Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Post and the burning issue of Sand Creek

(photographs: Paula Bard)

Paula Bard's and my previous letter in the Post about Sand Creek and taking down the monument to Chivingon - see here - produced a comment from a Colorado historian, Flint Whitlock. Whitlock pointed out that what we called the monument to Chivington is (also) a Civil War Memorial, related some information on Colonel Chivington's role in fighting the Confederacy at the Battle of Gloretta (now called Glorietta) in New Mexico in 1862, and expressed concern about the reference to "the Sand Creek battle" which is prominently displayed on the monument. He rightly thinks that prideful reference to the slaughter of innocents should be deleted.


There is a recognition by many that the plaque of the Western side of the monument needs to be taken down. This would be an important step though it will require a movement.

And to change the denial about this aspect of the founding of the State of Colorado will take deeper insight and effort.


The Post published a qualification of our note in its online version below. We submitted an op-ed to deal with some of the broader issues around this monument based on additional research. It opens the issue of the whole area between the State Capitol and the City and County Building as a dead space, an open museum to genocide. See here. The plaque has been challenged before, notably by AIM and members of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes (h/t Glenn Morris, George Tinker). This is responsible for the additional plaque, fairly obscurely lettered, being placed at the foot of the monument naming the massacre in 2002.


At Boulder, as I was told by Tracey Peters who was a student there at the time, there was a struggle to rename Nichols Hall. Nichols participated in the Sand Creek massacre. After a long fight, the Hall is now decently named Cheyenne Arapahoe. See the story below the op-ed.

With serious effort, a movement from below can change these things.


In studying the Ralph Giddens Carey file on Sand Creek in the University of Denver archives, I have found that the first and third cavalry were in fact recruited as "Hundred Daysters" in Denver. The other troops had been sent to fight in the Civil War. Evans had to raise local militias for a brief period. The soldiers included many of the leaders of Colorado as well as ordinary citizens. They were hyped on racism. The Rocky Mountain News incited "exterminating the Red Man" or "red fiend" as Chivington spoke of Native Americans in a letter in the file.


The mutilations of bodies included cutting off women's genitals, putting them on saddles and parading them in Denver. They included slaughtering infants.

Colorado wanted to create examples...


The Governor and Chivington deliberately blurred "hostile Indians" and indigenous people who sought peace with the aggressive and murderous U.S. government even though they knew (Evans met with Black Kettle who requested peace; Evans insisted on continuing war) that the military had asked the people to go to Sand Creek on an "official" promise of peace.


Chivington did not act alone.

The crime of Sand Creek is Colorado's and Denver's crime.


Evans and other leaders were frightened that the Civil War would end and forces be permanently diverted from the driving out of the indigenous occupants of Colorado. He and Chivington and the Rocky Mountain News sought to set an example.


There were some 10 million or more (there is no count) indigenous people when the settlers arrived in America. There are today less than a million.


"Settlers" wanted the land and to mine. The indigenous people lived on the land where they hunted. Colorado drove them out.

Sand Creek is a symbol of what Colorado and the United States represented, not an aberration.


The horror was so great, however, that the Federal Government under Lincoln which tried to restrain slaughter - see here on Minnesota and Founding Amnesias - removed Evans as Governor for Sand Creek.


The federal commissions which looked into Sand Creek fiercely condemned Chivington, but he had left the army and so, infamous, was allowed to walk...


The monuments surrounding the State Capitol and extending toward the City and County Building come from a racist zeal, in 1909, to reassert "Colorado" against the truth of these judgments, to celebrate the ethnic cleansing in which the state was born.


But Founding Amnesias - see here - and Founding Myths - see here and here - need not continue.


We as a state and as a country need to look at this with fresh eyes. The continuing murders against nonwhite people (drones into Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, countries with which the US "is not at war" and in which the government slaughters civilians), the largest police state in the world (America holds 2.3 million people in prison, 25% of the world's prisoners - and an additional 5.1 million on probation) and the gun culture whose madness extends in Newtown to bullets in children with, so far, a very limited response - all have something to do with the current denial about slavery, somewhat abating, and, more deeply, genocide against indigenous people.


Racism involves demonization of the supposed other. Slavery and seizing the land both required racism, in Denver, stirred to fever pitch.

No genuine democracy can occur here without recognition of, truth and reconciliation about these wounds.


Here is what I wrote to the Post which after considerable deliberation decided not to print it:

"I hope you will publish an op-ed on the Memorial to the anonymous Civil War soldier. Below is your editorial note to our previous letter. The note furthers the confusion which the op-ed piece below – 798 words - means to clear up. As you will see, the op-ed is based on new research in the 1864 archive of the Rocky Mountain News at the Denver Public Library along with documents in the Library’s research collection. These are evidence and issues that deserve to part of a discussion about what this very important Memorial represents. I forward separately three photographs of the Statue and the Western plaque which you may want to use to accompany the article.


“Editor’s note: The statue that is the subject of this letter is actually of an anonymous Civil War soldier, not Col. John Chivington. It commemorates Colorado military organizations of the Civil War, a series of “battles and engagements” from 1862-64 (including Sand Creek), and notes several milestones in state history.”


