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John M. Chivington
In 1848 Chivington moved his family to Illinois and then to Missouri in 1849, establishing congregations
throughout the midwest. He later worked in a Methodist missionary expedition to the Wyandot Indians in Kansas.
When the winds of a Civil War began to rise, Chivington's fierce abolitionist views stirred up trouble among pro-
slavery members of his congregation in Missouri. Despite threats leveled at him, Chivington boldly faced his
congregation packing a Bible and two pistols, saying, "By the grace of God and these two revolvers, I am going
to preach here today!" Chivington indeed preached without incident, and from that day forward became known
as the "Fighting Parson."
Although Chivington would not cower, the Methodist Church wisely diffused the situation by sending him to
Omaha, Nebraska, where he preached until 1860 before coming to Denver’s First Methodist Episcopal Church
as a Presiding Elder.
At the dawn of the Civil War, the fierce, fire-and-brimstone abolitionist Chivington shunned a commission of
Chaplain for the newly formed Colorado First Regiment, instead demanding to fight rather than preach.
Chivington helped organize the Colorado First Regiment when the mountains of the New Mexico Territory
swarmed with Texas confederates.
Under Colonel John Slough, Chivington's Coloradoans fought the rebels to a draw at Apache Canyon in 1862.
Two days later, Slough made a fateful decision to advance over the mountains at La Glorieta Pass to draw up
behind the Texans, while Chivington took his command in a direction intended to support Slough’s flank. Either
by the mercy of God, as Chivington surmised, or sheer luck, Chivington’s troops overtook the rebels’ main
baggage train and quickly pounced, sacking the enemy’s entire munitions and supply line.
The bloody battle ended when the train was burned and hundreds of Confederate horses and mules were
bayoneted. Decimated and left without military sustenance, the surviving Texans fled back to the south.
Chivington was celebrated as the savior of New Mexico and Colorado, leaving the hapless Colonel Slough to
return to Denver and resign in Chivington’s formidable shadow.
Chivington was promoted to Commanding Colonel of the Military District of Colorado, and the men who fought
under his command at La Glorieta reaped the benefit of his success. Among the honored soldiers were Edward
“Ned” Wynkoop, Samuel Tappan and Silas Soule, regarded by Denverites as military royalty.
John Milton Chivington was born in 1821 at Lebanon, Ohio. His father died
when Chivington was a young boy, and he consequently received only a small
education, assuming the responsibility of managing the family farm with his
Chivington embraced the Methodist religion as a young man, and became an
ordained minister around the time of his marriage to Martha in 1844.
John M. Chivington
Some excerpts here are reprinted from "Sand Creek" by Kevin Cahill
Copyright ©2005 by Kevin I. Cahill. All Rights Reserved
This text may not duplicated or copied in any fashion without permission.
Like many ambitious men in the era of America's western
expansion, Chivington clearly employed his military status as a
vehicle to bolster his political ambitions. He joined Governor John
Evans in the movement for Colorado statehood, actively
campaigning for Colorado's first Congressional seat at a time
when public opinion was sharply divided. Both endeavors were
waylaid by the Civil War and increasing tension between
Colorado's settlers and the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians,
whose brutal raids on the plains of Kansas now threatened to
explode into Denver City.
Burdened by the war in the States, Kansas military leaders
ignored pleas by Chivington and Evans to send military support
to quell the vicious attacks on settlements by Cheyenne Dog
Soldiers and other warrior clans. When these attacks began to
occur near Denver, Chivington aggressively countered by
authorizing troops to seek out and kill the perpetrators. The
more peaceably inclined Indian clans in the area were often
caught in the switches, giving rise to the threat of all-out war.
In August of 1864, Chivington warned that the Cheyennes would
have to be whipped before they will be quiet.
During this time, at Fort Lyon (250 miles southeast of Denver),
Major Wynkoop and Captain Soule were put in the difficult
position of safeguarding the Kansas/Colorado branch of the
Santa Fe Trail from both Indian raids and Confederate
bushwhackers with a small garrison of soldiers. Together,
Wynkoop and Soule nevertheless maintained a tenuous peace
with the Cheyennes and Arapahos living on government rations
in the area.
