Sand Creek Massacre and John Chivington's explosive actions 151 years after Glorieta Pass

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Civil War memorial.
The explosions outside the State Capitol yesterday startled people from downtown to Capitol Hill. But unlike so many other explosions today, these were planned. Artillery blasts marked the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Glorieta Pass, on March 26, 1862, when Colonel Major John Chivington led members of the First Colorado Infantry, fighting alongside New Mexico volunteers and garrisoned Union Soldiers, in battle against Texas Confederate forces in what would become northern New Mexico. But there have been many explosions over a more controversial Chivington action: the Sand Creek Massacre.

In 1909, the Colorado Pioneer Association unveiled a Civil War memorial outside the Capitol. The bronze figure of a Union Soldier facing south, gun in hand, was designed by Captain John D. Howland, a member of the First Colorado Cavalry. Four tablets were placed on the stone stand below the sculpture, listing both those from the new territory who had died in the war and the battles in the area. Glorieta Pass is listed there -- as is Sand Creek.

Two and a half years after his victory at Glorieta Pass, on November 29, 1864, Chivington led 700 troops in a raid on Sand Creek, a peaceful Indian camp north of Fort Lyon. Between 150 and 200 Arapaho and Cheyenne were killed. Although Congress held inquiries into the action and the U.S. government proclaimed Sand Creek a massacre in the 1865 Treaty of the Little Arkansas, it was still listed as a battle on the Civil War memorial forty years later.

But in the 1990s, when historians were hunting for the actual site of what was then widely acknowledged as the Sand Creek Massacre, a legislator pushed to have the Sand Creek listing wiped off the memorial, arguing that it was not a Civil War battle. Rather than erase the Sand Creek name, though, historians and members of the tribes pushed to have an explanation placed by the monument -- because Sand Creek was definitely part of Colorado history, if a very sorry chapter. And legislators agreed. When that marker was unveiled in 2002, former state senator Bob Martinez, who'd pushed the original legislation, said, "This is as close to an official apology for the massacre that occurred 138 years ago as is possible."

Here's the wording on the Colorado Historical Societymarker that's now by the Civil War memorial:

The controversy surrounding this Civil War Monument has become a symbol of Coloradans' struggle to understand and take responsibility for our past. On November 29, 1864, Colorado's First and Third Cavalry, commanded by Colonel John Chivington, attacked Chief Black Kettle's peaceful camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians on the banks of Sand Creek, about 180 miles southeast of here. In the surprise attack, soldiers killed more than 150 of the village's 500 inhabitants. Most of the victims were elderly men, women, and children.

Though some civilians and military personnel immediately denounced the attack as a massacre, others claimed the village was a legitimate target. This Civil War Monument, paid for by funds from the State and the Pioneers' Association, was erected on July 24, 1909, to honor all Colorado soldiers who had fought in battles of the Civil War in Colorado and elsewhere. By designating Sand Creek a battle, the monument's designers mischaracterized the actual events. Protests led by some Sand Creek descendants and others throughout the twentieth century have since led to the widespread recognition of the tragedy as the Sand Creek Massacre.

This plaque authorized by Senate Joint Resolution 99-017

The tribes applauded the Colorado Historical Society for installing the monument. But they are not as happy with History Colorado, the organization's successor; members of the Northern Cheyenne have demanded that Collision, the History Colorado exhibit on Sand Creek, be closed.

Continue for more about Colonel John Chivington's explosive actions.

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