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|Captain Silas S. Soule
photos courtesy Byron Strom private
materials, Anne Hemphill Collection
|Surrounding John Doy (seated) - The "Terrible Ten"
L-R - James B. Abbott, Joshua A. Pike, Jacob Senix, Joseph
Gardner, Thomas Simmons, S.J. Willis, Charles Doy (son),
John E. Stewart, Silas Soule and George Hay.
Silas Stillman Soule was born on July 26, 1838, in Bath, Maine, the third-born of
Sophia and Amasa Soule. Silas adopted his father’s abolitionist principles in his
teens, when Amasa, an agent for the Emigrant Aid Society of Boston, moved
the family to Coal Creek near Lawrence, Kansas, to aid in the struggle to
establish Kansas as an anti-slavery state. Amasa, with sons William and Silas,
took up with the “Jayhawkers,” a self-appointed anti-slavery band of guerillas
that plundered political enemies in the bloody pre-rebellion border war between
Kansas “free-staters” and Missouri slave owners. The Jayhawk was a fictitious
creature, deriving its name from two predatory birds that unmercifully stalk prey
before devouring it, much like the free-state Jayhawkers that hunted and
terrorized the despised Missouri aristocracy. In the early 1850s, 17-year-old
Silas helped his father spirit slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad, a
clandestine network of escape routes and safe house throughout the States
established to assist Negro slaves flee their captors.
Irish immigrants claimed the Jayhawk was a real predatory bird from their
homeland, which suited Soule, who fancied himself a feisty Irishman,
although his family was of Dutch descent. Soule’s adopted heritage was
the result of exposure to Irish laborers with whom he worked in eastern
factories before moving to Kansas. Soule’s devilish sense of humor,
minced with an Irish brogue he loved to mimic, usually endeared him to
chance acquaintances, but sometimes provoked a fistfight – something
from which any good Irishman worth his salt would never back down. In
fact, Soule delighted in a lively brouhaha from time to time, for he
believed it sharpened the knuckles and cleansed the blood. Soule was
neither a malcontent, nor a bushwhacker, as some pro-slavery
proponents suggested. Yet, he could slither under the thickest skin of
pro-slavery or Union supporter alike, with his sharp tongue, cynical
nature and charming wit. He would lay his life on the line for a just cause,
but was no partisan lackey by any means, for the young man was wise
beyond his years and able to separate the wheat from the chaff on
matters of politics. The same held true of his spiritual agnosticism. On
religion, he was a healthy skeptic, not overly convinced of the existence
of a higher spiritual power, but not foolish enough to fly in the face of a
God that he could not altogether refute. An adept gambler with cards
and dice, Soule understood the rationale of hedging one’s bet, or folding
his hand when licked.
In a letter to his younger sister, Annie, Silas lamented:
You and Mother write for me to be a Christian and not to be too wild, etc., but the Army don’t
improve a fellow much in that respect. And you know I never was much of a Christian and am
naturally wild, but I have seen so much of the world and are not much changed. I think there is
not much danger of my spoiling – our Colonel is a Methodist Preacher, and whenever he sees
me drinking, gambling, stealing, or murdering, he says, he will write to Mother or my sister
Annie, so I have to go straight . . .
The Jayhawkers of the 1850s, led by Colonel James
Montgomery, were both regarded as honorable abolitionists
or renegade thieves, depending upon which side of the racial
firestorm of slavery one resided. Soule, as usual, was in the
thick of the fight, and in 1859 he joined a rescue party that
set out to free Dr. John Doy, a fellow Jayhawker captured
near Lawrence as he escorted 13 escaped slaves bound for
freedom. Doy was arrested and taken back to Missouri,
charged with abducting slaves from that state. Sentenced to
five years in prison, Doy was soon freed in a daring rescue
by Soule and a band of Jayhawkers, who managed to get
Doy out while driving back a hoard of other hopeful prison
escapees, whom the Jayhawkers considered true murderers
and thieves worthy of just punishment.