Selected Articles & Manuscripts Relating to John M. Chivington:
Carey, Raymond G. The Puzzle of Sand Creek. The Colorado Magazine, Vol. XLI. No. 4. 1964. Denver Public Library.
_________ Colonel Chivington, Brigadier General Connor, and Sand Creek. Denver Westerners Brand Book. Vol. XLI. Denver, CO,
1960. Denver Public Library.
_________ The Bloodless Third Regiment. Colorado Magazine, Vol 38, No.4, 1961. Denver Public Library.
Chivington, John M. The First Colorado Regiment . Denver, Colorado, October 18, 1884. Colorado State Historical Society, Denver,
________ Papers, Manuscript of John M. Chivington 1862-1892. Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library.
________ The Pet Lambs. Denver Republican, April 20-May 18, 1890. Denver Public Library.
Clarke, Charles E. The Chivington Massacre, A Participant in the Battle Denies That It was a Massacre. Colorado Miner, Georgetown,
Clear Creek County, Colorado, Saturday, 14 October, 1876, Page 1. (Special thanks to Christopher Wynkoop)
Cramer, Joseph A. Letter to Major E.W. Wynkoop, December 19, 1864, regarding the Sand Creek Massacre.
Dormis, John T. ed. The Chivingtons. Masonic News-Digest 36, June 28, 1957.
Goertner, Thomas G. Reflections of a Frontier Soldier – The Sand Creek Affair as revealed in the Diary of Samuel F. Tappan. Thesis
presented to University of Denver, 1959.
Kelsey, Harry. Background to Sand Creek. Colorado Magazine 45, no. 4, Fall 1968. Denver Public Library.
Lecompte, Janet. Sand Creek. Colorado Magazine, Vol. XLI. No. 4. 1964. Denver Public Library.
Mellor, William J. The Military Investigation of Col. John M. Chivington Following the Sand Creek Massacre. Chronicles of Oklahoma
16, no. 4, 1938.
Michno, Gregory F. The Real Villains of Sand Creek. Wild West, December 2003.
Mumey, Nolie. John Milton Chivington, the Misunderstood Man. 1956 Brand Book of the Denver Westerners. Denver Public Library.
Myers, J. Jay. The Sand Creek Massacre. Wild West, December 1998.
Perrigo, Lynn I., ed. Major Hal Sayre's Diary of the Sand Creek Campaign. Colorado Magazine 15, 1938. Denver Public Library.
Roberts, Gary L. Sand Creek, Tragedy and Symbol. Norman: University of Oklahoma; University Microfilms Intnl.,1984. Available at
the Denver Public Library Western History Department - call: C970.3 C428rob
Rocky Mountain News (weekly-daily) - Obituary of John M. Chivington
Soule, Silas S. Two letters to Sophia Soule (mother) regarding the Sand Creek Massacre.
___________ Letter to Major E.W. Wynkoop, December 14, 1864 - regarding the Sand Creek Massacre.
Tappan, Samuel F. Unpublished Autobiography. Topeka, KS: Kansas State Historical Society.
________ Diary. Microfilm, Colorado State Historical Society, Denver, CO.
White, Lonnie J. From Bloodless to Bloody: The Third Colorado Cavalry and the Sand Creek Massacre. Journal of the West 5, 1967.
Wynkoop, Edward W. Wynkoop's Unfinished Manuscript. Colorado State Historical Society, Denver, CO. MS available in: Tall Chief,
the Autobiography of Edward W. Wynkoop - see Amazon.com offering, left sidebar on this page.
Other Points of Interest:
|Sand Creek also
(Photo courtesy Denver Public Library
Western History/Genealogy Dept.)
