Prairie Ponderings-Nineteenth Century Bullying Brings Devastating Consequences

Prairie Ponderings-A Blog from Marilyn Bay Wentz, author of fiction that entertains, educates & inspires

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Nineteenth Century Bullying Brings Devastating Consequences

Nov. 29, 2014 will mark the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre, when Col. John Chivington ordered troops to kill and mutilate a peaceful village of Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians, most of them women, children and the elderly. The massacre took place in southeastern Colorado—then Colorado Territory—at a site that only recently was designated a national commemorative monument. Reports vary on the number killed, anywhere from 100 to 400 people. (There was not a Census that included Native Americans at that time.)

If ever there was a spin master, it was Chivington. He reported the massacre as a military victory against hostile Indians. His men were encouraged to display their trophies of war–body parts and belongings from the massacred–in the streets of Denver several days after the massacre. Even more heinous, the colonel was a “Christian” minister and strong opponent of slavery.

There were the massacre defectors. Captain Silas Soule and Lieutenant Joseph Cramer refused to lead their companies (D and K) in the attack of the peaceful village. Soule testified against Chivington in a military inquiry and was assassinated several months later by an assailant who was never brought to justice.

The Sand Creek Massacre represents an incredibly shameful event in our nation’s history. Unfortunately, it does not stand alone. Vandalism, murder of innocents, and other shameful acts were perpetrated by both the U.S. military and Native Americans. Before and following the Sand Creek Massacre, the fear of someone different and inappropriate actions/reactions resulted in bloodshed and distrust from both sides.

It occurs to me that the bullying running rampant in today’s public schools is often motivated by the same things as the Sand Creek Massacre.

It is not my intention to diminish the severity of the Sand Creek Massacre or minimize the ongoing scars created by comparing it with modern-day bullying. But, there are parallels. The underlining cause of both the Sand Creek Massacre and bullying are the perpetrator’s insecurity and fear. It was fear of people different from themselves and insecurity to live in a world not controlled by whites that drove Chivington and his men to commit their dastardly deeds.

Today’s mores and laws limit the destruction bullies can wreck, but they don’t eliminate it. Rules and teachers monitoring hallways cut down on bullying, especially violent bullying, but subtle bullying slides under the radar in many cases.

Several years ago when we were on a very tight budget, I began sending lunches to school with my daughter. Much later, she told me that if she didn’t take a standard sandwich or pre-made meal, her peers made fun of her food, and she dumped it in the trash without taking a bite. That is bullying, though not something that rules and monitoring can prevent. Until the schoolyard or neighborhood bully has a change of heart, so that he or she can accept differences and empathize with others’ feelings, the only control we have against bullying is external rules.

Rules must be made and enforced, but without a moral compass, good and evil will be relative. More people with a clear understanding of right and wrong and the ability to stand up for right would have stopped the Sand Creek Massacre, and the same will stop bullying today.

Marilyn Bay Wentz is the author of Prairie Grace, historical fiction set in 1864 Colorado Territory. The story of the events and attitudes leading up to the Sand Creek Massacre is told through the eyes of Georgia, a settler woman and Cheyenne brave Gray Wolf. Prairie Grace will be available in bookstores and online Dec. 1, 2013. Marilyn grew up on a northern Colorado farm, near the land homesteaded by her great-great grandparents. She and her family now live on the rural eastern Colorado plains. For more information: www.MarilynBayWentz.com

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