Record of Events pt 2

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 2 of Three  – The Record – Events of November 28 to Dec. 1, 1864.

By Jeff C. Campbell

 As the day began on November 29, 1864, about 600 Cheyennes, Arapahoes and others slept in their village along the Big Sandy.  Indians who were there and tribal representatives tell us there were about fourteen family or clan groups represented and with them were herds of upwards of 1,400 or more horses and 200 or more dogs.  The horses were in herds in all directions from the village grazing through the calm, clear, cold, star-filled and moonless night.

 Military and civilian scouts with the “Indian Expedition” spotted the first horse herd at about 3:A.M. several miles from the village.  Sleep deprived soldiers of the 1st and 3rd (Cavalry) Regiments of Colorado Volunteers caught brief moments of sleep in their saddles and nibbled on weevily hard tack.  Many of the short-term volunteers of the 3rd Regiment wondered if the march was just a “humbug” by their officers.  The column of about 675 United States cavalrymen (only one territorial militiaman was present) with four 12 pound mountain howitzers turned toward the northeast.

 Major Scott Anthony relates that in the pre-dawn twilight the column “struck” Sand Creek and within a mile they found a horse herd grazing in the creek bed.  There the soldiers were brought forward and the village was seen about two miles upstream.  Colonel John Chivington ordered the men to ready for action and to “remember the women and children killed on the Platte.”  His best cavalrymen, about 250 from the 1st Regiment were ordered forward to lead the attack, as they had experience and their horses were fresher.  These were followed by a battery of two howitzers from Ft. Lyon.  They trotted off in formation and fell into a gallop up the creek bed.  No charge was sounded.

The Indian women were rising and beginning preparations of morning meal and young people moved out to check the herds.  The world was quiet in the twilight.  Within moments women came to the lodges saying buffalo were coming, then as the light became better and the soldiers were about ¾ of a mile away the herd was identified as cavalry.  The village began moving.  Young people rushed to the herds, women and children and the elderly began moving upstream or toward Black Kettle’s lodge where he raised a United States flag given to him by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1861 as well as a white flag below.  Some of the men went for their weapons and war gear.

 Soldiers were strung out for nearly two miles along Sand Creek with the sun at their backs.  Some of the less experienced 3rd Regiment were detailed in companies to the left to secure pony herds south and west of the village.  The 1st Regiment troops began arriving at the southeastern perimeter of the village and halted in a line about 75 or more yards away.  Cheyenne chiefs Black Kettle, Stands in the Water, White Antelope and Left Hand of the Arapahoes walked towards the troops beyond the perimeter of the village.  Company H troops of the 1st Regiment, still saddled began firing.  Left Hand was mortally wounded, Stands in the Water was killed a few yards from the soldiers then two soldiers dismounted and shot down White Antelope.  Oral tradition and George Bent stated that White Antelope sang his deathsong, “Nothing lives long, Only the earth and mountains"  "Death is upon us – nothing exists but the rocks and the mountains." which is sung in ceremonies to this date.  Amazingly, Black Kettle was unscathed and realizing the intentions of the soldiers joined others running upstream away from cavalry.

From this point there are too many stories to tell about all that happened in the short space allowed.  Essentially, Indians began a retreat up the creek bed, mostly women, children and elderly, while at least three groups of men formed skirmish lines to cover them.  Quite a few of the young people had moved about two-thirds of the horse herds north and east, while one group of about 75 individuals was noted escaping on horseback to the west across the bluffs.  Some Indians tried to escape to the northeast.  Many on foot started digging pits in some of the bends of the streambed as was a customary plains Indian defense.  These pits were hastily dug from a few hundred yards upstream to as far as two miles upstream.

