Sand Creek Massacre

It was almost 150 years ago- a massacre on a large scale.  Death of women and children and some of the Chiefs.  The tribes were Cheyenne and Arapaho, the same tribes around our area here in Berthoud at that time.  They were forced onto the land by Governor Evans June 24, 1864.  They moved onto the sandy desert type land even though there was nothing to hunt.  They were forced to beg food from surrounding settlers.  It was rough enough, and then to top it all off, slaughter.

Colonel Chivington led the 3rd Colorado volunteers, but they had seen no action.  He was always ready for a fight.  It didn’t matter that they had to kidnap Robert Bent to lead the way.  The United Methodist pastor was determined to have a fight. Over 600 men rode with him from Denver to the Sand creek reservation.   They drank whiskey the whole way to stave off the winter chill.  So, by the time they arrived at dawn on November 29, 1864 many of the “soldiers” were drunk.

Though both a United States flag and a white flag of surrender were flying on Chief Black Kettle’s teepee, neither dissuaded Chivington from his plan.  The atrocities of shooting all they could commenced early in the morning.  The women and children were most vulnerable.  Many scrambled to escape the gunfire, and some succeeded, but those who could not numbered almost 200 people.  The Volunteers mutilated the bodies and brought back with them souvenirs of their arrogant killing spree.

Atrocities like these were committed over and over in the west.  The few who stood up to Chivington like Captain Silas Soule and Lieutenant Joseph Cramer are remembered as the heroes of the day.  There were others who saw that the massacre was wrong, but these are the men who helped testify about what Chivington and his men did.

There were many brave men that day.  Men who tried to protect their families and their band.  Some even got away and shared their experiences with their loved ones.  The passing of time in 1999 allowed for the creation of a healing run from Sand Creek to Denver once a year.  The healing has been initiated by ancestors of those who died in the attack.  Although this is where the healing starts, unless we share in this relationship, the hoped for healing may never come.

This past weekend in Berthoud was another step on the healing path.  Jan Iron and the Iron Family Singers and Dancers brought the vibrant sound of the drums and the beauty of their dance to remember and honor those who lost their lives at Sand Creek and the members of family who still suffer from those losses.  They sang a memorial song for those who were killed in such a brutal way.  We learned and listened together for the hope from the Jingle dress dance and saw the tradition of dance kept alive.  In spite of all the atrocities that native peoples have experienced, they still sing.  They keep the songs, language and dance alive to honor their ancestors.

This time of healing was a blessing for those who attended.  We shared together in a round dance to remind us that all in a circle are equal.  I hope that as we come to the act of repentance at Annual Conference this too will be another step in the path of healing.  We can know the story, but to live the relationship today we must invest ourselves in more than listening.  We have been invite to the Northern Colorado Pow-Wow in Fort Collins June 7th-8th.  Participating in this is one way we can continue to extend relationship.  Our pilgrimage to Sand Creek on Friday June 20th will be a step towards healing and add to the blessings of healing work that has been continually a part of the ancestors of those killed at Sand Creek for this past 150 years.


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