The Sand Creek Massacre - Lieutenant Joseph A. Cramer
Letter to Major Edward Wynkoop Regarding the Massacre
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We'll never forget
1 – Cramer refers to Major Scott J. Anthony, commanding Fort Lyon at the time of Chivington’s arrival.
2 – Lt. Luther Wilson.
3 – Cramer’s hastily written notes here may be logically interpreted as, "we marched up Sand Creek to the big bend in the
Sandy." Sand Creek is historically the shortened version of the official name of the Big Sandy. The ‘big bend’ is commonly
referred to as a large bend in the creek where the Cheyennes and Arapahos were camped at the time of the massacre.
4 – Smoky Hill River – Cramer refers to the trip that he, with Wynkoop and Soule, took on September 10, 1864. With a
detachment of 130 Fort Lyon soldiers, Wynkoop conducted a successful peace negotiation with Black Kettle and other Cheyenne
and Arapaho chiefs at what became know as the Smoky Hill Council. Black Kettle and other chiefs had rounded up four white
children kidnapped in Dog Soldier raids on the Little Blue in Nebraska, and gave them up to Wynkoop. In return, Wynkoop took
the chiefs to Denver to negotiate a peace treaty with Governor Evans (Camp Weld Council). Both of these councils played a
significant role in the Sand Creek Massacre. See the
Sand Creek Massacre Timeline.
Weld Council transcript
5 – John S. Smith, U.S. Interpreter, was camped at the Sand Creek village at the time of Chivington’s attack. He was employed by
the military to obtain information from Black Kettle regarding enemy movement in the area, and was also conducting trade with the
Sand Creek Indians, with the permission of Major Anthony.
6 - Private David Louderback, 1st Regiment, was camped with Smith and wagon driver Watson Clark at the Sand Creek village at
the time of Chivington’s attack.
7 – Watson Clark, a government-employed teamster.
8 – Smith and Louderback would later testify essentially the same information that Cramer reports here.
9 – Cramer refers to no specific Major here. The Majors that participated at Sand Creek were Major Scott Anthony, Major Jacob
Downing, and Major Hal Sayre.
10 – Again, Cramer does not name the Lt. Colonel. The two officer of this rank at Sand Creek were George L. Shoup, and
Leavitt L. Bowen. During the ensuing military investigation, Cramer was never asked to identify the officers.
11 – Both Soule and Cramer believed at this time that Black Kettle was killed at Sand Creek, but the Chief actually escaped
without injury. Chivington erroneously reported that his men killed Black Kettle. He may have intentionally lied in order to stir up
anti-Indian sentiment in Denver and boost his reputation as an Indian fighter, or Chivington may have actually believed Black
Kettle was dead (the Indian bodies were all so thoroughly mutilated after the attack that most were rendered unrecognizable).
White Antelope, War Bonnet, and Left Hand were killed (Left Hand died a few days later), but reports of ‘Little Robe’ dying was
erroneously reported by General Curtis.
12 – It’s unlikely that Cramer ever got near enough to Black Kettle during the massacre to hear the chief speak these words. The
tone of anger in Cramer’s letter suggests he is reporting hearsay or rumors here.
13 – Again, Cramer is most likely reporting hearsay. Later stories of the attack relate that White Antelope (not Left Hand) was
killed while defiantly standing with his arms folded as Cramer describes it. Left Hand was indeed wounded, but he put up a fight
and escaped with the other Indian survivors. Most historians now agree he died of his wounds a few days later, but he was not
among the dead found at Sand Creek.
14 – Cramer apparently refers to Fort Larned, KS. One Eye (Cheyenne sub-chief killed at Sand Creek) indeed was in the employ
of the government to spy on hostile warrior movements in the area. He is most notably remembered as the leader of the party
that initially approached Wynkoop with Black Kettle's proposal to meet at the Smoky Hill Council, which resulted in the rescue of
four Dog Soldier captives, and led to the council with Governor Evans at Camp Weld in Denver. One Eye once saved William
Bent's life in a Kiowa raid, and Chivington himself had designated him as a "good Indian."
15 – Cramer refers to Major Scott Anthony.
16 – Major Jacob Downing, a lawyer in civilian life, and a staunch Chivington supporter who later represented him in the
17 – Lt. Chauncy M. Cossitt, a Fort Lyon officer who joined Soule and Cramer’s protest against attacking Black Kettle.
18 – Cramer erroneously says John Smith. He is referring to Smith’s son, Jack, whom James Beckwourth testified was executed
by members of the Colorado Third Regiment.
19 - Lt. Colonel Samuel F. Tappan – not a participant in the Sand Creek Massacre, but present at Fort Lyon when it occurred.
When Chivington had arrived to commandeer the Lyon troops, Tappan was laid up with a broken ankle suffered in a riding
accident. Soule and Cramer tried to enlist his help to persuade Chivington to spare Black Kettle's village, but Tappan was
apparently too loopy on morphine to be of any assistance. It's unlikely he would have made a difference even if he had been
available, however, for he and Chivington disliked each other immensely due to numerous past run-ins rooted in professional
jealousy. Tappan, a former journalist with many influential friends in Washington, would later spearhead the investigation into
20 – General John P. Slough – Commanded troops at La Glorieta Pass, but thereafter replaced by Chivington as Commander of
Colorado Military District in a dispute over tactics employed at La Glorieta. Slough re-commissioned and summoned to
Washington by President Lincoln. Cramer at this time was part of the contingency of Fort Lyon soldiers looking to expose
Chivington’s massacre, and he undoubtedly hoped to bring the issue to the attention of higher authorities with an axe to grind.
Lieutenant Joseph A. Cramer, commanding Company K, Colorado First Regiment at the Sand
Creek Massacre, joined Captain Silas Soule and other Fort Lyon officers in a protest against Col.
