The Sand Creek Massacre
Letter to Rocky Mountain News - "High Officials Checkmated"
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We'll never forget
Editorials from Denver's Rocky Mountain News criticising the "high officials" rumored to be pushing for an
investigation of the Colorado Third Cavalry's attack on Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians camped at Sand Creek,
November 29, 1864.
Following letter, written to the Editor of the Rocky Mountain News, and only signed with the letter “D.”
Rocky Mountain News, January 4, 1865
THE SAND CREEK BATTLE –
“HIGH OFFICIALS” CHECKMATED.
Messrs. Editors.--In the columns of the News we have noticed with considerable interest that, from "letters received from high
officials in Colorado," at Washington, they have learned that the Indians were killed after surrendering, and that a large
proportion of them were women and children, intimating that treachery on the part of the troops was the only means by which the
Indians were caught and killed. While the statement the News has made is correct, and your severe criticism of the motives that
prompted so false and slanderous a report of the gallant men that shared in that memorable expedition, is just and well-merited,
probably a few additional facts will not be uninteresting to the general reader, and substantiated by the best of evidence, as they
can be at any time, will forever remove all doubts of the propriety of their conduct when governed even by the most rigid rules of
The history of the barbarities perpetrated by the Indians upon the plains for the past six months, as well as the organization of the
3d Regiment Colorado Cavalry, with the hardships they encountered while making their terrible march of two hundred and forty
miles, the snow from one to three feet in depth, scantily provided with clothing and blankets, while the piercing blasts of a Rocky
Mountain winter almost paralyzed the march in many instances of the entire column, has been too clearly shown through your
columns to the world to require repetition here, therefore we will commence with a statement of facts as received from Major
Anthony, commanding Fort Lyon, and others, as regards the position the troops and the Indians occupied, when Col. Chivington,
with his command reached Fort Lyon.
Major Anthony stated, and it was concurred in by others, that upon his arrival at Fort Lyon with orders to relieve Major Wynkoop,
he (Anthony) had a number of the chiefs and warriors of the Cheyenne nation brought into the Post, when Major Wynkoop stated
to them that in consequences of promises etc., given them by him that he (Wynkoop) was now regarded as a prisoner; that he
had no further command of the Post or troops and that hereafter the relations of friendship or war between the troops and Indians
would be regulated by Major Anthony; that the promises he (Wynkoop) had made them being conditional, the conditions had
failed, and that the Indians must be governed entirely by the terms proposed by Major Anthony. Major Anthony then stated to the
Indians that they could remain near the Fort only upon the conditions that they would give up all their arms, remain in a place he
would designate, and regard themselves as prisoners of war, in all of which the Indians agreed, giving up, however, only a few
broken guns and worthless bows and arrows, generally used by boys, of no practical use whatever, convincing Major Anthony of
the insincerity of the Indians to comply with the terms he had offered; after which he returned the guns, bows, arrows, etc., and
informed the Indians that no peace had been made with them, and that he could make none; and immediately ordered them to
move from the vicinity of the post, and informed them that if they again attempted to enter the Post they would be fired upon and
in several instances afterwards did fire upon them (this occurred a week before Col. Chivington's arrival) thus giving the Indians
due notice as could be required by any civilized power that they might expect a fight at any time. This notice was not disregarded
by the Indians, as they immediately afterwards moved their village about fifteen miles further up Sand Creek, dug rifle pits under
the banks on each side, and in many other ways prepared themselves for defence (sic), as every person who accompanied the
command can testify they found them prepared at dawn on the morning of the 29th of November, '64, when after a night march of
forty miles they were brought into line in preparation for the attack, when the Indians immediately siezing [sic] their arms,
commenced a resistance which while it displayed considerable courage on their part, proved their perfect understanding of the
position they occupied as regarded peace or war.
They made no signs of peace; they expected none, but opened the fight with a determination worthy of better men, and to the last
maintained the contest with a desperation we have never seen equalled (sic), as forty-nine dead and wounded of the troops too
plainly showed when the fight had terminated.
Reports of "high officials" say that a large proportion of the Indians killed were women and children. To those who were present,
this would seem too base a fabrication to need contradiction, but fearing that many earnest men in and out of Colorado, hearing
only the lie might be deceived by its apparent truth, and condemn as unjust the conduct of the troops on that occasion, we can
state that we counted within a mile of the village where the fight commenced, two hundred and one dead bodies of Indians,
among whom we do not think there were over a dozen women and children. They were large athletic warriors. That in the fight
there were women and children killed, none will deny, but that any number approximating to a majority of women and children
were killed is a base and wilful (sic) lie, and could come from those whose ignorance of the affair is only paralleled by their
malicious feelings toward the troops and the Territory.
Among the Indians known to have been present upon the field, were seven principal Chiefs, and many leading warriors of the
Cheyenne nation, beside Left Hand and other leading Chiefs and leading warriors of the Arapahoes, from which any person at all
acquainted with the Indian character can form their own opinion of the numbers present. The Indian chief remains with his band to
control and direct its movements, and if upon any occasion he absents himself it is only for a short period. On this occasion all the
leading chiefs of the Cheyenne nation were together in one village, evidently for some special purpose, and does any person
believe that the warriors of the nation were far distant. Had they been hunting, as some have intimated, their squaws would have
been with them to have taken care of the game, but too many living witnesses are among us to require much trouble in
ascertaining the facts.
"High officials" again say that these Indians were killed after they had surrendered. We have yet to hear of a single Indian upon
any part of the field or upon any occasion, showing any signs or at any time offering to surrender, but to the contrary, with
surprise, all spoke of the determination manifested by the Indians, and how strange it seemed that in not a single instance during
the fight had they asked for quarter or offered to surrender.
