Lean Bear and the other Cheyenne chiefs came away from their meeting with President Lincoln in 1862 feeling good about the outcome. They even took a detour to visit New York at the request of P. T. Barnham and visited his museum.
But in less than two years, in the spring of 1864, despite promises from Lincoln to keep the peace, things took a tragic turn. Lean Bear with his wife and tribe were camped near Ash Creek in Kansas on a buffalo hunt when troops from the Colorado Militia approached them. Unarmed, Chief Lean Bear grabbed his medal and letter from Lincoln proclaiming him a friend and peacekeeper and went out to meet the troops. Unbeknownst to him, Lieutenant George Eayre, who was in command, was acting under orders from Colonel John M. Chivington to kill all Indians on sight.
As Lean Bear approached and showed them the medal and letter, the troops opened fire hitting him and knocking him off his horse. As they rode by, they shot him again numerous times killing him. The tribe, including his wife were massacred.
You have to ask: what more could Lean Bear have done?
Although the massacre outraged the Cheyenne, Chief Black Kettle managed to keep them from retaliating. But, when
several Cheyenne camps were burned and Cheyenne camps were attacked near Fremont’s Orchard, the Hungate family, near Denver, were killed and their bodies displayed. By summer, war had erupted across the plains. In September, an attempt at peace by Colorado Governor Evans, Colonel Chivington, resulted in the chiefs being told that if they camped near Fort Lyon on the eastern plains of Colorado, their people would be regarded as friendly.
Colonel Chivington, reassigned to Colorado after the Civil War, had this to say to his troops, “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. … Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.”
After checking in at Fort Lyon, Chief Black Kettle with a group of about 800 mostly Cheyenne camped out at nearby Sand Creek. Assured they were safe, Black Kettle raised the American flag over his lodge and then released most of the warriors to go hunt buffalo leaving only old men, women, and children in the camp. On the night of November 28, 1864, Colonel Chivington requisitioned about 700 troops and marched from Fort Lyons to the Cheyenne camp at Sand Creek. Arriving the morning of November 29th, Chivington ordered his troops to ignore the American flag and any white flags and attack.
The following excerpts are from a letter written by Captain S. S. Soule, “I refused to fire and swore that none but a coward would. For by this time
hundreds of women and children were coming towards us and getting on their knees for mercy. Anthony shouted, “kill the sons of bitches”. … 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. One squaw was wounded and a fellow took a hatchet to finish her, she held her arms up to defend her, and he cut one arm off, and held the other with one hand and dashed the hatchet through her brain. One squaw with her two children, were on their knees begging for their lives of a dozen soldiers, within ten feet of them all, firing – when one succeeded in hitting the squaw in the thigh, when she took a knife and cut the throats of both children, and then killed herself.”
The atrocities committed at Sand Creek are shocking and reprehensible. And yet, Black Kettle continued to argue for peace. Next week, I will finish the story with what happened to the people involved in the massacre at Sand Creek.
by Courtney Miller
Book One, The First Raven Mocker
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