Sand Creek Massacre
National Historic Site
Colorado
Logo
Park Photo
NPS photo



It was hard to see little children... their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized.

—Capt. Silas Soule to Maj. Edward W. Wynkoop, December 1864

ATTACK AT DAWN

A column of riders moves up Big Sandy Creek as the village awakens on November 29, 1864. This is no ordinary village; it is a chiefs' village, with over 750 people and at least 33 chiefs and headmen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho. All believe they are safe here, within the 1861 Fort Wise Treaty Lands.

Women think they hear buffalo approaching. The "buffalo" are US Army soldiers—well-trained troops of the 1st Regiment Cavalry (Colorado US Volunteer) and raw recruits of the 3rd Regiment Cavalry. The soldiers have guns and howitzers. A US flag and a white flag of truce flutter from a lodgepole at Cheyenne Peace Chief Black Kettle's tipi, but the soldiers are undeterred. Startled men reach for their weapons. White Antelope and other chiefs walk toward the mounted soldiers.

The cavalry open fire. Women, children, and elderly flee. Black Kettle survives unscathed, but White Antelope and Left Hand are hit; both will die from their wounds. Col. John Chivington arrives. He orders the 1st Regiment to fire into the fleeing villagers. Mayhem ensues as his soldiers massacre Cheyenne and Arapaho people.

Capt. Silas Soule and Lt. Joseph Cramer defy Chivington and order their companies (D and K of the 1st Regiment) to stand down. They witness the executions of those who surrender and others who try to escape along the sandy creek bed.

When the firing stops, over 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho, including 13 Council and four Soldier chiefs, lie murdered. US Army casualties amount to about 18 dead and 70 wounded. Reports exaggerate the number of Indians killed at 500.

Soldiers loot, scalp, and mutilate the dead. They ransack and burn the village. They take human body parts as trophies along with 600 horses. Surviving Cheyenne and Arapaho, wounded and bleeding, escape north toward the Smoky Hill River.

We ran up the creek with the cavalry following us... [it] was now a terrible sight: men, women, and children lying thickly scattered on the sand.

—George Bent, Sand Creek survivor

PATH TO TRAGEDY

The Central Plains, which stretch from the Missouri River to the Rockies, were home to thousands of Plains Indians—Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, Lakota, and others. They adopted the horse for hunting buffalo—the main source for their material culture and food. In winter, certain locales along creeks and rivers offered firewood, shelter from bitter winds, and drinking water. Big Sandy Creek was one such place. People of many tribes paused here while traveling the Smoky Hill Lodgepole Trail.

In 1821 European Americans began to cross the Central Plains in greater numbers, first on the Santa Fe Trail, which followed the Arkansas River, and later along the Oregon Trail, which followed the Platte River. Some tribes saw the newcomers as trespassers in their hunting territories.

Tension and violence resulted. The US government sought peace through treaties that acknowledged the tribes as "dependent, domestic nations." The 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty defined the Plains tribes' territory. It promised them protection and annuities (provisions) in return for safe passage by travelers through Indian lands.

The treaty did not achieve lasting peace. In the late 1850s prospectors struck gold in the Rocky Mountains. Realizing that Indian lands might include rich mineral resources, the US government reneged on the 1851 treaty. A new Fort Wise Treaty (1861) required the Cheyenne and Arapaho to cede all their previously agreed territory except a small reservation. Six Cheyenne and four Arapaho chiefs signed. Many more refused. Despite the discord, Congress created Colorado Territory in 1861.

Only a few months later, the Civil War began. The US Army withdrew most of its regulars from the frontier for service back east. In 1862 Congress passed the Homestead and Pacific Railway Acts, which eventually led to more westward migration.

Col. John Chivington, a Civil War hero, commanded the troops of the Colorado Military District. Chivington, who had political aspirations, reportedly said, "It is right or honorable to use any means under God's heaven to kill Indians...." In spring 1864 he ordered attacks on four Cheyenne villages. When his regiment killed Peace Chief Lean Bear, Plains warriors retaliated. Some Indian leaders appealed for peace in a conference at Camp Weld, near Denver, with Territorial Governor John Evans and Chivington. Those Indians desiring peace were told to report to Fort Lyon. Many did, and then encamped at Sand Creek.

