Iron Man 3 compares villain's work to Sand Creek Massacre

Ben Kingsley.
Historian Ari Kelman was watching Iron Man 3 this past weekend with his son when he was startled by a familiar reference, one that seemed very out of context in a Hollywood blockbuster. Mandarin, the apparent arch-villain played by Ben Kingsley, was comparing his own act of terrorism in attacking a church filled with the families of American military personnel to the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre. That sad chapter of Colorado history isn't well-known outside of this state, certainly not as well-known as it should be. But all that could change next year.

Why? The year 2014 marks the 150th anniversary of the tragedy, when Kelman hopes the country will finally come to grips with the legacy of the Sand Creek Massacre. In his opinion, Iron Man 3 is just the start.

The author of A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek, Kelman knows how Americans have struggled to understand the massacre and its meaning; he's devoted an entire book to the very long process that led to the opening of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in 2007.

"For almost a century and a half, different groups of people have used memories of Sand Creek to advance their political agendas," he notes. "The makers of Iron Man 3 tapped into this rich historical vein, repurposing the massacre yet again, this time as an emblem of the hazards of American imperialism. A terrorist in the film seizes on the slaughter at Sand Creek as justification for his crimes, which he views as fair recompense for the murder of more than 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho people on November 29, 1864. It's a chilling scene and a grim reminder that the struggle over the meaning of the Sand Creek Massacre still haunts this nation."

An illustration of the Sand Creek Massacre by a witness.
Kelman, today an associate professor of history at the University of California, Davis, became very familiar with the Sand Creek Massacre while he was at the University of Denver. And today the University of Denver, too, is still grappling with the legacy of Sand Creek: The school was founded in 1864 by territorial governor John Evans and Major John Chivington, a Methodist minister who was appointed by the federal government to command the troops that he led on the raid at Sand Creek -- a raid that the federal government investigated, then labeled a massacre in 1865, shortly before Evans was asked to resign from his post as territorial governor. DU has now established a commission to investigate Evans's role in connection with Sand Creek.

And that's not the only reconsideration of Sand Creek now under way. When the History Colorado Center opened a year ago, its core exhibits included Collision: The Sand Creek Massacre 1860s-Today -- an exhibit that the Northern Cheyenne and other descendants of those killed at Sand Creek had asked History Colorado not to open until major changes were made, and then, when the exhibit opened anyway, asked History Colorado to close.

Continue for more on Iron Man 3, the Sand Creek Massacre and History Colorado.

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"the country finally comes to grips with ..."SCM. Really? The 1860 census counted only 28 million inhabitants of the US, and the population merely doubled between 1864 and 1900. Why should the 99% of today's 300 million-plus population, who are no doubt descended from people who migrated to the US POST-Civil War, need to "come to grips" with a tragedy that was allegedly perpetrated by renegade Horse Soldiers? Not I, as I feel safe in assuming that none of my forefathers, nor those of my friends and acquaintances, were nowhere near the US in 1864. It was, to most of us, another country entirely from the ones our forefathers inhabited.

I am also concerned about the objectivity of the display, which now must meet the approval of an obviously biased Indian tribe. With all due respect to them, if their forefathers were victims of the Massacre, they wouldn't be here today.


"99% of today's 300 million-plus population, who are no doubt descended from people who migrated to the US POST-Civil War." Can you actually provide definite scholarly research that will back up this claim?

"A tragedy allegedly perpetrated by renegade Horse Soldiers." What do you mean by "allegedly"? And by "Horse Soldiers" are you referring to a government-sponsored militia led by a United States colonel?

"If their forefathers were victims of the Massacre, they wouldn't be here today." My great-great grandmother survived this atrocity and fortunately I'm here today because of her courage and perseverance.


Want to help create a better relationship with America's indigenous people?  See below for the answer:

Southern Cheyenne Chief Laird (Whistling Eagle) Cometsevah told me while on location in Clinton, Oklahoma filming my award-winning film, "The Sand Creek Massacre", that there were over 400 Cheyenne people murdered during the Sand Creek Massacre.  When articles and books are written, when films are made, all regarding the Sand Creek Massacre, it is vital to interview the Cheyenne and Arapaho people.  Doing anything less is showing disrespect to them.  Depending upon the "white mans" research and writing and filming to write and make films about the Sand Creek Massacre, always leads one to half-truths.  To get the full story, always include the Cheyenne people in your story, otherwise it's like a slap in the face to them, and they always feel the sting on that.

Donald L. Vasicek

Olympus Films+, LLC

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