Draft op-ed:

Civil War Memorial in front of the State Capitol

Thanks to the Denver Post for correcting our misimpression of the Statue in front of the State Capitol. But the issue with the 1909 plaque beneath the Statue facing west remains the same. The three other plaques on the Statue claim to list Colorado veterans who died in the Civil War fighting secession and slavery. But the western plaque lists 21 “Battles and Engagements” including “the Sand Creek battle.” This is, in fact, the November 29, 1864 massacre of over a hundred women, children and elderly men at Sand Creek.

This plaque lists John M. Chivington prominently as commander of the First Colorado infantry and cavalry. Because of protest, a comparatively indecipherable plaque, placed beneath the statue face up on the rim of the pedestal in 2002, names the massacre.

In fact, the 1909 State Capitol Monument masks the so-called Indian War of 1864 as part of the Civil War. 5 of the 21 battles listed – nearly 25% - were against indigenous people. The only four “battles” in Colorado – Fremont’s Orchard, Smoky Hill, Cedar Canyon and Sand Creek – were all started by American officers against Native Americans.

The Monument names 10 of the 12 soldiers killed at Sand Creek, some by “friendly fire” - Henry C Foster, Patrick McDermott, Robert McFarland , John Parker, John R. Duncan, George Pierce, Jesse Berkheimer, Frances Medino, Oliver Pierson and Joseph Aldrich - as if they were Civil War casualties (Rocky Mountain News, December 8 and 12, 1864). The western plaque also lists George A. Shoup, commander of the third cavalry, who, in the December 12, 1864 RMN, along with Chivington, bragged of the “great victory” at Sand Creek.

Governor John Evans called on volunteers to fight “the merciless savages” (August 10, 1864, RMN) and stonewalled indigenous people who came in peace (they were directed to camp at Sand Creek by military officials). In editorials, Ralph Byers, publisher of the Rocky Mountain News, defended the slaughter and mutilation of women and children, and mocked federal investigators. The soldiers of Sand Creek brought body parts back and exhibited them in Denver. Byers’ editorial “The Battle of Sand Creek” asserts:

“Among the brilliant feats of arms in Indian warfare, the recent campaign of our Colorado volunteers will stand in history with few rivals, and none to exceed it in final results.”

The News called for extermination of the “red devils.” (December 12, RMN)

Chivington declared that "the Cheyennes will have to be roundly whipped -- or completely wiped out -- before they will be quiet. ” (August, 1864) At Sand Creek, he added: “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! ... I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God's heaven to kill Indians.”

The Sand Creek Massacre has nothing to do with the Civil War, the purported subject of the Statue. Nor do the other Colorado “battles.” Several federal investigative commissions of the time denounced what was named the “Sand Creek or Chivington Massacre." On July 18, 1865, Secretary of State William Seward asked Governor Evans to resign because of the massacre.

This Monument is, to this day, an illegitimate effort to dress up recognized crimes against indigenous people as part of the Civil War.

Would we have a monument in Washington to the My Lai massacre and Lieutenant Calley, even if Calley were otherwise a soldier?

At the rear of the Capitol, there is a plaque remembering the horror of the Japanese-American internment camps during World War II. It invokes the noble words of Governor Ralph Carr, who, alone among Western politicians, opposed this wanton violation of human rights. The plaque reflects the honor of people in Colorado and attempts to heal.

Sand Creek was, in murderousness, worse. Do our fellow citizens of Native American descent not deserve similar recognition? Don't we all deserve healing?

It is time to decouple the atrocities of the War against indigenous people from the Civil War to end slavery.

And this does not yet touch the deep issue. The Colorado territory was, in fact, Native American land. Here as elsewhere, the United States government sent settlers to seize and farm or mine gold and dispossess, starve and murder - commit ethnic cleansing against - indigenous people. It broke contract after contract.

In 1865, the US government rightly obligated itself to pay reparations for the massacre. It has yet to do so.

We can have monuments to local “history” which celebrate extermination. Or, we can acknowledge all of our citizens and make, as a democracy, a new start.

It is time to look with fresh eyes at the strange, dishonest blurring of history in our State Capitol’s Civil War Memorial. Taking down the plaque to Chivington, Shoup, Evans and the Sand Creek “battle” would be a beginning.

Alan Gilbert and Paula Bard

Alan Gilbert is the author of Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War of Independence (University of Chicago Press, 2012) which was recently named a Non-Fiction Book of the Year by London’s 3:AM magazine. He is a John Evans Professor at the University of Denver – a university-wide appointment for career distinction in research.

Paula Bard is an artist.


The CU Boulder Faculty-Staff e-newsletter
February 10, 2009


Cheyenne Arapaho Residence Hall renaming marks 20 years
by Melanie O. Massengale

Former CU-Boulder alum and staff member Charles Cambridge holds an original Nichols Hall sign outside of Cheyenne Arapaho Residence Hall. (Photo by Glenn J. Asakawa/University of Colorado)

April 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of the renaming of the residence hall now known as Cheyenne Arapaho. In 1989, CU alum Charles Cambridge, then director of CU-Boulder’s Oyate Native American student organization, was involved in the movement to change the residence hall name. He is a member of the Navaho tribe, and holds a doctorate in anthropology from CU-Boulder. Cambridge kept one of four Nichols Hall signs removed from the building in 1989. “It’s one of my proudest possessions,” he said.