On November 29, 1864, Chivington led the attack at Sand Creek. Although an Army judge condemned the "cowardly cold-blooded slaughter," the colonel was never formally charged nor tried. Evans was forced to resign in 1865.

All we ask is that we have peace with the whites

—Peace Chief Black Kettle, September 28, 1864, Camp Weld Conference

A SACRED PLACE, A SPIRITUAL PEOPLE

The Sand Creek Massacre is not only a tragic historical event—its legacy is alive and present in the memories, lineages, and stories, and in the trauma and healing, of its Cheyenne and Arapaho descendants. Memorialization of the massacre has significance too for many descendants of its US military participants as well as those who come to pay respects.

The Cheyenne and Arapaho have always had a sacred and spiritual way of life. They believe that all of creation has a spiritual connection—the land, plants, animals, wind, water, and people. The tribes believe even speaking of the massacre is sacred; they consider the massacre site forever hallowed, because the spirits and blood of the victims are intermingled with the earth.

Today, Cheyenne and Arapaho return to their homeland to repatriate remains of the massacre found in museums and private collections. The tribes provide respectful, traditionally appropriate burials to assure the victims can be at rest and never forgotten.

Cheyenne and Arapaho representatives, descendants, ceremonial leaders, and youth conduct an annual Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run from the massacre site to the steps of the Colorado State Capitol. Prayers and offerings by tribal and non-tribal participants are given for the land, for the spirits of those who perished, for living generations, and for those to come—all to put to rest the torment of the past. Through these acts of remembrance and healing, the landscape of the Sand Creek Massacre remains a living, sacred place—the past forever interconnected with the present and the future.

park map

topo map
(click for larger maps)

It is difficult to believe that beings... disgracing the uniform of United States soldiers and officers, could commit... such acts of cruelty and barbarity.

—Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, 1865

THE MASSACRE REVERBERATES

The massacre devastated generations of Cheyenne and Arapaho people. The deaths of so many Cheyenne chiefs disrupted tribal governance, and surviving chiefs like Black Kettle lost credibility. Tribes lost much traditional knowledge. Families lost providers. Children lost parents.

The massacre polarized the American public. In Denver, crowds cheered when returning soldiers displayed human trophies. The brutality appalled others. The US Army ordered an immediate investigation; Congress would order two more. Company commanders Capt. Silas Soule and Lt. Joseph Cramer, who ordered their men to stand down, provided written accounts that shocked national and military leaders. Col. John Chivington gave a different account, which the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the Civil War rejected. In the 1865 Little Arkansas Treaty, the US government took responsibility for the massacre and promised reparations to survivors. The promised reparations have never been fulfilled.

The US policy toward Native peoples shifted from removal and concentration to assimilation. Although it seemed more humane, assimilation denied people their culture, language, and traditional way of life. Yet the identities of the tribes, though weakened, are intact. Today the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes reside in Montana, Wyoming, and Oklahoma where they continue to maintain their cultures and try to preserve their traditional knowledge.

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, established in 2007, reminds us of "the tragic extremes sometimes reached in the 500 years of conflict between Native Americans and peoples of European or other origins." Here people work to enhance understanding across diverse cultures. The story of the Sand Creek Massacre raises awareness of basic human rights, transcending park boundaries. The American people, through the intent of Congress, join Cheyenne and Arapaho leaders and chiefs in the hope that this story will prevent similar tragedies in the future.

Visit Sand Creek

Park hours are posted on the website: www.nps.gov/sand. Contact the park for updated seasonal hours, upcoming events, or for an appointment in the off season.

For Your Safety The park is in an isolated area. Bring water and appropriate outdoor clothing. Please stay on designated walking trails. Caution, large vehicles and motorcyclists: Eight miles of dirt and sand roads lead to the site.