After being contacted by Cheyenne Principal Chief Black Kettle, Wynkoop and Soule embarked on the
infamous September 1864 journey into Kansas Indian country, where they rescued four white children hostages
of the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, and secured an unofficial peace accord with Black Kettle in what later became
known as the Smoky Hill Council. Wynkoop and Soule then took Black Kettle, Dog Soldier Chief Bull Bear and
several other Cheyenne and Arapaho leaders to Denver to meet with Governor John Evans. The Camp Weld
Council was the second pivotal meeting between Indian and government leaders that would figure prominently
in events to come that fall. At Camp Weld, Governor Evans and Colonel Chivington ordered Black Kettle to
comply with the military authority at Fort Lyon, and for any Indian that did not want to go to war with the Army to
surrender to Wynkoop. Black Kettle and the other leaders at the council agreed, and they returned to Fort
Lyon with Wynkoop and Soule, where an agreement was reached to allow the peaceably inclined Cheyennes
and Arapahos to camp at a spot on the Big Sandy River under the American flag and the white flag of
surrender (used to designate military protection to any passing Union troops).
During the ensuing months, several government investigations of the incident at Sand Creek were pressed by
Major Wynkoop and Lt. Colonel Samuel Tappan (Tappan was a publicly avowed enemy of Chivington). Captain
Soule was a star witness against Colonel Chivington at one hearing in Denver, in which he gave damning
testimony that the Indians at Sand Creek were indeed camped under the protection of the U.S. Army. Soule
and other Fort Lyon officers also testified to witnessing several of Chivington’s volunteer militiamen engaged in
subsequent visceral depredations. Soule, who in the interim had been transferred to the Denver Provost
Guard, became the target of many Chivington supporters and survived several murder attempts during the
On April 23, 1865, Soule was lured into the streets of downtown Denver (approximately 14th and Arapahoe
Street in present-day Denver), and murdered by Private Charles W. Squier, of the Second Colorado Cavalry,
and an accomplice, William Morrow. Squier, who had earlier been accused of attempted murder of another
Denverite but released on a jurisdictional technicality, fled the scene. He was later tracked down in New Mexico
and brought back to face trial in Denver. Just days before his trial, however, Squier escaped from jail with the
help of confederates and fled to the States. Although there was no evidence that Chivington had anything to do
with the murder, many Denver residents who once ardently supported the Fighting Parson suspected he was
Interestingly, the government in its investigations never questioned Soule or Cramer about their refusal to obey
Chivington’s orders to attack the Indians at Sand Creek. In fact, neither officer was ever charged with any
violation of military protocol. Some historians theorize that this fact, if it had been put in the official record,
would have exposed the severe military breach at Sand Creek, for Chivington's enlistment in the Army had
technically expired two months prior to the attack. He had not, however, been replaced as Denver's military
commander due to pressing concerns of the Civil War in the States. Aditionally, he was not officially in command
of the Colorado Third (Lt. Col. George Shoup's command), nor was he authorized to commandeer the First
Regiment troops at Fort Lyon, which was out of his jurisdiction. The government did, however, officially
condemn Chivington and the misdeeds of the Colorado Third Volunteers, promising reparations to the Sand
Creek survivors that were only partially paid. By the time the investigations concluded, Chivington had
mustered out of service and was immune to any military or civil prosecution, despite the government's hollow
recommendation that he be charged with criminal conduct.
John Chivington's timely retirement from the service insulated him from military and civil prosecution for his role
in the Sand Creek Massacre, but his political career nevertheless disintegrated. He was never questioned or
officially accused of complicity in the assassination of Captain Silas Soule, but even his most vocal supporters
could not ignore, nor condone the murder of a Union officer. Whether by innuendo or blatant accusation, most
Denverites on both sides of the Sand Creek issue suspected that Chivington had a hand in Soule’s
assassination, thus unraveling the Fighting Parson’s presumption of innocence in the entire Sand Creek affair.
A small, hard-core contingency of Chivington supporters, led by the Rocky Mountain News, would continue to
grasp at straws in his defense, but Chivington’s behavior over the next few years would rattle even the most
Although the Methodist Church at first supported Chivington’s actions at Sand Creek, Chivington was ultimately
pressured to resign his position as presiding elder. He fled Denver, first to California and then Nebraska, but it
seemed that the Indian spirits would follow him and dispense the justice that the government never delivered. In
1866, Chivington’s son, Thomas Chivington, drowned in the North Platte River while trying to pull a freight
wagon from the flooding waters. The following year, Chivington’s wife, Martha, suddenly took ill and died.
