Responding to the Sand Creek Massacre

Soldiers attacking Indians

By Marilyn Bay Wentz

Two days after Thanksgiving— Nov.  29, 2014—marks the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre when Colonel John Chivington led an assault on an encampment of peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians in southeastern Colorado (then Colorado Territory), near present day Eads. Initially touted by Colonel Chivington as a military victory, the massacre took the lives of a minimum of 130 Indians, at least 100 of them women and children.

Native Americans had lived in relative harmony with white settlers for several decades until 1859 when gold was discovered near present-day Denver, bringing west thousands of white settlers. With herds of buffalo and other game declining and Native hunting grounds turned into crop and ranch land, Native Americans were struggling to feed their families.  Within just six years, they had agreed to confine their movements and hunting only to have the Treaty of Ft. Laramie yanked away and replaced with the even more restrictive Ft. Lyon Treaty.

By the early 1860s, travel beyond the confines of the city of Denver was perilous. Small groups of Native Americans living on the Eastern Plains stole horses, livestock and provisions and killed or captured settlers. In response, settlers took on the mantra “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

This hysteria enabled Colonel Chivington to be able to raise a regiment of 100-day volunteers to hunt Indians. When the 100 days were nearing expiration, he marched them to Ft. Lyon. Here he enlisted additional troops. When the Ft. Lyon commanders learned that Chivington planned to attach the Indians at Sand Creek, they told him these were not the Indians that had pillaged and killed settlers. In fact, these Indians, led by Black Kettle and other chiefs seeking peace, had moved to Sand Creek several weeks prior at the invitation of Governor John Evans, who instructed “friendly Indians” to gather in this area.

The Sand Creek Massacre was a devastating and shameful act in our nation’s history. It must be acknowledged and not forgotten. However, it is important to note that it was not an isolated event. As I researched the attitudes, personalities and events for the two years leading up to the Sand Creek Massacre in preparation to write Prairie Grace, I found that there were atrocities perpetrated by whites and Native Americans, as well as honorable people among both groups.

So, how should we respond to Sand Creek?

Fear of the unknown, racism and selfishness enabled Chivington and the soldiers with him to mercilessly massacre women, children and the elderly at Sand Creek. Fear and hatred drove groups of Indians, such as the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, to kill and pillage. While societal norms discourage these public attitudes today, each of us would be wise to examine our own hearts for hatred, racism, other prejudices and selfishness. From the smallest seeds of such evil spring devastation.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order earlier this year establishing a Sand Creek Commemoration Commission. For more about the commission and events planned around the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre, visit


Marilyn Bay Wentz grew up on a farm near Eaton, Colo., not far from where her great-great grandparents homesteaded. She has written hundreds of news releases and articles for agricultural organizations and other clients. She and her family now live on the eastern plains, near Strasburg, Colo. She is the author of Prairie Grace, historical fiction depicting the events leading up to the Sand Creek Massacre from two very different points-of-view. To connect with Marilyn or subscribe to her blog, log on to



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