“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.

Movin’ on Up?

Today in History, November 17, 1800:

The Sixth US Congress meets for the first time in the new Capitol of Washington, D. C. Five days later President John Adams addressed them for the first time in DC. I know there were political shenanigans then also, but one has to wonder what those Senators and Congressmen would think of the behavior of those that have assumed their roles today.

Send in the Marines!

Today in History, November 10, 1775:

The First Continental Congress commissions a local innkeeper to raise two battalions of Marines to serve in the Revolutionary War. At Tun Tavern in Philadelphia the recruiting took place, and the United States Marine Corps was born. Aboard numerous US Navy ships during the Revolution, at Tripoli, during the Civil War, Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima and dozens of places in between, when the chips were down, the cry went out, “Send in the Marines!”

The Lee Resolution – and You Can’t Pick Your Family

Today in History, June 7, 1776:

The Lee Resolution.

“Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.”

Continental Congress member Richard Henry Lee, reperesentative from the Virginia Colony, proposes independence from Great Britain after receiving orders to do so from the Virginia Convention. It would take until July, after efforts by John Adams, Sam Adams, and Lee, to gather enough votes to pass the resolution as the Declaration of Independence.

The Lee family would fight in the revolution for Union and Independence. All families are complicated. I would love to know what Richard would have to say about his great-nephew Robert E. Lee fighting so hard to dissolve the Union Richard and his family fought so hard to create.

The US Camel Corps – In New Mexico – The USS Supply – A Bizarre Adventure

Today in History, June 4, 1855:

US Army Major Henry C. Wayne sails aboard the USS Supply (commanded by US Navy Lt. David Dixon Porter) for the Middle East to purchase camels that would become part of the US Camel Corps. Either he or Gen. Edward Beale had convinced US Secretary of War Jefferson Davis that the animals would be perfect for transportation in the American Southwest.

70 camels would eventually be part of the Corps, and they WERE perfect for transporting supplies long distances…but they were also cranky and difficult to manage, and scared the Army’s horses. When the US Civil War began, the project was largely forgotten as the new Union Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, didn’t support it. Feral camels were seen roaming the Southwestern United States as late as 1941 as a result.

You may have noticed some other interesting names mentioned. David Dixon Porter was part of an already famous naval family…Farragut. David would serve with distinction in the Civil War.

The USS Supply. If her planks could have talked. The Mexican-American War….she was instrumental. Through her life she make numerous trips to the Levant…served in South Africa, South America, Brazil…she was part of two Expeditions Commodore Mathew C. Perry made to Japan, sailing into Odo Harbor on the Historic dates.

Then Supply returned and became part of the swashbuckling adventures during the Civil War Blockading Squadrons.

“This damn fool Sumner is going to get himself shot by some other damn fool.” – Sen. Stephen Douglas

Today in History, May 22, 1856:

Years before the Civil War. On May 20, 1856 US Senator Charles Sumner, a free soil Democrat and later Republican from Massachussetts, had given a firey speech entitled “Crime Against Kansas” about the violence in that state over slavery.

A devout abolitionist, he excoriated the south, in particular Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina, who he likened to a pimp abusing a prostitute (slavery).

This enraged Butler’s nephew, Senator Preston Brooks. When Sen. Stephen Douglas heard the speech, he commented, “this damn fool Sumner is going to get himself shot by some other damn fool.”

On the 22nd, Brooks entered the Senate chamber with two other Southern Senators, found Sumner at his desk writing and proceeded to bludgeon him nearly to death with his heavy metal tipped cane while Sumner was trapped within his desk, defenseless.

Southerners hailed Brooks a hero.

Northerners called him a coward. One of these, Republican Representative Anson Burlingame called him such on the House floor.

Brooks challenged Burlingame to a duel. When Burlingame actually accepted and showed up, Brooks did not.

Sumner would suffer debilitating pain for the rest of his life from his injuries, but would recover to become a key proponent of abolitionist policies during reconstruction, living until 1872.

Brooks on the other hand died in January 1857, less than a year after the attack, of the croup.

Going West…The Homestead Act

Today in History, May 20, 1862:

President Lincoln signs the Homestead Act, which would give 160 acres of western lands to anyone that would farm it successfully for 5 years and build a residence upon it (often a sod building).

The Act would encourage vastly expanded settlement of the west; bad news for Native Americans, good news for those newer Americans wanting to improve their lot in life.

Congress had attempted to pass similar acts in 1852, 1854, and 1859, but each time the attempts were shot down by Southern Democrats who were afraid that if the west were populated it would result in more “free” states, which would result in more votes against slavery.

Once the Republican Lincoln was elected, and the Civil War began, the Southern Democrats were no longer part of the equation in Congress. The Republicans soon passed the Homestead Act and the settlement of the west began in earnest. By the end of the war 15,000 settlers (some of which were merely pawns for land speculators) had accepted their lands. Eventually 80 Million acres would be settled.