 1st Regiment soldiers formed lines along the south, east and northeast perimeters of the village.  The howitzers, finally brought up and unlimbered began firing over the village.  Some shells from the 3rd Regiment battery found their mark in the stream bed north of the village.  One battalion of 3rd Regiment cavalry was sent west to capture horses and cut off the Indians retreat to the west.  As most of the soldiers came on line they found the village deserted, then Chivington and others walked through the lodges which were estimated to upwards of 130 and spread over a ½ mile in length.  There was no “charge.”  To the north of the village Indians who took sanctuary in the streambed were surrounded in a killing field about ¾ of a mile long.  Chivington ordered the artillery to fire on the pits in this area.  Within an hour of the beginning of the attack the howitzers were most likely out of ammunition as they only carried 16 rounds for each gun.

 The fighting continued in a broad field of activity from upstream as far as five miles to as far as 8 miles northeast of the village and west of the village on the bluffs about one mile.  After the first hour most of the combat was one-on-one or in small groups.  Black Kettle, George Bent and about 100 others found themselves under siege for most of the day in a pit about 1 or 2 miles upstream.  Artillery was never brought to bear on them.  Almost everyone in their pit was described as wounded except Black Kettle.  About one hundred women, children, elderly and a few men were killed in two locations of the pits in the killing field above the camp.  About 25 men under Big Head made their stand in a skirmish with soldiers west of War Bonnet’s lodge and all were killed.  Between 150 and 200 Cheyennes and Arapahoes were killed that day, and at least that many were probably wounded.  Black Kettle’s wife was shot nine times and survived.

 Most of the general killing and fighting was concluded by no later than 11:A.M., although there were individual fights and small skirmishes until about 3:30 P.M. when the sun began setting and the cold began to move into the valley.  The soldiers had about 16 killed or who died of wounds and as many as 75 were wounded.  By two o’clock most of the soldiers, with the wounded and dead, were coming back into the village to set up camp for the evening.  As the soldiers returned to camp some of the first reports of mutilations and other atrocities filtered in, not to mention the disproportionate numbers of women and children who had been killed.

 As darkness fell, some of the Indians made their way into the killing field and recovered dead and wounded relatives, while others made their way northeast to the Smoky Hill camps.  The Indians had little clothing and the night took a bitterly cold toll on them as they walked across the prairie.  The soldiers slept fitfully throughout the night in a hollow defensive square formation.  Two alarms were sounded and the wail and yelping of dogs, coyotes and wolves made the darkness wear on.

 The killings of November 29 were continued the next day as a survivor or two were found and killed and mutilations of the dead continued while the soldiers and officers sought “trophies.”  During November 30, two soldiers were killed on the prairie east of the village and the half-blood son of John Smith, Jack, was murdered in a lodge where he was being held.  As the column left the village on December 1 to move down Sand Creek toward the Arkansas, one witness described the rear guard finding some survivors of the attack who were summarily killed as the village was cleared.

 Eight or ten women and children taken as captives, who were married to or the children of white men, were taken back to Ft. Lyon or to William Bent’s ranch, while three children were taken by a 3rd Regiment soldier and put in circus type show west of Denver.  At least one of the children taken to Denver was eventually repatriated to the Arapahoes and one died in Denver.  At the end of December public showings of scalps and trophies were advertised in the Rocky Mountain News.

 Of the 675 soldiers, civilians and officers at Sand Creek on November 29, only Private Pingree of the 1st Regiment was placed in the stockade at Ft. Lyon for ten days for taking thirteen scalps at Sand Creek.  When Chivington returned to the fort he had Pingree released.

 At the end of December the District of the Upper Arkansas Inspector and his party noted sixty-nine bodies still lying on the ground at the sight of the massacre.  Well into the 1870s bleaching human and animal bones were noted in the area by buffalo hunters and soldiers.  By 1908, when four aged soldiers returned to the area they could not find the exact location which had changed from the treeless valley of 1864 to a stream course filled with forty year old cottonwoods.

 Historian Stan Hoig writes the last line of his history of the massacre, "Only a rueful emptiness hangs there where a Cheyenne band once camped in peace and was struck down."

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



NEWS Archives Questions & Answers Sand Creek Staff Photo Gallery J.C. Campbell Links

Send mail to with questions or comments about this site. Copyright © 2001 - 2017   Plains Network Services, Inc.  All rights reserved.