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Sunday, September 02, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre, November 1864

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre, November 1864:


In November, 1864, Colonel John Milton Chivington, also known as the "Fighting Parson" (he would often appear in the pulpit wearing two guns,) led several hundred regular and irregular (I doubt if prunes would have helped) Colorado army troops down on an Indian village at Sand Creek. Hundreds of Indian women and children were killed and mutilated. Ironically, the village was flying the American flag. Duane Schultz describes why the village was flying the American flag and the aftermath of the massacre in Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre. November 1864.

In 1851, the Treaty of Horse Creek had ceded land to various tribes. In return, the Indians, mostly Cheyenne and Arapaho, agreed not to attack whites crossing their land. The U.S. agreed to pay$50,000 a year for 50 years. (This was later changed to 10 years without informing the tribes.) Concurrently, Denver was about to undergo an enormous boom during the winter of 1858-59 when gold was discovered in the hills. Almost overnight it increased in size to some 6,000, adding buildings wherever possible. One Indian walked into the first newspaper building and announced how impressed he was with the presses but could not understand why anyone would build in a creek bed. He raised his hand over his head showing how deep the water could rise. No one paid attention until the next year when the snow pack melted and the presses were finally located several miles downstream. The enormous population increases meant expanded stagecoach traffic. Indians would occasionally accompany the stages as they bumped along at ten mph with 9 passengers inside and perhaps 7 on top. There was a great deal of hatred for the Indians.

     Chivington was a rather complex character. Viciously antislavery, he was once threatened with tar and feathering unless he stopped his pro-abolition sermons. The next Sunday he placed two pistols on the pulpit and proceeded to lash out at the pro-slavery forces in the congregation. He received no further threats. Denver was only 250 miles from Texas so when the Civil War broke out the national government raised 15,000 troops to protect Colorado (and its gold.) The threat from Texas failed to materialize. Chivington meanwhile had risen to the rank of Colonel and distinguished himself in battle becoming a bonafide hero. It became necessary for Governor Evans (the founder of Northwestern University) to justify payment of all those troops. He desperately needed a war. The local Cheyenne, Arapaho and Cherokee refused to cooperate despite numerous treaty violations by the government. Then came the Sioux uprising in New Ulm, Minnesota. Out of fear, soldiers and whites began shooting Indians on sight. The regular army was not eager for war and wrote several reports detailing how war could be avoided. In fact, Major Edward Wynkoop, at considerable risk to himself and his men, negotiated with the Arapaho and Cheyenne. He promised them a safe conduct to Denver. When he and the chiefs arrived he was shocked to learn that Evans refused to meet and would not discuss peace terms. Evans still had to justify to Washington the large army force he insisted he needed. Wynkoop was relieved of command and Evans told the Indians if they removed themselves to Sand Creek and Smoky Hill they would not be attacked.

     Chivington remarked on the day before the attack that "I long to be wading in gore." He was granted his wish. His 700 troops surprised the camp at sunrise and shot every Indian in sight including those walking toward the troops with their hands in the air. All semblance of order was lost and most of his few casualties were from friendly fire. He and his soldiers took scalps and mutilated the bodies. It was this action more than anything that resulted in his downfall. The Senate found his conduct reprehensible and he even lost the support of the Denver crowd when it was learned he had conspired to kill one of the officers who testified against him. The Indians, of course, lost all faith in anything they were told, and the Cheyenne moved north to combine with the Sioux where they were to meet another self-righteous colonel with somewhat different results at Little Big Horn. Ironically Chivington's wife and son were killed by a marauding Indian war party several years later. He had been forced out of the army and had started a freight line which would have prospered had it not suffered from attacks by unfriendly Indians.


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