Thursday, September 12, 2013
Denver Post editorial on Colorado History ignoring the Cheyennes and Arapahos and a letter from Stan Current
The editorial on the closing of the Sand Creek exhibit in the Denver Post ten days ago moves Colorado away from celebration of the massacre and its perpetrators. It acknowledges the words and sacrifice of Silas Soule who refused to participate and whose letters prompted the federal inquiry which condemns this so-called "battle" as "foul, dastardly and cruel" (it cites Patricia Calhoun's excellent columns in Westword on this as well). It fails, however, to recall that these indigenous people had done the most to make peace of any, that they had come to Denver at great risk, gone to Fort Lyon and been resettled with the seeming promise of peace. "If these indians were not friendly," the Joint Congressional Committee report said, "there were no friendly indians."
In fact, winter massacre, when the indians could not ride and were camped with supplies, was army policy since the Bear Creek murders, launched by General Patrick Connor in California in 1863 (h/t Richard Clemmer-Smith). Slaughtering women and children, in violation of the ethics and laws of war and decency - they were alleged to be "savages" - was deemed normal by American Governors and military officials. In fact, all of the participants in the Congressional debate were ethnic cleansers (Major Wynkoop and perhaps Silas Soule had seen through this). It was only the massacre of friendly Indians which brought down condemnation on John Evans, forced to resign as Governor, and Chivington.
The Hungate massacre, referred to in the editorial were a) the only murders near Denver so the Governor and other authorities could have looked for the specific perpetrators, b) was done, according to the Hungate gravestone at the Riverside cemetery by generic "Indians" (no accusation was lodged that members of the Cheyenne or Arapahoe tribes were in fact the indians allegedly responsible, c) the bodies of the family were buried and dug up twice and hauled to Denver to be exhibited and stir a racist craze among the "soldiers" who had signed up (the "hundred daystars," volunteers for a hundred days) to fight with Chivington and d) Nathan Hungate's body had 80 bullets in it (bullets were hard to come by for indigenous people, which meant that, this, as well as several aspects of the killings, were probably not done by indians...h/t Jeff Campbell).
Soule became a policeman in Denver and was popular here (he was ambushed by two Union "soldiers"). Had he been branded a "coward" (the opinion of Chivington and his supporters), he would not have been so well regarded. People respect those who stand up. There were apt currents of feeling, perhaps even in Denver, that Evans and Chivington had wrought a horror.
Right call (but late) on Sand Creek Massacre exhibit
By The Denver Post Editorial Board
For the accompanying photograph, see here.
The History Colorado Center closed its Sand Creek Massacre exhibit earlier this year while it consults with tribal families. (Brennan Linsley, The Associated Press)
History Colorado has made the right decision by closing, temporarily at least, its exhibit on the Sand Creek Massacre while officials consult with the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. We're just sorry it had to come to this.
The clear lesson from this episode is that museum officials should have reached out earlier to the tribes and given them fuller opportunities to voice their concerns.
And their concerns, outlined in reporting by Westword's Patricia Calhoun over the last several months, were many.
First, the very name of the exhibit, "Collision: The Sand Creek Massacre," was offensive to many tribal members, who believed the event was being portrayed as an inevitable clash of cultures rather than an indefensible massacre.
On Nov. 29, 1864, U.S. Army soldiers led by Col. John M. Chivington attacked a village along Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado. Soldiers savagely butchered more than 160 Cheyenne and Arapaho, the bulk of them women, children and the elderly.
The massacre was defended at the time as revenge for Indian attacks on white settlers, including the bloody murders and mutilations of a family near present-day Elizabeth.
Nevertheless, a congressional commission later labeled the Sand Creek attack as "foul, dastardly and cruel."
One of the most damning eyewitness accounts of the massacre came not from the survivors, but from Capt. Silas Soule, who wrote to Gen. Edward Wynkoop afterward.
"I tell you Ned it was hard to see little children on their knees have their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized," Soule wrote. "One squaw was wounded and a fellow took a hatchet to finish her, and he cut one arm off, and held the other with one hand and dashed the hatchet through her brain."
Soule, who refused to participate in the massacre, was branded a coward and murdered the following year.
Originally, only an excerpt of his letter was included in the exhibit. The full letter was added after complaints from tribal representatives.
But tribal members still say they wanted more time to discuss the exhibit, which was opened over their objections.
The museum now says it is committed to working with the tribes on how to appropriately depict one of the most tragic events in American history.
That's a good idea. However, the end product must reflect the best historical consensus of experts.
For the sake of history, and to respect those murdered and their descendants, we hope the museum gets it right this time."
Stan Current wrote a letter with his response to the History Colorado Exhibit ignoring descendants and my poem about Sand Creek below. He also underlines that there is, as of yet, no plan by the State of Colorado to acknowledge the 150th anniversary of the Massacre, the sine qua non for making a new start, one more respectful to the democracy of all our citizens and the truth:
"Thank you for your poem.
It helps us and the spirits of those who suffered there.
Pasted below is my response to History Colorado on inaccuracies of Sand Creek Exhibit.
And not talking with descendants.
The state still doesn't have any commemoration plans for 150th anniversary."
"Thursday, Aug 29, 2013 at 5:47 PM
Sand Creek Exhibit (DP 8-28-13)
To Denver Post
It's insulting that curators at History Colorado didn't talk with descendants of the Sand Creek Massacre and get the story right. It's how Native Americans have always been treated, from taking their land to putting them on reservations. Mountain man Jim Beckwourth said it was because of the way they were treated that it provoked them. But instead of dealing with those responsible, every man, woman and child was considered enemy which led to the massacre. The famous scout [also slaughterer of the Navajo] Kit Carson said of Chivington, "And he calls himself Christian?" Major Wynkoop was so disgusted he later resigned. The state still portrayed Sand Creek as a battle on the Civil War monument when it had nothing to do with that war. Captain Silas Soule is reported as a casualty of the Civil War after it had ended and was assassinated for reporting the massacre. When history is distorted or not learned from, it repeats itself as it has.
Stan continues (the program would not reproduce the photo):
"(pasted below is a picture you might recognize and why it's important we remember / Sand Creek was the worst)
I'm presently reading the book "Kill Anything That Moves: the story of the real American War in Viet Nam" by Nick Turse. He was on PBS a while ago with documentation from the military that shows every Vietnamese man, woman, child and baby was considered enemy by the upper brass. Yet they escaped war crimes tribunal. What they did at My Lai they did the whole time they were there, killing over 3 million civilians and wounding far more, like what they did to tribal people here. We saw it played out in Afghanistan and Iraq as well. The Ghost Dancers at Wounded Knee are right: those responsible will pay dearly."
Poem: Sand Creek
cast their bodies
long si len ce
after the slaughter
Cheyenne warriors sacked Julesburg