Monday, December 1, 2014

150 Years Later, Considering the Legacy of the Sand Creek Massacre

At dawn on November 29th, 1864 - just over 150 years ago - Colonel John M. Chivington led a command of approximately 675 U.S. Cavalry in an unprovoked attack on a village of approximately 700 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians along Sand Creek in the Colorado Territory. Over the course of the day, the troopers killed more than 200, mostly women, children, and the elderly.

I noticed that the sesquicentennial anniversary of this event has passed off with very little notice from the traditional Civil War media channels that I follow. Some blogs devoted multiple posts to commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin, but offered no notice of Sand Creek.

Even the New York Times Disunion Blog has not offered anything (yet) related to the Sand Creek Massacre. However, on November 28th the New York Times did post an Op-Ed piece about the massacre written by Dr. Ned Blackhawk, a professor of history and American studies at Yale University. In it, he highlights why this overlooked part of Civil War history is important:
Sand Creek, Bear River, and the Long Walk remain important parts of the Civil War and of American history. But in our popular narrative, the Civil War obscures such campaigns against American Indians. In fact, the war made such violence possible: The paltry Union Army of 1858, before its wartime expansion, could not have attacked, let alone removed, the fortified Navajo communities in the Four Corners, while Southern secession gave a powerful impetus to expand American territory westward. Territorial leaders like Evans were given more resources and power to negotiate with, and fight against, powerful Western tribes like the Shoshone, Cheyenne, Lakota, and Comanche. The violence of this time was fueled partly by the lust for power by civilian and military leaders desperate to obtain glory and wartime recognition.

Expansion continued after the war, powered by a revived American economy but also by a new spirit of national purpose, a sense that America, having suffered in the war, now had the right to conquer more peoples and territory.
There were commemorations of the massacre, planned by the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site and the Cheyenne and Arapaho communities. The 16th Annual Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run began yesterday morning. This annual run starts at the site of the massacre, and ends on several days later at the State Capitol in Denver. Here's a brief video about the run:

Sometimes our history can be difficult. Yet, it is just as important, if not more so, for us to remember aspects of our history that are difficult to stomach and hard to explain.

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