Who is the Savage?
peace chief assumed the role of a father to all members of the tribe.
He was selected because of his goodness, his generosity, his bravery,
his courage, his concern for the well-being of others. He never acquired
wealth for himself. He acquired wealth to give to to those less fortunate.
So that you got a father, a spiritual leader, a true servant of the people
-- a person that had to live a morally upright life in every respect."
One of the most respected peace chiefs of the southern Cheyenne was Black Kettle. As a young man, he had proved himself as a warrior. Now, he had come to believe that maintaining peace with the whites was the best way for his people to survive.
In 1861, Black Kettle and other peace chiefs had signed a treaty and agreed to move onto a small reservation along Sand Creek, southeast of Denver. But the reservation was empty of game. Whites trespassed on it. Some Cheyenne were reduced to begging settlers for food. Soon, even Black Kettle left for the old hunting grounds. And young Cheyenne warriors began attacking stage coaches and destroying outlying ranches.
young mens' exuberance sometimes would get out of hand and some of the
old chiefs just simply couldn't control them. You have to remember that
before the coming of the white soldiers and before the reservation days,
boys had a way to become men. And the way boys became men was through,
really, two things, proving themselves in hunt or proving themselves in
battle. And so, when things began to change and some of the old chiefs
began to go the peaceful way and say we can't keep on with this, we've
got to find a peaceful way of resolving differences and so on, sometimes
the young men felt left out. They felt that they were being denied manhood."
The Denver Commonwealth
The Governor of Colorado Territory asked Washington for troops, but with the Civil War still raging, there were none to spare. He then called for civilian volunteers, and hundreds signed up. In command once again would be the fighting Parson -- John Chivington, the hero of Glorieta Pass. Now a Colonel , he burned with political ambition and saw a winning issue in ridding his region of its Indians.
Meanwhile, an old trader named William Bent desperately tried to make peace. He had been living among the Cheyenne for nearly four decades; four of his children had Cheyenne mothers. He told Chivington that the chiefs wanted to be friendly. Chivington replied that he was not authorized to make peace.
In September of 1864, Black Kettle and six other Cheyenne chiefs came to Fort Weld, near Denver, to talk. As evidence of their good faith, they brought with them four white captives they had ransomed from other bands.
We have been traveling through a cloud; the sky has been dark ever since the war began... We want to take good tidings home to our people, that they may sleep in peace. I want... all these chiefs of the soldiers here to understand that we are for peace, and that we have made peace, that we may not be mistaken for enemies.
When Black Kettle agreed to return to Sand Creek, on the reservation, regular Army officers led him to believe his people would be safe. But Chivington was not an officer in the regular Army. His new command, the Third Colorado volunteers, had yet to fight a major battle. Scornful Denver newspapers were calling them "the Bloodless Third," and their enlistments were about to run out. One way or another, Chivington was determined to have his war.
At dawn on November 29th, 1864, he and 700 men reached the edge of Black Kettle's camp on the banks of Sand Creek. Many of them were drunk from the whiskey they had swallowed to warm them during an icy all-night ride. One of William Bent's sons, Robert, was riding with Chivington, commandeered at gunpoint to show the way to the Cheyenne camp. Bent's other children -- Charles, Julia and George -- were all inside the camp.
Some regular army officers protested that to attack the peaceable village would betray the army's pledge of safety. Chivington ignored them. "Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians," he said. "Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice." He ordered the attack.
In the camps... all was confusion and noise -- men, women, and children rushing out of the lodges partly dressed; women and children screaming at the sight of the troops; men running back into the lodges for their arms.... Black Kettle had a large American flag tied to the end of a long lodgepole and... kept calling out not to be frightened; that the camp was under protection and there was no danger... White Antelope, when he saw the soldiers shooting into the lodges, made up his mind not to live any longer.... He stood in front of his lodge with his arms folded across his breast, singing the death-song: "Nothing lives long," he sang, "only the earth and the mountains."
never saw more bravery displayed by any set of people on the face of the
earth than by these Indians. They would charge on the whole company singly,
determined to kill someone before being killed themselves... We, of course,
took no prisoners.
the firing, the warriors put the squaws and children together, and surrounded
them to protect them. I saw five squaws under a bank for shelter. When
the troops came up to them they ran out and showed their persons to let
the soldiers know they were squaws and begged for mercy, but the soldiers
shot them all.
great grandmother was in the band, of Black Kettle when they were attacked.
There's one little child that was walking up the creek bed, and there
was a soldier there that was using the little boy as target practice.
He took one shot, aimed, missed him. A second came along, tried and missed
him, and a third said, 'Let me kill the little devil,' and the little
boy dropped dead. You had pregnant women whose bodies were being cut open,
and the fetuses being taken from them. The private body parts of men and
women were cut from them, and some of them used as saddle horns, hat bands,
tobacco pouches, put on public display in Denver City -- in such a way
that you would begin to ask, 'Who is savage, in this case?' It certainly
was not the Cheyenne."
When the killing stopped, nearly two hundred Cheyenne -- most of them women and children -- lay dead at Sand Creek. Black Kettle was among those who had managed to get away. Regular Army officers were appalled by what Chivington's volunteers had done. General Grant himself privately declared the massacre nothing less than murder. The Congress and the Army launched separate investigations.
The Committee on the Conduct of the War:
But by the time the tribunals reached their verdict, Chivington was a civilian again and beyond the reach of military justice. In the end, no one was ever punished. Nor did Chivington ever admit he had done anything wrong. Speaking before a reunion of Colorado pioneers nearly twenty years later, he declared, "I stand by Sand Creek."
time I went to the Sand Creek site years ago to put a sign up to commemorate
where that massacre happened. And I was alone there. It was about six
in the morning, just as the sun was coming up. And it was very, very quiet,
and I swear I heard babies crying. And it was such a strong emotional
experience for me, I left there. But I've talked to several of my cousins
who have also gone there really early in the morning, and they say the
All of William Bent's children survived the massacre. Robert, who had been forced to show Chivington the way to Black Kettle's village, testified against him. Charles joined the Dog Soldiers, the society made up of the Cheyennes' most feared warriors, and went on a rampage of torture and killing. All whites, he now believed, were his enemy. He even tried to kill his own father.
the massacre there were many Cheyennes that wanted to take revenge, and
join the Lakota, and conduct raids along the Platte. Black Kettle instead
chose to take his band south, into safer territory."
Although wrongs have been done me I live in hopes. I have not got two hearts.... I once thought that I was the only man that persevered to be the friend of the white man, but since they have come and cleaned out our lodges, horses, and everything else, it is hard for me to believe white men any more.
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