Jack Smith, a half breed, who led a band of Indians in the attack upon the coach last summer between Forts Lyon and Larned, on
the Arkansas river, was taken prisoner, but having been a leader in almost all the depredations perpetrated upon the whites, and
it being well known that he had been constantly inciting the Indians to commit depredations upon the whites, being well
acquainted and knowing when to strike and where to strike successfully, was during the night after his capture taken suddenly ill, I
was informed, and died, for which our gallant commander could not certainly be censured. Cholic or something else was the
cause. Sad, indeed, it was to loose (sic) so reliable a member of society, but the inscrutable ways of Providence should in our
humble opinion, never be questioned.
The battle fought most desperately and won, the village with its contents were examined. Peaceable Indians, indeed! Decorating
almost every lodge were found the scalps of murdered white men, women and children, while one scalp, scarcely three days old,
was found decorating the saddle of some brave chieftain or warrior - one of the peaceable Indians with whom our friends, the
"high officials," have so warmly sympathized. A thousand other proofs of the high, noble qualities of the poor Lo could be
obtained by a Congressional investigation, whose disgusting details would clearly show the false position occupied by these "high
officials," unless their sympathies are entirely with the Indian, in which case the gentlemen should be requested to leave the
whites, and go with their sympathies to the Indians. The wearing apparel of not only white men, but of white women and children,
in great abundance, were found in all the lodges of these peaceable red men, while many a token of friendship, such as lockets,
bibles and photographs, told too plainly a tale of suffering and murder of many an emigrant family perpetrated by these greatly
abused friends of the "high officials." But enough.
Did the people of Colorado, or even of the "States," expect or believe that a command of Colorado soldiers, after witnessing the
sufferings of their white brothers for the past six months, would, if they found the savage foe, sue for peace, offer the murderers
of their brothers, wives and children the hand of fellowship and returned to their homes with the welcome intelligence that they
had provided the Indians with sufficient bacon and hardbread to subsist them comfortably through the winter, that they might be
well prepared in the spring to open the campaign with some degree of success. If such were the expectations of the people of
Colorado, our advice, gentlemen, is import your troops from the States. Obtain Brigadiers for commanders - regulars whose lives
have been devoted to the study of civilized war would be preferable - and your most ardent desires will all be gratified. And if you
do not wish to learn that the poor Indians have been killed, never allow any of the Colorado troops to approach a village of hostile
Again the pursuit was commenced; day after day and night after night, wearied, cold and hungry the column pursued its winding
way along creeks, across sand bluffs and over plains, till it reached a point about one hundred and twenty miles west of Fort
Larned approaching so near a village of Arapahoes that they sought safety in flight, leaving their lodge poles, &c., strewn for
miles along their trail. When the horses, particularly of the Third Regiment, showing symptoms of great fatigue, it was deemed
advisable to relinquish the chase, return to Denver, muster out the members of the 3d Regiment in compliance with their
contracts with the Government, which was only for one hundred days; which has been done. And now, instead of receiving the
universal laudations of a generous people, they discover that certain "high officials" have falsely represented them to the powers
at Washington, and they are to be arraigned before the national tribunal for the murder of defenceless (sic) women and children.
'O inconsistency, where is thy blush! How long shall our rulers be aliens, and without sympathy for us in our misfortunes? How
long shall the Colorado soldier receive abuse from "high officials," who should be the first to applaud? How long shall "high
officials" continue to tarnish the laurels of brave men with their wilful (sic) lies?
But a few short weeks since the voice of Colorado asked, why are not the Indians killed, men, women and children all killed? The
people said kill everything that wears a red skin. Make the Indians feel that they cannot, with impunity, murder and scalp our
brothers, wives and children. Make the Indian treat, with respect, the white man when he meets him on the plain. Render safe
the emigration across the plains and freight, instead of being twenty and twenty-five cents, will be only six and eight. Reduce the
price of goods so that the laboring man can live. Make the eastern capitalist feel that it is but a gala trip across the plains, and we
will soon have sufficient means by the sale of our valuable claims to enjoy life like rational men - not live as slaves, compelled to
count every dollar in fear and trembling that cold and hunger may not reach us.
The work is done, well done, and terror reigns in the savage camp, yet certain "high officials" brand all concerned as murderers.
Let the investigation commence; let it be rigid, severe, and Colorado will emerge from beneath the dark clouds where "high
officials" have placed her, bright with the laurels of victory, and the thanks of Congress that she has removed so many obstacles
in the path of civilization.
When we shall show Congress our defenceless (sic) position, and demand a sufficient number of troops from the States to
protect the freighter, the emigrant and the isolated settler, we will obtain them, "high officials" to the contrary notwithstanding.
Now, in conclusion we will say that our only wish is that every Indian expedition hereafter may be led by a Colorado soldier,
imbued with the holy aspiration of destroying as great a number of warriors, squaws and children, as fell in the memorable battle
of Sand Creek. D.
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Rocky Mountain News Editorials After the Sand Creek Massacre, including:
The Battle of Sand Creek – praises the Colorado third regiment. December 17, 1864.
The Third – 3rd Regiment soldiers not paid for their service at Sand Creek. December 29, 1864.
The Fort Lyon Affair – Indignation over criticism of the Sand Creek attack. December 30, 1864.
Its Effect – The consequences of a congressional investigation. December 31, 1864.
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.
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.
|Ned Wynkoop & the Lonely Road
From Sand Creek
|Sand Creek and the
Tragic End of a Lifeway