The Sand Creek Massacre was a terrible travesty that took place on Native reservation land in Colorado, southeast of Denver, at Sand Creek. It all started when a white family near there was killed, and the blame was placed on violent Native Americans. The governor of this area, John Evans, made an order to the citizens to attack and murder all unfriendly Native Americans, and suggested that peaceable Natives should try to find safe havens, such as United States forts. He also formed a cadre of soldiers, designated to attacking unfriendly Natives, which was led by John Chivington.
Black Kettle, the chief of the Cheyenne, a peaceable tribe who lived by Sand Creek, followed Evans´ suggestions. He spoke to other friendly tribes in the area and white men in power, one of which was the leader of a fort. The fort commander told Black Kettle to stay where he was, in the Sand Creek reservation land, until further orders came through. So Black Kettle stayed, believing he and his tribe would be safe under the United State´s protection (which it should have been).Meanwhile, Evans was growing impatient. For months, his new order to attack unfriendly Natives had received no response. Chivington was presumably also tired of the lack of action, as he was very eager to receive military appraisal, hoping it would land him a seat in Congress.
Soon before the enlistment of his soldiers ended, Chivington and his approximately 700 soldiers rode to Sand Creek, and the next day, they attacked the village. When Black Kettle saw them approaching, he raised the American flag as a signal of alliance and peace. Other citizens waved white to show they meant no harm. But the soldiers response was not one of peaceful cooperation. Rather, the soldiers responded by openly firing upon the village with cannons and rifles.
The Native Americans tried to approach the hostile cavalry, pleading on their knees for the soldiers to be merciful, but the soldiers simply shot them on the spot. Some of the Native men tried to defend themselves and their tribe as best they could, with some bows and a few guns, but their attempts were soon ended as they were overpowered by the oncoming soldiers. Many Natives who tried to flee were shot as they ran over the plains, and many tried to hide in the mud by the creek bed. Prior to leaving, the soldiers set fire to the village and cut off body parts of dead Native Americans. They brought these and the scalps of chiefs as gruesome trophies of their battle.
Chivington wrote to his senior officer later that same day, and described a well fought battle and heroic victory over many heavily armed opponents. In reality, Chivington’s soldiers had been extremely disorganized, and the approximate dozen of his men that were killed were most likely shot by their fellows. He also greatly over exaggerated the situation, saying that his forces had contained 900 to 1,000 men, when he only had about 700, and that they had slaughtered about 400 or 500 Natives, when it had really been about 200. Chivington and his men were celebrated when they returned to Denver and showed the public their awful trophies, but there were also people who had witnessed this terrible massacre and believed it to be entirely wrong and unworthy of commendation. One of them was captain Silas Soule. He had been on the scene during the massacre, and wrote to a major, explaining what had really happened. He told of a terrible slaughtering of hundreds of innocent civilians, the great majority of them women, children, and elderly people.
When the capitol got wind of this, they began to look more closely at the massacre. They called upon Chivington, who claimed that he couldn’t recognize which Natives were friendly and which were violent, and that he only attacked those who were fighters. Congress ruled against him, however, saying that what he had done was a terrible offense and crime against Natives who “had every reason to believe that they were under protection.” This ruling ruined Chivington’s future. But he wasn’t the only one. Very quickly after Soule revealed to Washington what had really happened, he was shot and killed on a street in Denver.
Despite the terrible loss of almost an entire tribe of peaceful Native Americans, there were more things that made the Sand Creek Massacre very destructive towards the future of life on the western plains. One of these was the fact that the Sand Creek Massacre made other Native Americans think that there was no way they could ever make peace with white settlers. This led to many more raids and battles between settlers and Natives, which led to more raids and battles, creating a terrible cycle of blood and destruction. This was the exact opposite of what Chivington and Evans had hoped to achieve in the first place. They had wished to vanquish the Natives so that they could more easily settle the West, but in starting the Sand Creek Massacre, they brought the Natives together, united under a common hatred of white settlers, which made them significantly more challenging to defeat.
In conclusion, the Sand Creek Massacre was a horrific event that played a key role in destroying what little trust existed between the Native Americans and settlers. Without the trust, it became exceedingly difficult for either side to respect and be peaceful towards the other.
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