Saturday, September 13, 2014

Greg Hobbs on Sand Creek Voices

Greg Hobbs, whom I met on the Governor's Commission about Sand Creek, sent around to Commission members and others "Sand Creek Voices." It relies on the words of two poets, Linda Hogan and Joseph Hutchison, about Left Hand and Silas Soule. It elicits, in brief compass, the enduring trauma of Colorado's founding Massacre. On this 150th anniversary, there will be a spiritual healing run of the descendants of the Cheyennes and Arapahos; we at the University of Denver, the Methodist Church, the Governor's commission on Sand Creek, and many others are working towards this and towards making new beginnings, small shoots of possible healing and democracy. For all in Colorado, please join us. You can find regularly updated information by googling


"Sand Creek Voices
Justice Greg Hobbs, Colorado Supreme Court

“Left Hand returns to speak,
wind in the blood of those
who will listen.”
Linda Hogan, Chickasaw Poet
(“Left Hand Canyon” in Red Clay, Poems & Stories)

“Two months it’s been
since Soule testified—told the horrors
he’d seen at Sand Creek to the panel
convened by Colonel Moonlight.
A massacre, Soule called it . . .”
Joseph Hutchison, Colorado” Poet Laureate
(“A Marked Man” in Marked Men)

It’s rough stuff. On November 29, 1864, Colorado volunteer cavalrymen massacred approximately two-hundred women, men, and children of the Arapaho and Cheyenne Tribes at Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado.
Through poets Hogan and Hutchison, whose poems are based upon historical fact, you can still hear the voices of these people. Left Hand was an Arapaho peace chief. Silas Soule was a U.S. Army Captain. Both were at Sand Creek that day. The Arapaho and Cheyenne were peacefully assembled on land set aside for them under the 1861 Fort Wise Treaty. Colorado and United States officials sent them there, promising protection. They were flying the United States flag and a white flag of peace.

Colonel John Chivington of Colorado’s one-hundred day volunteer unit, serving in the Army, orchestrated the unprovoked attack. It was a slaughter, not a battle. Left Hand suffered a mortal wound. Captain Soule directed his men not to fire. Soon after the massacre, he testified against Chivington at a United States investigatory commission.

Because of his witness against atrocity, Soule was assassinated in the streets of Denver. We hear his voice of equality and justice towards the encamped Arapaho and Cheyenne in Hutchison’s poem. Soule wanted:

“safety for their people, freedom enough
to hunt, freedom to sleep without fear,
all for settling down a while, some miles
from Fort Lyon, on Sand Creek.”

A candidate for Congress, a Methodist minister who preached no-mercy for Indians, Chivington through Hutchison proclaims, at one of Colorado Governor John Evans’s dinner parties:

“’I long to wade in gore’
followed with a discourse on the need
to wipe the Redskin from the earth ‘Root
and branch,” he argued. ‘Men, women, babes
in arms—root and branch, I say.’”

Such bigotry wreaks havoc down through the future generations. Hogan speaks in the voice of Left Hand:

“You can’t take a man’s words.
They are his even as the land
is taken away
where another man
builds his house . . .
his words come back,
the old griefs
carried on the wind.”

This year marks the 150th Anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre. Arapaho and Cheyenne descendants are calling for acknowledgment of the Sand Creek wrongs, healing among peoples, and reconciliation between nations. The Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site managed by the National Park Service near Eads, Colorado is open to the public.

In its 2014 session, the Colorado General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution of acknowledgment and atonement, stating:

“That we, the members of the General Assembly, acknowledge the
devastation caused by the Sand Creek Massacre and seek to raise public awareness about the tragic event, the Cheyenne and Arapaho people, and events surrounding it.”

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has appointed a Sand Creek Massacre Commemoration Commission that includes members of the Arapaho and Cheyenne Tribes. Its website contains information about events and educational resources available to everyone.

We can go forward together. “Listen,” says Linda Hogan, “There is secret joy, sweet dreams you may never forget.” (“Rapture” in Dark, Sweet, New & Selected Poems).

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site. Photo by Greg Hobbs,
Member, Sand Creek Massacre Commemoration Commission

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