Chivington then stunned his supporters in 1868, when he married Sarah Chivington, his widowed daughter-in-
law, in an attempt to make a claim on his late son's freighting business. The claim yielded a mere $360, and
Chivington abandoned his daughter-in-law bride shortly thereafter, prompting the hypocritical Rocky Mountain
News to exclaim: “What he will do next to outrage the moral sense and feelings of his day and generation
remains to be seen; but be sure it will be something . . .”
Shunned by the Methodist Church for his moral turpitude, and facing numerous legal charges ranging from
assaulting a woman to extortion, Chivington fled to Canada, later emerging in Ohio, where he was flogged by
voters in an unsuccessful political run for the Ohio State Legislature. Around the same time, he was arrested
for assaulting his third wife, Isabella Arsen, who accused Chivington of beating her when she discovered that he
had forged her signature on a promissory note to secure a loan. Isabella later dropped the charges and
reconciled with her husband.
Bankrupt and disgraced, Chivington returned in 1883 to the only place where he could get a handout – Denver
City, where he was invited to speak at a Denver Pioneer Society celebration. Renewed by the supportive
crowd, Chivington railed against the military and government for condemning him, concluding his impassioned
speech by declaring “I stand by Sand Creek!”
Chivington was elected Sheriff of Arapahoe County, Colorado, but later charged but acquitted of perjury. He
later joined the Denver County Coroner’s office, but was soon arrested for stealing $800 from the pockets of
Francesco Gallo, a corpse in his charge. He confessed to the crime and agreed by court order to return the
money to Gallo’s family in lieu of prosecution. The Chivington home later burned down, and investigators
suspected - but were unable to prove - that Chivington set the fire in order to collect the insurance.
In 1892, Chivington filed an "Indian Depredation" claim of $30,000 against the Sioux Nation for loss of horses.
Chivington died of cancer in 1894 before his claim was resolved, but the Indian spirits of Sand Creek took one
last opportunity for revenge. The special investigator assigned to review Chivington’s Indian Depredation claim
was his old nemesis, Samuel Tappan, who denied the claim.
Chivington was buried in Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery, after a grand funeral that attracted “thousands” to
Trinity Methodist Church, according to the Rocky Mountain News. News Publisher Williams Byers declared
Chivington “one of Colorado’s greatest heroes.” The Reverend Dr. Robert McIntyre said of Chivington, “I never
in my life knew a man who so represented the soldierly element in Christianity as did the man whom we are here
to honor . . . We shall not look upon his likes again.”
In 1996, the United Methodist Church issued an official apology to the Cheyenne and Arapaho people for the
Sand Creek Massacre, led by the Reverend Colonel John Milton Chivington . . .
Soon thereafter Chivington became embroiled in a web of controversy when, on a self-appointed campaign to
seek out and attack hostile Indian bands, he led a large company of volunteer militiamen from Denver to Fort
Lyon and commandeered 250 soldiers from the post. Under the protestations of Captain Soule and other Fort
Lyon officers, Chivington took the soldiers and militiamen forty miles northeast to Black Kettle’s camp on Sand
Creek and attacked the Indians, who had surrendered to Major Wynkoop under the terms of the Camp Weld
Council. Because the Indians’ safety had been guaranteed by Wynkoop (who had been relieved of duty at
Lyon just days earlier and was not present at the battle), Soule and Lt. Joseph Cramer defied Chivington’s
orders to attack the camp.
News of the attack quickly reached Denver, falsely reported by Chivington as a resounding defeat of the
notorious Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, a renegade band of warriors that had been raiding Kansas and Nebraska
ranches and murdering white settlers all summer. But soon word began to spread that the Indians Chivington
attacked were not the Dogmen at all, and, more disturbing were the rumors that the Denver militiamen had
gone on a bloody frenzy of scalping and disemboweling the 160 to 170 dead Cheyennes and Arapahos, the
majority of them women, children and elderly.
The incident would be forever known as the Sand Creek Massacre.
|Major Edward 'Ned' Wynkoop
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