Originally known as Fleming Hall, it was renamed Nichols Hall in 1961 when the CU Board of Regents determined that the public was confusing the residence hall with the Fleming Law building. The building name was chosen to honor David H. Nichols, Boulder resident and Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Colorado Territorial Legislature during the late 1800s. Nichols was instrumental in securing the university for Boulder and in one account completed a “midnight ride” to Denver to guarantee $15,000 in local funds needed to close the deal. Unknown to the Regents was Nichols’ participation in what is now known as the Sand Creek Massacre that took place in an Indian encampment near La Junta, Colorado on Nov. 29, 1864. Captain David Nichols of Company D of the Third Colorado Cavalry, engaged with other militia in an unprovoked attack upon the encampment of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, many of them unarmed elders, women and children.

According to Cambridge, the effort to effect the name change began in 1969 when he was still a CU student, and had met another student who researched the confrontation at Sand Creek. “I was at the UMC having a burger, when I overheard a group of students—SCAR, the Student Crusade for Indian Rights—at the next table,” he said. “Their rallying point was Nichols Hall.” The renaming campaign moved in fits and starts through nearly two decades as students graduated and leadership changed, until the effort became consistent in the late 1980s. “Pedro Romero and Steve Platero were highly energized student leaders who in the late 1980s started Friday vigils at the dorm,” said Cambridge. “The student government supported us.” Consequently, in 1987 Chancellor Jim Corbridge commissioned Professor Patricia Limerick to research and report on David Nichols’ involvement in the Sand Creek massacre.

Limerick, history professor and faculty director and chair of the board of The Center of the American West, produced a document that proved crucial to the renaming decision: (PDF) “What’s in a Name? Nichols Hall: A Report.” Limerick’s research revealed that “David Nichols had certainly participated in the attack at Sand Creek” and by one contemporary account, had with his company “kill(ed)…twenty-five or thirty” fleeing or surrendering Indians. Captain Nichols and his men were also responsible for the killings of several Native Americans in an earlier assault at Buffalo Springs, near Buena Vista and Fairplay, Colorado on Oct. 10, 1864, documented in Nichols’ own correspondence. Finally, there was no evidence to support the “midnight ride” story.

Limerick recalls controversy over her report and her recommendation for changing the name, but the deciding factor came down to what was right for the university community as a whole. “The name was an affront to Indian students on campus,” said Limerick. Cambridge considers the change a good start, as Indian faculty, staff and students continue to work on issues affecting the provision of education to Native Americans.

One legacy is the documented record of the name change, which has been cited in at least one other request for a university building name to be changed due to offensive activities of the namesake. In a 1998 report to the Hawaii Regents, Professor David E. Stannard of the University of Hawaii-Manoa cited the Nichols Hall renaming as precedent in the case for removing from a campus building the name of a professor who had been associated with the eugenics movement. In April 1998, the Hawaii Board of Regents voted 10-0 to change the name.


JolietTom said...

Alan, your work is emerging into the daylight of media discussion. This article was on the cover of the Chicago Tribune, Feb 2, 2013:,0,7467676.story
I hope you are called into participating in Northwestern's investigation of its founder.

Alan Gilbert said...

Very cool, Tom...

dvasicek said...

Mr. Gilbert,

My name is Don Vasicek. I wrote, directed and produced "The Sand Creek Massacre" documentary film. It won several film festival best film awards, including the Videographers Award of Excellence, the Golden Drover Award, and was cataloged into the Smithsonian Institute Libraries. It has been screened and aired in all of the major cities in the United States in addition to schools, colleges, and universities throughout the United States and globally. Films Media Group is distributing it.

I enjoy reading your blog. It has been suggested to me by the Sand Creek Massacre Descendants Trust to contact the Northwestern University students who are investigating John Evans' involvement in the Sand Creek Massacre. I was wondering if you could make some suggestions about how I can get in touch with them. I want to look into making a documentary film that involves them and the John Evans Sand Creek story.

For your information, I am presently working with others to see what can be done to bring down the Chivington statue at the Colorado State Capitol Building. I am also working with the Boulder History Museum regarding Centennial Middle School students who are making Sand Creek Massacre documentaries for a class project. We need to continue to do things like this in order to inform, to educate and to create awareness for America's indigenous people.

Any suggestions you can make will be deeply appreciated.

Thank you very much.

Keep up your good work!

Best Regards,

Donald L. Vasicek
Olympus Films+, LLC
The Zen of Writing

Alan Gilbert said...

Dear Donald,

I would love to see the film. In terms of contacting the people at Norhtwester, Gary Fine is an Evans professor there who has been very active supporting the indigenous students. We just had a meeting today of several faculty who are going to investigate Evans and Sand Creek for the University senate, and knew something about reaching them. Write me back and I'll find out for you. And I am with you on bringing down that plaque and doing something about the monuments to genocide around the State Capitol.

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