No Greater Love…

Today in History, July 31, 1976:

The Big Thompson Canyon Flood.

While Colorado was celebrating its Centennial, a highly unusual thunderstorm broke out high in the mountains, near the source of the Big

Thompson Canyon in northern Colorado.

The storm deluged the canyon with the equivalent of 3/4’s of the area’s annual rainfall in a matter of hours. It sent a wall of water 20 feet high racing down the canyon; residents and tourists miles away from the storm near the mouth of the canyon had no idea there was a storm higher up, much less a torrent of flood water headed their way.

144 died.

Colorado State Trooper Sgt. W. Hugh Purdy and Estes Park Officer Michel O. Conley were advised of the approaching flood. Remember that this was before cell phones and other mass media, most of which would not have worked in the canyon anyway.

These men drove their patrol cars up the canyon, telling people to flee using their public address systems, with full knowledge of what they were doing….until they met the water and were killed.

I saw this memorial while visiting relatives in Greeley, CO as a teen. These men are part of the reason I’m a cop. God bless them and their families.

The Eisenhower Tunnel

Today in History, March 15, 1968:

Construction begins on the Eisenhower Tunnel west of Denver, Colorado. The highest vehicle tunnel in the world, the tunnel cuts 1.6+ miles at over 11,000 feet, cutting through the Continental Divide and connecting Interstate 70. It takes much longer, and is much more dangerous to cross the Divide by driving over the mountain.

The tunnel was named after President Dwight Eisenhower, who was President in the 50’s when the Interstate road system was begun.

As a young Army Major in 1919 Eisenhower had been involved with a transcontinental convoy that traveled from Washington, DC to San Francisco. The convoy averaged 5 mph and faced much difficulty in navigating the country’s poor road system. This experience is why creating a modern, safe road system was one of President Eisenhower’s primary goals.

Texas Statehood

Today in History, December 29, 1845:

The United States annexes the Republic of Texas, the only US state to have been an independent nation. The Republic had gained quite a bit of debt in it’s short life, and part of the bargain was for the Republic to relinquish parts of modern day Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming to the US in exchange for ten million dollars in bonds. As a sovereign nation, the new state of Texas gained rights most other territories and states did not, which is why Texas has profited from her oil rights on land and off her shores.

“Nothing lives for long.  Except the Earth and the Mountains.” —Chief White Antelope, age 75

Today in History, November 29, 1864:

The Sand Creek Massacre.

As the morning was dawning in the sleepy village, Chief Black Kettle saw them approaching, and hoisted the Stars and Stripes above his Tipi as a sign of brotherhood and peace.  And then the blue coated soldiers began firing.

The Cheyenne and Arapaho of Colorado had settled in for the winter along a bend in Sand Creek in eastern Colorado.  Resources in the barren area were in short supply and they expected a harsh time.  900-1,000 people in hundreds of Tipis, although many were out hunting buffalo that morning.

The Civil War raged further east, and in Colorado and New Mexico a few months previous.  Colonel John Chivington of the Colorado Volunteers had fought in those battles, but now was looking for a new fight.  After a family of settlers was killed, allegedly by Arapaho or Cheyenne, the Governor tasked Chivington with raising a regiment to defend against hostile Indians.

But his regiment’s enlistment was nearly up and he hadn’t found any hostile Indians.  So he took over 700 troops to attack the peaceful village along Sand Creek.

After the earlier attack on the settlers, the white authorities told the peaceful Indians to encamp at military forts and facilities where they would be protected. If not, they would be considered “Hostile.” A word synonymous with “shoot on site” for Indians in the old West.

Chief Black Kettle had spoken to the commander of nearby Fort Lyon, seeking to comply.  He was told to keep his people at Sand Creek until the commander received further orders, and they would be safe.

Hundreds of women and children dropped to their knees in front of the soldiers that morning, imploring them for mercy.  There was no mercy given as the women and children were shot down or had their skulls caved in.  Many then ran for the creek where they sought cover, or fled north.  For the next several hours Chivington’s soldiers chased them down and killed as many as they could.

Seeing what was happening, Chief White Antelope approached the soldiers, folded his arms, and began singing his death song,

“Nothing lives for long.  Except the Earth and the Mountains.”

Chief Black Kettle carried his wounded wife and fled north towards another band of Cheyenne.  He would make his way to Oklahoma, where he led his people to again attempt peaceful existence.  He would live two days shy of four years more…when he and his wife would be chased down and killed by soldiers of George Custer’s command at the Massacre along the Washita River.

