Battle of Little Bighorn: 05 – Massacre at Sand Creek

"The Custer Fight" by Charles Marion Russell. Lithograph. Shows the Battle of Little Bighorn, from the Indian side.

While Colorado Governor John Evans, with Chivington’s help, attempted to instigate an Indian war in 1864, two important events occurred. First of all, in September, Colorado lost the vote for statehood thereby putting a considerable dent in Evans’ bucket of political plans. In spite of this setback, he still had to contend with his supposedly Indian war which he’d been reporting on to officials in Washington.

Black Kettle Coming to Denver

Now, coming down the road to Denver was Cheyenne Peace Chief Black Kettle and his group. They were on their way to town to hold peace talks with Governor Evans. If Evans now made peace with the Indians, after complaining loudly to Washington, he was going to look pretty silly, and might as well put his political career in that old dented bucket and kick it over the next hill.

Black Kettle was dead-set on having peace and by November his band, along with 113 lodges of Little Raven’s Arapahos, had surrendered to Major Edward W. Wynkoop at Fort Lyon.

Major Edward W. Wynkoop

Not being supplied to feed so many extra mouths, Wynkoop instructed the Arapahos to go out on the Plains and camp and hunt. Wynkoop then told Black Kettle to take his group out to camp along the banks of Sand Creek, adding that there they would officially be under the protection of the United States Army.

Sand Creek Map

This arrangement might have worked out all right except that Wynkoop was being replaced by Major Scott J. Anthony, who was of the same mind concerning the Indians as were the governor and Chivington.

In November of 1864, Colonel John Chivington and his troops went on the march. On the 29th, just as the sun was coming up, Chivington, with his column of seven to nine hundred men, attacked Black Kettles’ Sand Creek camp where some five hundred Indians lay sleeping.

As Chivington’s troops swept towards Black Kettle’s camp the chief, according to trader George Bent, held up an American flag where it waved atop a long pole and tried to keep his people calm. When White Antelope frantically ran toward the soldiers, waving his arms, the soldiers shot him down. The Cheyennes fled, seeking cover wherever they could as the cavalrymen cut them down. No prisoners were to be taken. Men, women, children, and infants were killed. The bodies of these people were scalped and mutilated.

Of the slaughtered people that were strewn over the valley of Sand Creek, about two-thirds were women and children.

When Black Kettle’s Sand Creek camp was attacked, and the absence of many of his warriors was realized, many whites believed they were raiding with the Sioux. This may have been partly true as several white scalps, some fresh, were found in Black Kettle’s camp. If not, it became so as the ragged remnant of Black Kettle’s band hurried northward to the Sioux with their horrible tales of murder and destruction.