John M. Chivington’s planned attack on Black Kettle’s village. After Soule firmly stood in
defiance of Chivington, his life was reportedly threatened by Chivington and other members of
the Colorado Third Volunteers militia. Cramer urged Soule to back away from the confrontation,
and then attempted to reason with Chivington to no avail.
When Chivington’s militia attacked at Sand Creek, Soule refused to allow his men to participate,
and Cramer soon followed suit. Cramer wrote the following letter to Major Edward Wynkoop soon
after the massacre. Soule also wrote to Wynkoop (see Soule’s letter). Soon thereafter, Wynkoop
(relieved of command of Fort Lyon just prior to the Sand Creek attack) was ordered to conduct an
investigation of Chivington’s actions at Sand Creek.
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Cramer’s letter appears here unedited.
Ft. Lyon, C. T.
December 19, 1864
This is the first opportunity I have had of writing you since the great Indian Massacre, and for a start, I will acknowledge I am
ashamed to own I was in it with my Co. Col. Chivington came down here with the gallant third known as Chivington Brigade, like a
thief in the dark throwing his Scouts around the Post, with instructions to let no one out, without his orders, not even the
Commander of the Post, and for the shame, our Commanding Officer 1 submitted. Col. Chivington expected to find the Indians in
camp below the Com---- (commissary) but the Major Comd'g told him all about where the Indians were, and volunteered to take a
Battalion from the Post and Join the Expedition.
Well Col. Chiv. got in about 10 a.m., Nov. 28th and at 8 p.m. we started with all of the 3rd parts of "H" "O" and "E" of the First, in
command of Lt. Wilson 2 Co. "K" "D" and "G" in commanding of Major Anthony. Marched all night up Sand, to the big bend in
Sanday 3, about 15 or 20 miles, above where we crossed on our trip to Smoky Hill 4 and came on to Black Kettles village of 103
lodges, containing not over 500 all told, 350 of which were women and children. Three days previous to our going out, Major
Anthony gave John Smith 5, Lowderbuck 6 of Co. "G" and a government driver 7, permission to go out there and trade with them,
and they were in the village when the fight came off. John Smith came out holding up his hands and running towards us, when
he was shot at by several, and the word was passed along to shoot him. He then turned back, and went to his tent and got
behind some Robes, and escaped unhurt. Lowderbuck came out with a white flag, and was served the same as John Smith, the
driver the same. 8 Well I got so mad I swore I would not burn powder, and I did not. Capt. Soule the same. It is no use for me to
try to tell you how the fight was managed, only that I think the Officer in Command should be hung, and I know when the truth is
known it will cashier him.
We lost 40 men wounded, and 10 killed. Not over 250 Indians mostly women and children, and I think not over 200 were killed,
and not over 75 bucks. With proper management they could all have been killed and not lost over 10 men. After the fight there
was a sight I hope I may never see again.
Bucks, women, and children were scalped, fingers cut off to get the rings on them, and this as much with Officers as men, and
one of those Officers a Major 9, and a Lt. Col. 10 cut off Ears, of all he came across, a squaw ripped open and a child taken from
her, little children shot, while begging for their lives and all the indignities shown their bodies that was ever heard of (women shot
while on their knees, with their arms around soldiers a begging for their lives.) Things that Indians would be ashamed to do. To
give you some little idea, squaws were known to kill their own children, and then themselves, rather than to have them taken
prisoners. Most of the Indians yielded 4 or 5 scalps. But enough! For I know you are disgusted already. Black Kettle, White
Antelope, War Bonnet, Left Hand, Little Robe and several other chiefs were killed. 11 Black Kettle said when he saw us coming,
that he was glad, for it was Major Wynkoop coming to make peace. 12 Left Hand stood with his hands folded across his breast,
until he was shot saying, "Soldiers no hurt me - soldiers my friends." 13 One Eye was killed; was in the employ of Gov't as spy;
came into the Post a few days before, and reported about the Sioux, were going to break out at Learned 14, which proved true.
After all the pledges made my Major A- to these Indians and then take the course he did. I think as comments are necessary
from me; only I will say he has a face for every man he talks 15. The action taken by Capt. Soule and myself were under
protest. Col. C– was going to have Soule hung for saying there were all cowardly Sons of B----s; if Soule did not take it back, but
nary take aback with Soule. I told the Col. that I thought it murder to jump them friendly Indians. He says in reply; Damn any man
or men who are in sympathy with them. Such men as you and Major Wynkoop better leave the U. S. Service, so you can judge
what a nice time we had on the trip. I expect Col. C- and Downing 16 will do all in their power to have Soule, Cossitt 17 and I
dismissed. Well, let them work for what they damn please, I ask no favors of them. If you are in Washington, for God’s sake,
Major, keep Chivington from being a Bri'g Genl. which he expects. I will send you the Denver Papers with this. Excuse this for I
have been in much of a hurry.
Your Well Wisher
(signed) Joe A. Cramer
John Smith was taken prisoner and then murdered 18. One little child 3 months old was thrown in the feed box of a wagon and
brought one days march, and there left on the ground to perish. Col. Tappan 19 is after them for all that is out. I am making out
a report of all from beginning to end, to send to Gen'l Slough 20, in hopes that he will have the thing investigated, and if you
should see him, please speak to him about it, for fear that he has forgotten me. I shall write him nothing but what can be proven.
Major I am ashamed of this. I have it gloriously mixed up, but in hopes I can explain it all to you before long. I would have given
my right arm had you been here, when they arrived. Your family are all well.
(signed) Joe A. Cramer
|Ned Wynkoop & the Lonely Road
From Sand Creek
|Sand Creek and the
Tragic End of a Lifeway