Regulations All pets must be leashed. Camping is not allowed at the site. For firearms regulations check the park website.

Accessibility We strive to make our facilities, services, and programs accessible to all. For information go to a visitor center, ask a ranger, call, or check our website.

The park hosts special programs associated with the events at Sand Creek and today's Cheyenne and Arapaho. These events, including the annual Spiritual Healing Run and other activities, help to commemorate and memorialize the tragic history and legacy of the Sand Creek Massacre. Check the park website for dates and more information.

Source: NPS Brochure (2017)


Establishment

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site — April 27, 2007 (established)
Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site — November 7, 2000 (authorized)


For More Information
Please Visit The
Link to Official NPS Website
OFFICIAL NPS
WEBSITE


Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards expand section

Documents

A Preliminary Assessment of Wetland, Riparian, Geomorphology, and Floodplain Conditions at Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, Colorado NPS Technical Report NPS/NRWRD/NRTR-2005/335 (Kevin Noon, Mike Martin, Joel Wagner, Larry Martin and Alexa Roberts, June 2005)

Acoustical Monitoring Snapshot, Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site (July 2009)

Acoustic Monitoring Report, Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/NRTR-2009/001 (Emma Lynch, June 2010)

Acoustic Monitoring Report, Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, Final NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/NRSS/NRTR-2011/475 (Emma Lynch, August 2011)

Alias Emma S. Soule: Corrected Historical Fictions Surrounding Silas Soule and the Sand Creek Massacre (Pam Milavec, extract from The Denver Westerners Roundup, Vol. 61 No. 4, July-August 2005; ©Denver Posse of Westerners, all rights reserved)

Analysis of Aerial Photography from 1936-37, 1954, and 1975: Sand Creek Massacre Special Study Draft (Arthur K. Ireland, 1999)

"Another View of the Sand Creek Affair" (Raymond G. Carey, extract from The Denver Westerners Monthly Roundup, Vol. 16 No. 2, February 1960; ©Denver Posse of Westerners, all rights reserved)

Archeological Reconnaissance of Two Possible Sites of the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 (Douglas D, Scott, Anne Wainstein Bond, Richard Ellis and William B. Lees, April 1998)

Architect's Field Report: Preliminary Park Planning and Brief Condition Assessment of Existing Facilities, Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site (Paul Neidinger, FY2005)

Artifact Categories Potentially Represented at Sand Creek (Charles M. Haecker, undated)

Bird Inventory, Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site Final Report (David Hanni, c2005)

Chivington's Raid—A Black Day in Colorado (Robert L. Perkin, extract from The Denver Westerners Monthly Roundup, Vol. 13 No. 1, January 1957; ©Denver Posse of Westerners, all rights reserved)

Climate Change Trends in Planning at Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site (Nicholas Fisichelli, April 18, 2013)

Collateral Damage: Sand Creek and the Fletcher Family Indian Captivity Story (Jeff Broome, extract from The Denver Westerners Roundup, Vol. 70 No. 5, September-October 2014; ©Denver Posse of Westerners, all rights reserved)

Draft General Management Plan/Environmental Assessment, Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site (June 2015)

Final Acoustical Monitoring Report: Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/NRSS/NRTR—2011/475 (Emma Lynch, August 2011)

Foundation Document, Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, Colorado (December 2017)

Foundation Document Overview, Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, Colorado (December 2017)

Geoarcheological Assessment of the Sand Creek Massacre Site, Kiowa County, Colorado (Amy M. Holmes and Michael McFaul, Oct. 18, 1999)

Geology and Ground-Water Resources of the Big Sand Creek Valley, Lincoln, Cheyenne, and Kiowa Counties, Colorado U.S. Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 1843 (Donald L. Coffin, 1967)

Geophysical Investigations at the Sand Creek Massacre Site, Colorado (Steven L. De Vore, 1999)

Historical Research on the Location of the Sand Creek Massacre Site, Interim Report No. 1 (Lysa Wegman-French and Christine Whitacre, September 11, 1998)

