would follow the rivers Platte and Arkansas to Fort
Lyon. Taking I-25 south to Pueblo, and then east on Highway 50 follows this general route. Just west of Lamar,
take Highway 287 north (a sign designating the massacre site alerts you to this turn). Proceed east 10 miles on
Highway 96 to the ghost town of Chivington and turn north on CR 54 (Chief White Antelope Way). Continue on
the dirt road 8 miles to CR W. Turn east to the park entrance. The roads have clearly marked signs to guide
Along the way, you will pass through La Junta, where you can visit Bent’s Old Fort (divert to Highway 194 and
follow the signs).
Then continue on 194 and hook back up with Highway 50 to Las Animas, where you will find new Fort Lyon, CO
just outside of Las Animas. This is not where the 1864 Fort Lyon was located, however. The original site of the
fort built by William Bent and later leased to the Army is located farther east, now just a footprint on private
property – continue east on Highway 50 to County Rd.35 (just west of Lamar), then south to CR JJ, jog east to
CR 35.25 then south to the end of the road – the fort was located here and is not accessible without permission
of the property owner – but this gives you an idea of the fort’s location at the time of the massacre. Now
backtrack and return to Highway 50 and proceed east to Highway 287.
Bent’s Old Fort GPS location: Latitude, 38.037029, Longitude: -103.426290
Original Fort Wise/ Fort Lyon GPS Location: Latitude 38.0944524 Longitude -102.7601969
Sand Creek Massacre Site GPS location: Latitude 38.55 Longitude -102.5041667
2. Other scenic routes from the front range include:
From Denver - I-70 east to Limon, south on 287, past Kit Carson to 96 and follow directions above.
From Castle Rock – take 86 east to I-70, from Limon take 287 to 96 and follow directions above.
Alternate from Pueblo – Take 96 east to Chivington and follow direction above.
From Trinidad – 350 northeast to La Junta, 50 east and follow directions above.
3. From east of Sand Creek – direct access via Highway 96 or 50.
If you plan to visit the massacre site for the first time, here are some tips that might be helpful:
Park hours currently 9 am to 4 pm. (check the NPS website for hours changes off season)
When park is closed, the access road is gated, but you can still drive around the county roads to get a
perspective of the site. The massacre and subsequent running battle encompassed a larger area than just the
NPS monument location. Chivington attacked from the bluffs at the monument, and most of the militia remained
there to scalp and dismember the 170 victims, but another 350 to 450 of the stronger and younger Cheyenne
and Arapaho people escaped northwest up the creek bed and mounted a defense.
A trip to the site is a long drive into the middle of nowhere. Make sure you have gas, food and water.
In this region there are no gas stations, rest stops, cell service.
The dirt roads have soft shoulders. Cars should stay in the middle of the road to avoid sliding off.
High winds are likely, creating occasional dust storms.
Weather extremes at times. Watch the sky BEFORE you drive out there, and consult weather alerts in the area.
Once out there, you have no shelter. June thru August can be very hot, so dress accordingly.
|Finding Sand Creek