Right call (but late) on Sand Creek Massacre exhibit


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.

By The Denver Post Editorial Board
August 30, 2013


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.

The History Colorado Center closed its Sand Creek Massacre exhibit earlier this year while it consults with tribal families. (Brennan Linsley, The Associated Press)
The History Colorado Center closed its Sand Creek Massacre exhibit earlier this year while it consults with tribal families. (Brennan Linsley, The Associated Press)

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.


The History Colorado Center closed its Sand Creek Massacre exhibit earlier this year while it consults with tribal families. (Brennan Linsley, The Associated Press)

American Indian descendants of Sand Creek Massacre seek reparations

By Keith Coffman

DENVER | Thu Jul 11, 2013 10:32pm EDT

(Reuters) – Four descendants of Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians slaughtered in 1864 by U.S. federal troops in Colorado sued the federal government on Thursday for reparations over what became known as the Sand Creek Massacre.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver accuses federal authorities of reneging on an 1866 promise to compensate victims of the massacre, and is demanding an accounting for the money that was set aside to pay the claims.

The Sand Creek Massacre, which took place when Colorado was a U.S. territory still 12 years away from statehood, was one of many skirmishes in the 19th century Indian Wars as white settlers expanded westward.

The suit says the U.S. federal government is responsible for an army that “committed acts of genocide, torture, mutilation, harassment and intimidation” against Indians who were camped along the Colorado creek when they were attacked without provocation, the lawsuit said

A spokesman for the Interior Department could not immediately be reached for comment.

At dawn on the morning of the massacre on November 29, 1864, about 700 U.S. cavalry troops, commanded by Colonel John Chivington, descended on an encampment of some 500 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians along the Sand Creek near Fort Lyon, Colorado.

The Indians at Sand Creek were non-combatants in the Indian Wars and were led to believe under the terms of the 1861 Treaty of Fort Wise that they were in a safe haven. Nevertheless, cavalry troops opened fire with “artillery and 12-pound mountain howitzers,” according to the lawsuit.

An elderly Cheyenne Chief, White Antelope, ran toward the troops and crossed his arms, signifying that the villagers did not want to fight.

He was shot dead, and the “plaintiffs still have the bullet hole-riddled blanket” the chief wore when he was gunned down, the lawsuit said. An estimated 165 Indians – many unarmed women, children and the elderly – were killed over the next several hours.

The massacre grounds are now a National Historic Site operated by the National Park Service.

The federal government conducted an investigation and promised to pay reparations to the survivors under the Treaty of Little Arkansas but never made good on the promise, the lawsuit claims.

“The DOI (Department of the Interior) is believed to have since 1866, controlled and held in trust reparations owed to plaintiffs and their ancestors,” the lawsuit said.

The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status for the lawsuit, which a federal judge must approve. The suit names the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs as defendants.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)

Iron Man 3 Blasts Sand Creek

Dr. Leo Killsback

On May 08, 2013 at ICTMN.COM


The majority of mainstream Americans know little to nothing of the violent and unjust history of the colonization of Native America. Anytime such truth is revealed to the public on the big screens, it should be done fairly since these are rare opportunities to reach the masses. The brutality of the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 is one of the most horrific events in American history, but it is so shameful and remains out of sight, ignored, and therefore out of the minds of the majority of Americans. Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 includes the story of Sand Creek in the first real acknowledgement of the massacre in the modern mainstream film industry, but Black miserably fails to take advantage to shed some light on the dark and shameful history of the U.S.

In the movie the villain called the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) justifies his violence in a series of propaganda videos. One video showed historic pictures of Cheyennes, even children at Carlisle boarding school, with his voice-over telling how the U.S. waited for warriors to depart on a hunt before soldiers attacked the peaceful camp. The Mandarin then asserts that this same tactic inspired his terrorist group to attack a church in Kuwait filled with the families of American soldiers. Initially, I was generally impressed that Sand Creek was actually mentioned in the blockbuster film. I was even fascinated that the fictionalized villain correlated the Sand Creek Massacre to conflicts in the Middle East. Unfortunately, by midway through the film, I was completely disappointed and deeply upset that the massacre was even mentioned.

The purpose for using Sand Creek wasn’t too clear, but results in too many wrong assumptions. Are Americans supposed to hold resentment towards their terrorists as Cheyenne survivors held resentment towards the U.S. after Sand Creek? Does the correlation promote sympathy for unjust acts of genocide committed by the U.S. in 1864, or condemn terrorists as unjust and irrational as the U.S. soldiers? Whatever the case, the use of Sand Creek further confuses the populace of crimes of the past.

If the movie had made a parallel between the U.S. atrocities committed at both Sand Creek and in modern Middle East conflicts, like the revisionist films of the 1970s, then it would actually promote sympathy for the insurgents, since they defend their families and homelands against the same imperial aggression. The Mandarin’s comparison had potential to be an intelligent reflection of the George Santayana’s celebrated quote: “those who ignore history are bound to repeat it.” But this was not the case and such parallels are likely to never happen in Hollywood. Besides this isn’t my primary concern.

What upset me the most is that when the Mandarin was captured and exposed as a fraud, and as he lost all credibility, he took the true story of Sand Creek with him. By virtue of association, the true story of the massacre was falsified, devalued, and in all likelihood, branded in the minds of viewers as nothing short of propaganda from a fictional terrorist played by a drug-addicted actor, played by Ben Kingsley. I would rather have the events of Sand Creek completely ignored than be subjugated to so many levels of fictionalization.

Those who teach American Indian history already face major challenges because we are often doubted for teaching unpopular content. We are also not easily respected as experts, nor are we privileged with credibility when teaching of America’s history of deception and violence against Indians. We must learn an art of teaching that encourages students to intellectually engage and evaluate unpleasant and threatening truths, while ensuring that they are welcomed and respected, as they are encouraged to welcome and respect Indian perspectives. We also must substantiate and cite facts in access to avert the appearance of bias. This is not an easy art that one can learn over night, but must be done as we sincerely and honestly impart valuable knowledge and wisdom. Both the Mandarin and Iron Man represent a source of such challenges.

I understand that the Mandarin had to develop as a worthy villain and at the end of the day it was just a movie. But when actual events, especially well-documented heinous acts of genocide, are included in make-believe stories the truth in history can also become make-believe, especially to those with no prior knowledge. Viewers may come to pompously devalue or fiercely contest any future exposures to American Indian history, especially when learning of events where innocent Indian people fell victim to the violence perpetrated and condoned by the U.S.

Most who have never learned of American Indians typically rely on Hollywood for education, whether they know it or not. Hollywood has refined their art of deception.

Iron Man 3 represents that deception, enabling ignorance to thrive while disgracing the nearly 200 innocent Cheyenne men, women, and children who were murdered that cold day on November 29, 1864. Any massacre should never be fictionalized.

Dr. Leo Killsback is a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation of Montana and culturally and spiritual identifies as a Cheyenne person. He is an qssistant professor in American Indian Studies at Arizona State University.