Remembering a Black Day in American History – the Sand Creek Massacre

Site of the Sand Creek Massacre
Site of the Sand Creek Massacre

On November 29, 1864,  650 Colorado volunteers under the command of John Chivington attacked a village of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians camped along Sand Creek.  Over 150 Indians were killed in the attack, most of whom were women, children, or elderly. The tales of the atrocities committed are legendary and well-documented.  You can read details about the  events at Wikipedia and PBS Documents of the Sand Creek Massacre.

The location of the Sand Creek Massacre site was obscured through time even to descendents of massacre survivors. The Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site Study Act of 1998 directed the National Park Service to identify the location the massacre area and evaluate the suitability designating the site as a national park unit.

An excellent book about the search is Finding Sand Creek, History, Archeology, and the 1864 Massacre Site, by Jerome A. Greene and Douglas D. Scott.

Family stories from Cheyenne and Arapaho about the massacre were used to help identify the location of the massacre site. Tribes had the opportunity to conduct their own “oral histories.” The tribal investigations were conducted by descendents of massacre survivors and tribal leaders. Historians also searched archives for the story of Sand Creek in maps, diaries, testimonies from soldiers and Indians, newspaper articles, homestead records, military scouting reports, and historic photos.

The site location study was completed in 1999 and conclusively identified the location of the massacre. The study was completed with the cooperation of property owners, Cheyenne and Arapaho descendents, local residents, and scientists. The conclusive location of the site contributed to the establishment of Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in 2007.

The Frontier Travelers (with a helpful map from a nearby NPS office) had the opportunity to visit the site back in 2004, when nothing was there to mark the massacre site except for several prayer ties left along the road. The creek itself runs by the trees you can see in the background of the photo above.

This was the village of Black Kettle, a well-known Cheyenne Peace Chief.  Black Kettle and his wife escaped the massacre here  but  died four years later when George Custer attacked their winter encampment on the Washita.

Sand Creek – as we saw it, before any signage was placed by NPS – was a sad place. There was no sign to mark what had happened there – it was just open ground leading back to the stand of trees where the creek ran. The only markers were the prayer ties and tobacco offerings that had been left along the dirt road running along the fence line.  Perhaps that was most fitting.

Getting to Sand Creek

To visit the site, follow Colorado State Highway 96 east off Highway 287 near Eads, or west off Highway 385 at Sheridan Lake.  Near Chivington, turn north onto County Road 54/Chief White Antelope Way or at Brandon, turn north onto County Road 59. Follow these roads to their intersections with County Road W. The park entrance is along CR W a mile east (right) of CR 54 or several miles west (left) of CR 59. There is approximately eight (8) miles of dirt/sand roads leading to the site.

Also of Interest

The Sand Creek Massacre, Stan Hoig (a classic)

Forgotten Heroes and Villians of Sand Creek

Black Kettle, the Cheyenne Chief Who Sought Peace but Found War

One comment

  1. Certain Cheyenne people say that there were over 400 Cheyenne murdered at Sand Creek, not 150. Their source is their ancestors reports about the massacre that have been handed down through the years.

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