Record of Events pt 1

Record of Events pt 1
Record of Events pt 2
1st & 3rd Regiment Cavalry
John Milton Chivington Record
The Legacy

25% of the net proceeds from the sale of these booklet will be donated to the

National Park Foundation,

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site Fund

And 25% net proceeds will be donated to the

Kiowa County Historic Preservation Fund


Part 1 of Three  -  The Record – Events leading up to November 29, 1864.

(By Jeff C. Campbell

 There are literally millions of words in the written record about the Sand Creek Massacre from the time, documenting participants, that is, soldiers’, Indians’ and citizens’ testimony, reminiscences, oral histories, diaries, letters and interviews.  Additionally there have been millions of words written about Sand Creek by investigative historians, novelists, poets and so-called historians who promote one political agenda or another in one hundred thousand words or less.  It is a daunting task here to provide a glimpse of the record in a thousand words or less.

 As 1864 began there was little contemplation of an Indian menace on the plains, although the killings of hundreds of whites by Indians in Minnesota two years before still lingered in the memories of the citizens of Colorado Territory.  A little known fact is that at this time Colonel John Chivington, commanding the military District of Colorado was slated to be replaced by Brigadier General Thomas Ewing Jr., but by early April Chivington returned to Denver from Ft. Leavenworth with his command intact, but over the next few months it would be reduced.  Governor John Evans of the territory had unsuccessfully attempted to hold treaty talks with the Cheyennes and Arapahoes in September 1863 and later took heed of words from informants that something was brewing for the spring of 1864.  During the winter some Cheyennes had accepted the invitation of northern tribes to wage war on the Crow nation and prepared to send warriors north from the Platte River country.

 Many historians hold that the beginnings of the Indian war on the Platte and Arkansas of 1864 was due to two actions.  The first was a fight at Fremont’s Orchard where a young lieutenant and his men from the 1st Regiment of Colorado Volunteers were engaged with a group of Cheyennes heading north.  Soldiers and warriors were killed.  The Cheyennes told that they were misunderstood in their intentions and the soldiers claimed the warriors refused to be disarmed.  The second resulted from the reported theft of over 100 head of livestock and two punitive expeditions headed by a young artillery lieutenant which culminated in the destruction of two camps and a prolonged fight near Ash Creek in what is now Kansas.  The Cheyennes lost a venerable chief who was reportedly wearing his “presidential peace medal” and the soldiers had to conduct a running retreat across the plains into Ft. Larned.  Reports from a dozen sources indicate the engagement was a fiasco and reprimands followed.

 Chivington sent his District Inspector Major Downing to take charge of the soldiers of the 1st Regiment stationed along the South Platte River route.  Compounding events of Fremont’s Orchard and the expeditions into the Republican River country Downing and Colorado cavalry proceeded north from the Platte and engaged in an attack on a Cheyenne camp in Cedar Canyon or Cedar Bluffs.  From this moment on Cheyennes, including their Dog Soldiers, as well as other allies commenced raids along the Platte and Arkansas Rivers.  A few attacks were blamed on the Cheyennes but were actually conducted by whites in disguise or simply bandits seeking gold and loot bound to or out of Montana and at least one raid was conducted by Pawnees.

 By the summer of 1864 paranoia ran rampant in Denver and environs fueled by the newspapers and rumors.  The fears of the population of the territory were played upon by all sides since the territory was gearing up for an election in favor of or against statehood.  Evans and Chivington were considering their political futures tied to the Union party.  By September statehood prospects were dashed and Chivington lost his bid to become a U. S. Representative.

 Coincidentally, a few days after Chivington left Denver in June for an inspection of posts on the Arkansas River, reports came into Denver of a massacre of a white ranching family, the Hungates.  It is still unclear who actually killed the family, although Arapahoes later reportedly claimed renegade tribal members were responsible and some theorists believe that the killings were staged to incite Coloradoans against the Indians.  Regardless, the citizens were thrown into a panic and some even rushed the armory at Camp Weld.  The Hungates were displayed in town during a Coroner’s inquest and the fervor rose.  Likewise Cheyennes and Arapahoes professing peace at this time were in much anxiety as well since they did not understand where the next attack would come from like in April and May.  To say the plains of Colorado and the overland routes along the Platte and Arkansas were in fear would be an understatement.