The Jayhawker rescue of a man considered innocent by free-
state sympathizers was considered an ultimate act of
heroism. Soule’s cunning leadership under fire led
Jayhawkers to call upon him to attempt yet another rescue of
John Brown, a fanatical Calvinist anti-slavery proponent.
Brown led a retaliatory raid in1856 for the bloody sack of
Lawrence, resulting in the killing of five pro-slavery men near
the Pottawatamie River. Brown’s fanatical and violent war
against slavery persisted, as he recruited likeminded
followers and amassed arms with the plan to lead an invasion
of southern states. In 1859, Brown’s guerillas tried to capture
the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, but Brown was
captured in a battle that killed or wounded most of his men.
He was tried and found guilty of the crimes of treason,
conspiring with slaves to rebel, and murder, and was
sentenced to death by hanging.
Soule and his daring-do Jayhawkers intended to rescue
Brown, but the plan was aborted when Brown let it be known
he would refuse rescue in favor of the martyrdom afforded by
his death. Undaunted, the pesky Jayhawkers devised an
elaborate plan to rescue two other Brown followers also
captured at Harpers Ferry. Similar to the Doy rescue, the
plan called for Soule to get himself arrested in the guise of a
drunken Irish laborer, and then charm his captors into
allowing him to contact Brown’s men. The plan worked and
Soule found the prisoners, but to his dismay they also
favored martyrdom over flight. Brown and his men were
hanged, and Soule returned to Kansas a bit wiser and more
cynical to the ways of God and divine providence.
After the death of his father in 1860, Soule found the rumors of Denver’s gold strike far
more appealing than midnight raids and a potential rifle ball in the back. He ventured to
Geneva Gulch in the Colorado mountains, only to find the dream of riches as fleeting
as a faint sparkle in the mud. By now the wind of war in the States blew westward, and
the Colorado Territory, still under governance of Kansas, was ripe for the picking.
Soule could only hope his mining claims would remain secure while the more pressing
issues of war called him to service. Southerners and Northerners drew a line across
the Rocky Mountains, but the Jayhawk spirit was stronger, and Union sympathizers
flocked to recruiting stations. Soule was among the first to enlist, scouting for Amasa
Soule’s old friend, Kit Carson and his Company of Scouts in Raton, New Mexico. Soule
then transferred to the Colorado First Regiment K Company, moving quickly to the
ranks of Second and then First Lieutenant. There, his path crossed with Colonel John
Chivington, a twist of fate that would forever alter the course of both lives.
Some excerpts here are reprinted from "Sand Creek" by Kevin Cahill
Copyright ©2005 by Kevin I. Cahill. All Rights Reserved
This text may not be duplicated or copied in any fashion without permission.
Soule briefly considered requesting transfer to a Kansas regiment after pro-slavery fanatic William Quantrill led a
vicious sack of Lawrence, KS, where Soule's mother, two sisters, and brother William L.G. Soule resided. Although
Soule's family survived, the Soule home was severely damaged in the raid. Soule, now a Captain in charge of 'D'
Company, was desperately needed in the thin Colorado ranks, however, so he remained with the First Regiment.
In the spring of 1864, Captain Soule was transferred to Fort Lyon (250 miles southeast of Denver), serving as
second in command of the post under Major Edward Wynkoop. The Indian war on the Plains had been heating up
during the spring and was about to explode into summer. Soule and Wynkoop 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.
Soule accompanied Wynkoop 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
Cheyenne Principal Chief Black Kettle in what later became known as the Smoky Hill Council. He also accompanied
Wynkoop to Denver after that council, with Black Kettle, Dog Soldier Chief Bull Bear and several other Cheyenne
and Arapaho leaders, 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 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).
"Sand Creek" is an adaptation of Sand Creek, a
Screenplay by Kevin Cahill Copyright ©1996 by
Kevin I. Cahill. All Rights Reserved. WGAw 746856
During the ensuing months, several government investigations of
the incident at Sand Creek were pressed by Major Wynkoop and Lt.
