This is a SERIES on the WILD, WILD WEST. It will give historical facts, but also highlight the personal stories of those who lived during this time of growth and transition in our country. You will meet heros of the west as well as those who did evil in the name of good. I begin with the story of Col.John Chivington of Colorado and his decisions that changed the Cheyenne tribe of Native Americans forever.
Black Kettle was a friend of the Cheyenne leader named Lean Bear. During the time of the Civil War, Lean Bear made a trip with a delegation to speak to President Abraham Lincoln. He expressed to Lincoln that he wished to live in peace for ” the balance of his life.” He deplored violence and was determined to tell the tribes to not take part in the war. As reported by the Washington Evening Star, Lincoln told Lean Bear that even though we Americans were at war with one another, we were not as likely to be as violent as the “red brethren.” After their discussion, Lincoln presented Lean Bear with a medal which he wore proudly. He considered the medal a token of friendship from the “White Father at Washington“.
Little did he know that another man, who was supposed to be a man of peace would become the Cheyenne nation’s greatest enemy. This man was Col. John Chivington, a former United Methodist Christian preacher.
Col. Chivington’s background should be looked at here. He grew up in Ohio and at the age of twenty-three was ordained a minister. He established congregations, supervised the building of churches and established some missionary expeditions to the Wyandot Indians in Kansas. Regardless, there was no peace in paradise. The churches of this area of Ohio were not happy with Chivington’s preaching on anti-slavery. In fact, on one occasion while he was preaching, a pro-slavery group came to the church planning to tar and feather him. He received a new name that day as he went into the pulpit with the Bible in one hand and two pistols. He shouted to the congregation and those against him, “By the grace of God and these two revolvers, I am going to preach here today. The new name was the “Fighting Parson“. One would think that with this background he would be the last to be intolerant of a minority group.
Governor William Gilpin of Colorado tried to commission Chivington as a chaplain, but he did not take to the praying with the troops. His political ambitions stood in the way. He wanted to lead. Therefore, he accepted a fighting position instead. He was considered a hero for his part in defeating the Confederates at Glorietta Pass in New Mexico. Taking advantage of this success and the tensions between the whites and Indians, he voiced his opinions. “The Cheyennes will have to be roundly whipped ..or completely wiped out..before they will be quiet. I say that if any of them are caught in your vicinity, the only thing to do is to kill them. ” This type of speech was also passed on to the church deacons and no treaty was to be made with the tribal nations. The Massacre at Sand Creek took place in 1864. Col Chivington knew the Indians to be peaceful but did nothing to stop the attack. Some scholars said he lost control of his men. This may have been because he had prepared them for hate and violence by his commanding speeches.
At one point in the battle, the witnesses saw men, women and children gathered under a huge American flag. Abraham Lincoln had told Black Kettle and Lean Bear that as long as the American flag was above them, no one would be harmed. Col. Chivington and 700 cavalry men rode in into their camp this day without warning. According to one witness, White Antelope, then age 75 and speaking in perfect English, ran out to meet the solders; holding up his hands, and shouting “Stop, stop!” A child was carrying a white flag. None of this stopped the massacre. Part of it was also revenge for the murders of a white family by fringe Indians.
The people of Colorado widely praised the battle of Sand Creek and attended a heroes welcome for the soldiers. Chivington ordered the arrest of six of his men, who had refused to participate at Sand Creek. The U.S. Secretary of War ordered an investigation. Chivington’s best friend , Captain Silas Soule, was one of these men and spoke openly of what others had witnessed. Before he could testify, he was shot in the back on a Denver street. An Army judge publicly announced, after investigations were finished , that Sand Creek had been a “cowardly and cold-blooded slaughter….sufficient to cover every American with shame…”
What happened to John Chivington?
He resigned from the Army before he was brought up for court-martial and could not be punished. No other charges were filed. He tried to run for political office, but withdrew because of the scandal. He moved to Nebraska; tried his hand at various business ventures, but failed. As far as anyone knows, he never repented of his deeds. Working as a deputy sheriff, he died of cancer in 1892.
FOOTNOTES: Each year the descendents of the Cheyenne Nation have a run for healing and peace of their land to honor those who died in the massacre.
In 1996, The United Methodist Church , at the National Convention in Denver, formally apologized to the Arapaho and Cheyenne native Americans for the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864.
Turn on your sound to view the video below on The Sand Creek Massacre