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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 200-300 miles.
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 you.
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
|Massacre at Sand Creek
|Sand Creek and the
Tragic End of a Lifeway