Colonel Samuel Tappan. 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 Denver hearings.
On April 1, 1865, Soule married Hersa Coberly, the daughter of a
well-known Colorado pioneer. Just three weeks later, while
investigating a drunken disturbance on the streets of downtown
Denver (approximately 15th and Arapahoe Street in present-day
Denver), Soule was 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. Squier, the wayward son of a New York
Episcopal preacher, languished in jail all that summer and fall,
reportedly under shackled guard while awaiting many delays to his
trial. Learning of the arrest and hearing claims of mistreatment,
Squier's half-brother, E.G. Squier, a prominent player in Eastern
politics, attempted to call in favors to ensure his black sheep brother
be accorded a fair trial. The elder Squier feared for his brother's life
in light of the raging controversy over Sand Creek and the open
hostility reportedly displayed by vengeful 1st Cavalry soldiers and
local friends of the popular Captain Soule.
Just days before his trial in October, Squier escaped from jail with
the help of unidentified confederates. Again accusations of a
Chivington conspiracy to murder Soule arose, now expanding to the
rescue of his killer from the gallows. Squier disappeared and was
never seen in Colorado again, but he didn't vanish from the annals
of history. Historian Tom Bensing traced Squier's path along an
arduous year-long journey back to New York, where the fugitive was
eventually harbored by his long-suffering but loyal brother, E.G.
Squier. The murderer drifted from job to job, attempting at one time
to re-join the army and later unsuccessfully seeking passage to
Squier's saga ended in 1869, when after five years of drifting
through the shadows and evading arrest for the murder of Silas
Soule, fate finally brought the killer to justice when Squier's legs
were crushed in a railroad accident. He succumbed to gangrene
and was ironically hailed as a war hero by the Eastern press
apparently unaware of the fugitive Squier's dark history west of the
The Sand Creek inquiry testimonies of Soule and other soldiers and officers of the Colorado First Regiment
destroyed the reputation of Colonel Chivington, giving rise to speculation that Soule's killers were hired to avenge
the Hero of La Glorieta. No direct evidence was ever presented, however, to implicate Colonel Chivington in either
Soule's murder or Squier's escape from justice, but many Denver residents, including many who once ardently
supported the Fighting Parson, suspected he was behind both crimes. Grief-stricken over the death of his dear
friend, Major Wynkoop would be Chivington's most vocal accuser for the rest of his life.
While witnesses clearly placed Private Squier at the murder scene - and Squier himself confessed to killing Soule
while later claiming the fatal shot was fired by Morrow - Wynkoop nevertheless adamantly insisted that Chivington
ordered the assassination. In a public rant to supporters in Denver before Soule was killed, Chivington did offer a
$500 bounty to anyone who killed an Indian or those who sympathized with them, but his offhand comment to a
partisan crowd was characteristic of the political rhetoric of the times. Squier was attached to the Second Regiment,
and did not participate in the attack at Sand Creek as some revisionists have falsely claimed. No evidence was
ever presented to suggest Chivington paid the bounty to Squier, or even knew him. While First Regiment officers
had testified to hearing Chivington make threats against Soule at Fort Lyon when Soule and Cramer objected to the
Sand Creek attack, no evidence beyond Chivington's bluster has ever implicated him in Soule's murder. In fact,
historical evidence supports the likelihood that the crime was more a random act of violence at the hands of a
known criminal, rather than a sanctioned assassination. Because Soule had completed his testimony regarding
Sand Creek, Chivington by then had much more to lose than gain by entrusting two pathetic losers to carry out
nothing more than an act of coldblooded vengeance. Wynkoop and Samuel Tappan nevertheless forever
maintained that the Fighting Parson was responsible.
Bensing, Tom. Silas Soule: A Short, Eventful Life of Moral Courage. Indianapolis, IN: Dog Ear Publishing, 2012
Williams, Burton J. Quantrill's Raid on Lawrence: A Question of Complicity. Kansas Historical Quarterly, 1968.