One of the Union officers present at Sand Creek that day refused to follow commands and ordered his company not to fire; and tried to save some of the victims.  Captain Silas Soule was career Army and recognized the cowardly acts being carried out.  The next day he wrote a letter to a Major friend of his back east, telling of the horrific behavior of Chivington’s “mob”.  He told of women and children having their brains bashed in.  He said that Chiefs had their ears and genitals cut off as trophies, and all those killed were scalped.  The crazed killers cut out many of the women’s genitalia as souvenirs.

Chivington would escape court martial by resigning from the Volunteers.  But even during the Civil War, the government and the people were aghast at the atrocities carried out at Sand Creek, and Congressional hearings were held in 1865, during which Captain Soule testified at against Chivington.

For his trouble he was gunned down in the street in Denver a few months later.  His murderers were never prosecuted.

The assault was supposedly intended to force peace for the nascent settlements in Colorado.  It had exactly the opposite effect, as the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers and others fought a decade’s long war with the settlers, their trust of the white people destroyed.

The story was eventually all but forgotten, and was a touchy subject when it was spoken of.  However Colorado eventually began to come to terms with this dark part of its history, and in 2007 the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site was established, run by the National Park Service.

Many visit the site in homage to the approximately 200 Native Americans who died that day.

Several of the sites I read in preparation for this posting indicated the subject was not covered much until the 2000’s.  However if you read (or watch) James Michener’s “Centennial”, you’ll find that he covered the events very well, just with a change in names.

A Small Blue Cloud

Today in History, November 15: 1806 –

US Army Lt. Zebulon Pike was a brilliant, self-taught explorer. On this date he was on his second expedition to the West, searching for the headwaters of the Arkansas and Red Rivers.

When he observed a mountain in the distance which he described as looking like a “small blue cloud”, he told the Expedition they could reach the mountain, scale it, and return to camp by dinner time.

Never having seen a “14er” before, he had grossly misjudged the distance. He and his team had to shelter from the cold in a cave for the night. When they did reach the base of the mountain which would one day hold Pike’s name, he declared it could not be climbed.

After the discovery Pike and his expedition became lost, wandering until captured by a troop of Spanish soldiers who took them to Santa Fe before releasing them. Pike took advantage of this misfortune by mapping this valuable area also.

Pike would be made a Brigadier General during the War of 1812 during which he would be killed.

Courage and Sacrifice in Paradise

Today in History, July 31, 1976:

The Big Thompson Canyon Flood.

While Colorado was celebrating its Centennial, a highly unusual thunderstorm broke out high in the mountains, near the source of the Big

Thompson Canyon in northern Colorado.

The storm deluged the canyon with the equivalent of 3/4’s of the area’s annual rainfall in a matter of hours. It sent a wall of water 20 feet high racing down the canyon; residents and tourists miles away from the storm near the mouth of the canyon had no idea there was a storm higher up, much less a torrent of flood water headed their way.

144 died.

Colorado State Trooper Sgt. W. Hugh Purdy and Estes Park Officer Michel O. Conley were advised of the approaching flood. Remember that this was before cell phones and other mass media, most of which would not have worked in the canyon anyway.

These men drove their patrol cars up the canyon, telling people to flee using their public address systems, with full knowledge of what they were doing….until they met the water and were killed.

I saw this memorial while visiting relatives in Greeley, CO as a teen. These men are part of the reason I’m a cop. God bless them and their families.

Heroism and Sacrifice

The date is off for today’s post. My extended family is mourning the loss of yet another first responder in Colorado. So my mind went back to some other Colorado heroes who affected me and so many others years ago. I had to share it in their memory and in the honor of my Colorado LE family.

Today in History, July 31: 1976 –

The Big Thompson Canyon Flood. While Colorado was celebrating its Centennial, a highly unusual thunderstorm broke out high in the mountains, near the source of the Big Thompson Canyon in northern Colorado.

The storm deluged the canyon with the equivalent of 3/4’s of the areas annual rainfall in a matter of hours. It sent a wall of water 20 feet high racing down the canyon; residents and tourists miles away from the storm near the mouth of the canyon had no idea there was a storm higher up, much less a torrent of flood water headed their way. 144 died.

Colorado State Trooper Sgt. W. Hugh Purdy and Estes Park Officer Michel O. Conley were advised of the approaching flood. Remember that this before cel phones and other mass media, most of which wouldn’t have worked in the canyon anyway.

These men drove their patrol cars up the canyon, telling people to flee using their public address systems, with full knowledge of what they were doing….until they met the water and were killed.

I saw this memorial while visiting relatives in Greeley, CO as a teen. These men are part of the reason I’m a cop. God bless them and their families.