Historical Research on the Location of the Sand Creek Massacre Site, Interim Report No. 2 (Lysa Wegman-French and Christine Whitacre, January 29, 1999)

Historical Research on the Location of the Sand Creek Massacre Site, Interim Report No. 3 (Lysa Wegman-French and Christine Whitacre, April 27, 1999)

Introduction to Planning: General Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement, Sand Creek Massacre NHS (2006)

Natural Resource Condition Assessment, Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/SOPN/NRR-2013/734 (Kimberly Struthers, Robert E. Bennetts, Nina Chambers, Tomye Folts-Zetner, Heidi Sosinski and Patricia Valentine-Darby, November 2013)

Newsletter: May 2004September 2004

Ordnance Artifacts at the Sand Creek Massacre Site: A Technical and Historical Report (William F. Dawson, undated)

Rebuilding Trust? The Sand Creek Massacre and the Federal-Tribal Relationshop in Flute v. United States (Alexander Sokolosky, extract from Oklahoma Law Review, Vol. 70 No. 4, 2018)

Resource Stewardship Strategy, Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, Colorado (March 2011)

Riparian Condition Assessment for Big Sandy Creek, Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, Colorado NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/WRD/NRR-2014/788 (Joel Wagner, Michael Martin, Kevin Noon and Tomye Folts-Zettner, March 2014)

Riparian Forest Age Structure and Past Hydroclimatic Variability, Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site Final Report (Jeff Lukas and Connie Woodhouse, October 2006)

Sand Creek...A Novelist's View (Michael Straight, extract from The Denver Westerners Monthly Roundup, Vol.19 No. 4, April 1963; ©Denver Posse of Westerners, all rights reserved)

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site Establishment Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-465, 114 Stat. 2019, Nov. 7, 2000)

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site Study Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-243, 112 Stat. 1579, Oct. 6, 1998)

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site Trust Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-45, 119 Stat. 445, Aug. 2, 2005)

Sand Creek Massacre Project, Volume 1: Site Location Study (2000)

Sand Creek Massacre Project, Volume 2: Special Resource Study (2000)

Sand Creek Massacre Site: An Environmental History (Elizabeth Mitchell, January 2007)

Sand Creek: Tragedy and Symbol (©Gary Leland Roberts, PhD Thesis University of Oklahoma, 1984)

Science Status Report, 2008, Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site (Tim Seastedt, November 2008)

Scope of Collection Statement, Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site (2011)

Site Inventory: Range of Natural Variability, Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site (Roy Roath, Rachel Ridenour, Bob Wesley and Zachary Holmes, undated)

State of the Park Report, Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, Colorado State of the Park Series No. 51 (2017)

Status and History of Prairie Dogs in Colorado and at Sand Creek NHS (John Sovell, March 2008)

The Battle of Sand Creek: Strategic Scapegoats and Military Martyrs (Brian Peterson, extract from Undergraduate Research Journal at UCCS, Vol. 2.1, Spring 2009)

The Environmental History of Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site Final Draft (Elizabeth Michell, July 31, 2009)

The Indians of the Pike's Peak region, including an account of the battle of Sand Creek, and of occurrences in El Paso County, Colorado, during the war with the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, in 1864 and 1868 (Irving Howbert, 1914)

The Insects of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, Kiowa County, Colorado (Boris Kondratieff and Whitney Cranshaw, undated)

The Search For the Sand Creek Massacre (Chuck and Sheri Bowen, undated)

The Search for the Site of the Sand Creek Massacre (Christine Whitacre, extract from Prologue, Vol. 33 No. 2, Summer 2001)

Vegetation Classification and Mapping, A report for the Southern Plans Network: Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/SOPN/NRTR-2007/050 (Stephanie Neid, Joe Stevens, Kelsey Forest and Michele Fink, March 2007)

Wetland, Riparian, Geomorphology, and Floodplain Conditions (K. Noon, M. Martin, J. Wagner, L. Martin and A. Roberts, July 30, 2008)



Handbooks ◆ Books expand section

Videos

Sand Creek Massacre



sand/index.htm
Last Updated: 20-Apr-2022