___________ Erastus D. Ladd's Description of the Lawrence Massacre. Kansas Historical Quarterly, 1963.
Barry, Louise. The Emigrant Aid Company Parties of 1854. Kansas Historical Quarterly, 1943.
Cramer, Lt. Joseph A. Letter to Major E.W. Wynkoop, December 19, 1864. Rocky Mountain News. “Sins of Sand Creek,” September
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
Soule, Hersa. Letter to Annie J. Soule, August 6, 1865. From the private materials of Byron Strom, Anne E. Hemphill Collection.
Hickman, Russell K. A Little Satire on Emigrant Aid - Amasa Soule and the Descandum Kansas Improvement Company. Kansas
State Historical Quarterly, November, 1939 Vol. 8, No. 4.
National Archives. U.S. v. Charles W. Squier, First Judicial District, United States District Court, Case No. 104, Records of the District
Court, Colorado Territory, RG 21, Denver Federal Records Center, National Archives.
Selected Articles about Silas Soule:
Coberly, Carroll H. Carroll H. Coberly Papers (MSS #125). Colorado State Historical Society.
Michno, Gregory F. The Real Villains of Sand Creek. Wild West, December 2003.
Perkins, LaVonne. Silas Soule, His Widow Heresa (sic), and the Rest of the Story. Denver: Denver Westerners Roundup, Vol LV, no.2,
Mar-Apr, 1999. Held at the Denver Public Library, Denver, CO.
Milavec, Pam. Alias Emma S. Soule: Corrected Historical Fictions Surrounding Silas Soule and the Sand Creek Massacre. Denver:
Denver Westerners Roundup, July-August, 2005. Held at the Denver Public Library, Denver, CO.
Prentice, C. A. Captain Silas S. Soule, a Pioneer Martyr. Denver: Colorado Magazine, vol 4, May, 1927, reprint, November/December
1935. Held at the Denver Public Library, Denver, CO.
Morse, O. E. An Attempted Rescue of John Brown from Charlestown, VA Jail. Kansas State Historical Society, Vol. VIII, 1902-1904.
The Rescue of John Doy
Excerpt from: Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent
persons, etc.; Chicago: Standard Publishing Co., 1912.
John Brown Papers, 1826 – 1948. Kansas State Historical Society.The Rescue of John Doy
Excerpt from: Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent
persons, etc.; Chicago: Standard Publishing Co., 1912.
Points of Interest:
|Sand Creek also
Standing L-R: Unidentified, Dexter Colley (son of Agent Samuel Colley), John
S. Smith, Heap of Buffalo, Bosse, Sheriff Amos Steck, Unidentified soldier.
Seated L-R: White Antelope, Neva, Black Kettle, Bull Bear, Na-ta-Nee (Knock
Knee). Kneeling L-R: Major Edward W. Wynkoop, Captain Silas Soule.
(Photo courtesy Denver Public Library Western History/Genealogy Dept.)
|Photograph taken after Weld Council, Denver, CO.
Soule soon thereafter became embroiled in a web of
controversy when Colonel John M. Chivington, on a self-
appointed campaign to seek out and attack hostile
Indian bands, led a large company of volunteer
militiamen from Denver to Fort Lyon and commandeered
250 soldiers from the post. Under the protestations of
Soule and other Fort Lyon officers, Chivington took the
soldiers and militiamen forty miles southeast to Black
Kettle’s camp on Sand Creek and attacked the Indians,
who had surrendered to 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
The incident would be forever known as the Sand Creek
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Captain Silas Soule was buried with full military honors in Denver’s City
Cemetery, and his remains were later relocated to present-day Riverside
Cemetery. 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 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.
Silas Soule’s refusal to participate in the Sand Creek Massacre slowly
disappeared from the annals of western American history, but in recent
decades many Native American groups have acknowledged his actions
by honoring his memory in Sand Creek memorial events.