 Throughout the spring and summer Governor Evans petitioned the military for more troops to protect Colorado.  As Commander-in-Chief of the territorial militia he called for local companies to be mustered.  In August the U. S. Army authorised a temporary one- hundred-days regiment of cavalry which would be mustered as the 3rd Regiment.  Also in June he issued a proclamation as the ex-officio Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the territory for all peaceful Indians to come into posts for their own protection.

 Seeing the proclamation, after many councils Black Kettle and other chiefs sent a letter into the Indian Agent at Ft. Lyon on the Arkansas to entertain peace talks and turn over some captives.  Major Ed. Wynkoop commanding Ft. Lyon took the initiative and proceeded with an expedition which met with the Cheyennes and Arapahoes and recovered some of the white captives.  As a consequence several Cheyenne and Arapahoe representatives joined Wynkoop in a journey to Denver to speak with Evans, Indian Affairs representative for the territory.  This trip climaxed with the Camp Weld Council held in late September.  The Chiefs were welcomed by the general public and officials in Denver, but left with no promises of peace, only that they should come into the posts and await the decisions of the military chief, Major General Samuel R. Curtis.

 Evans and Chivington were left in a quandry as to what to do with the 3rd Regiment which had specifically been mustered under the banner of the U. S. Army and Evans’ representations that they were needed to fight hostiles and protect the territory.  Some of the restless hundred days men were becoming rowdy around Denver so in October most of seven companies were moved to Camp Elbert in Bijou Basin north of present day Peyton, CO.  1st Regiment troops enlistments were expiring and 3rd Regiment troops filled in where they could along the Front Range and down the Platte.  By late October orders show that a campaign was being planned against “hostile” Cheyennes and Arapahoes on the Republican River.  In their short existence the 3rd Regiment was ill-equipped, ill-fed and many received horses and weapons within two weeks of the Sand Creek Massacre.

 By mid-October the Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs had returned to Ft. Lyon then went north to their camps and moved their bands south toward the fort.  Most of the Cheyennes remained camped on Sand Creek where they were found in late November, but Little Raven and about 650 Arapahoes moved into camp just downriver from the fort by about October 20.  After his return to the fort Major Wynkoop sent an officer to Department headquarters to deliver his report of Camp Weld and sue for peace with the Indians who had come into the protection of Fort Lyon.  Wynkoop and the Indians awaited word from Curtis.

 At some point in the first few days of November a decision was made in Denver by officers in the military to move troops of the 1st and 3rd Regiments to a rendezvous just east of what is now Pueblo, CO on the Arkansas River.  Several hundred men with over 100 wagons began converging on that area by the 18th.  At about the same time Arapahoes under Little Raven moved downriver about 60 miles from Ft. Lyon at the urging of the new post commander Major Scott J. Anthony and the prospects of finding more game to feed the tribe.  The peaceful Arapaho Chief, Left Hand with his band of about forty or fifty returned to the Sand Creek village site and set up camp near One Eye (Lone Bear, Ochinee) the Cheyenne Chief.

 Chivington and his staff arrived on the Arkansas from Denver on the 23rd of November and took charge of the “First Indian Expedition” of about 750 to 800 troops, a dozen scouts, civilian teamsters and 115 wagons.  Over the next five days this expedition marched under strict security down the Arkansas to Fort Lyon.  This caravan of troops and wagons took the garrison at the fort by surprise during the morning of November 28th.  That evening at about eight o’clock, about 675 cavalry and artillery troops from the 1st and 3rd Regiments marched north under a moonless and clear night toward their destiny and the destinies of the Cheyennes and Arapahoes camped there on Sand Creek.  During the late evening several young Cheyennes saw a light on the prairie and reported it to War Bonnet, who was concerned that this was not a good sign.

 [For a bibliography of the record see the Sand Creek Massacre NHS, National Park Service Office or Educational Specialist Craig Moore in Eads, Colorado.]



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