It was probably a peaceful, happy morning for the families of Black Kettle’s warriors who were off on a buffalo hunt. Black Kettle probably slept peacefully that night convinced that he had secured peace and the protection of the government for his people since he had checked in at Fort Lyon and moved his tribe to Sand Creek as instructed. But, the elders, women, children and a few young men that were left at camp were unprepared for that tragic morning November 29, 1864.
Here is Little Bear’s account, “I looked towards Fort Lyon Trail south of the
village when I seen long black line. Then I knew soldiers were coming to attack the village.
“I found my war bonnet, shield and my quiver full of arrows… While I was putting on my war bonnet and shield, bullets were hitting all around me and bullets were hitting the lodges like hard storm… On way up [Sand Creek] the feathers of my war bonnet were shot away and my shield was shot several times, but I did not get hit.
“When I got to the bank of the creek I seen Big Head, Crow Neck, Cut Lip Bear, and Smoker, standing behind the bank so I joined them… We were west end of the village… Big Head and his party… ran west. I turned and went north as I seen big crowd [of Cheyenne] going that way. About 20 soldiers followed me. Big Head and his party were all killed over the hill…
“I seen lots of women and children that had been killed. Some were not dead yet… After the fight was over I seen 2 or 3 soldiers together standing over the dead I suppose scalping them.”
Captain S. S. Soule gave his account in a letter to his former commanding officer “Ned” Wyncoop, “… 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 took my comp’y across the Creek, and by this time the whole of the 3rd and the Batteries were firing into them and you can form some idea of the slaughter. … The massacre lasted six or eight hours, and a good many Indians escaped. 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. One old squaw hung herself in the lodge – there was not enough room for her to hang and she held up her knees and choked herself to death. Chivington reports five or six hundred killed, but there were not more than two hundred, about 140 women and children and 60 Bucks. A good many were out hunting buffalo. Our best Indians were killed.”
In defense of the attack, Chivington wrote, “The morning of the 29th day of November, 1864, finds us
before the village of the Indian foe. The first shot is fired by them. The first man who falls is white. No white flag is raised. None of the Indians show signs of peace, but flying to rifle pits already prepared they fight with a desperation unequalled, showing their perfect understanding of the relations that existed as regards peace or war as forty-nine killed and wounded soldiers too plainly testified.”
Congress’ Joint Committee on the Conduct of War penned, “As to Colonel Chivington, your committee can hardly find fitting terms to describe his conduct. Wearing the uniform of the United States, which should be the emblem of justice and humanity … he deliberately planned and executed a foul and dastardly massacre which would have disgraced the veriest savage among those who were the victims of his cruelty. Having full knowledge of their friendly character, having himself been instrumental to some extent in placing them in their position of fancied security, he took advantage of their inapprehension and defenceless condition to gratify the worst passions that ever cursed the heart of man. It is thought by some that desire for political preferment prompted him to this cowardly act; that he supposed that by pandering to the inflamed passions of an excited population he could recommend himself to their regard and consideration.”
Chivington retired from the military and left Colorado for the Midwest, but later returned to Denver where he lived and worked as a deputy sheriff until his death from cancer in 1894.
Captain S. S. Soule was shot and killed 80 days after his testimony to the military inquiry in the streets of Denver while performing his duties as Provost Marshal. Although his murderers were known, they were never brought to Justice.
Black Kettle continued to ask for peace with the United States and a reservation for his people, but, in 1868, Troops of the 7th Cavalry shot and killed him and his wife as the fled across the Washita River.
I am left with the question: What more could Black Kettle have done to secure peace for his people?