“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.

Shoot First, Ask Questions Later…

Today in History, November 28: 1941 –

Ten days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a Task Force built around the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) sailed from Pearl Harbor bound for Wake Island.

In response to a “war warning” the Enterprise had taken aboard a squadron of US Marine F4F Wildcat fighter planes and their pilots, with orders to deliver them to Wake to bolster the island’s defenses.

Once they were at sea, the TF commander, Admiral William F. (Bull) Halsey signed off on Battle Order #1, which put the Enterprise and her supporting Cruisers and Destroyers on a war footing.

The crew began adding armor behind the pilot’s position’s in the ship’s fighters, painting them in combat colors, and arming them for combat.

More than a week before the Japanese attacked, the Enterprise TF had orders to shoot first and ask questions later should they encounter any foreign ships or planes. The CAP (Combat Air Patrol) kept watch overhead.

The Big E would deliver the Marines and return to Pearl on Sunday, December 7. Her scout plane pilots would fly ahead, ending up right in the middle of the air raid. But that’s another story.

But on this date, Admiral Halsey and Captain Murray closed by telling their sailors “Steady nerves and stout hearts are needed now.”

Two American “Royals” Killed on the Same Day

Today in History, November 27, 1868:

His story could make him the 19th-Century version of Joe Kennedy, Jr or John F. Kennedy.  He was born in 1844 into a family filled with Secretaries of the Treasury and Secretaries of State, wealthy bankers, and his grandfather, Alexander Hamilton, was a Founding Father and the first Secretary of the Treasury in President Washington’s cabinet.  And of course, Alexander Hamilton lost his bright future in a duel, killed by Vice-President Aaron Burr in 1804.  Both the Hamiltons and the McLanes were well placed.

Louis McLane Hamilton had wealth, influence, a bright future, and according to his contemporaries, a high degree of character.  Joe and Jack Kennedy had used their influence to get INTO combat during WWII.  It cost Joe his life, and very nearly cost JFK his.  Likewise, young Louis Hamilton used his influence to get into combat during the Civil War when he was 17 and 18.  JFK had to use his father the former Ambassador’s influence to get an assignment in the Pacific.  Louis had a letter from President Lincoln himself to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton recommending his commission as an officer.  Louis didn’t waste what was given to him.  He fought with distinction during the Battle of Fredericksburg, the Battle of Chancellorsville, the Battle of Gettysburg, the Siege of Petersburg and Appomattox Courthouse.

After the war Hamilton continued his service, serving as a Lieutenant and a Captain in the 7th Calvary under Colonel George Armstrong Custer.  Hamilton commanded Fort Lyon in Colorado for a time, and fended off an attack led by Chief Pawnee Killer.  

On November 26th, 1868 he found himself assigned as “Officer of the Day”, an assignment which gave him responsibility for the 7th Cavalry’s supply train as Custer searched in Indian Territory for Southern Cheyenne warriors.  As Custer planned a pursuit, some of Hamilton’s command was taken to bolster the assault’s numbers.  True to his nature, Hamilton went to Custer and made his case…earnestly, insistently asking not to be left behind as his troops went into battle.  Custer was sympathetic to the request…he would make the same request before the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  Custer agreed to let Hamilton leave the wagon train and join his troops.

As a result, Captain Louis McLane Hamilton, Alexander’s grandson, was at the lead of his troops who, as it happened, were the first to attack Chief Black Kettle’s village along the Washita River.

“Keep cool, fire low, and not too rapidly” was the last thing Hamilton was heard to say before being shot in the chest, killed instantly, by one of the defenders firing from within a wigwam.  Hamilton the first person killed in the battle.

Elsewhere on the battlefield was Chief Black Kettle and his wife.  Not much is known about Chief Black Kettle prior to the mid 1850’s, but what is known that this leader in the Southern Cheyenne tribe often worked hard to keep the peace.  In 1864 he and his band were in Colorado when some settlers had been attacked.  The Governor declared any Indians who did not report to a military post would be considered hostile.  Chief Black Kettle led his band to Fort Lyon and came to an agreement with the commander there for his Southern Cheyenne to camp along Sand Creek in eastern Colorado.  This agreement didn’t prevent Colorado Militia Colonel Chivington, ambitious and about to lose his troops to the end of their enlistment, from attacking the peaceful encampment, which was complete with an American flag flying.  Many were killed, but Black Kettle and his wife managed to survive.

He was encamped with his people along the Washita River in present day Oklahoma for much the same reason, with the same results.  But this time his luck ran out.  As he and his wife fled, they were shot down and killed.

How Closely “Casablanca” Hit Home

Today in History, November 26, 1942:

The motion picture “Casablanca” premieres in New York City.  The movie that would become a screen classic would be released to theaters in the remainder of the country on January 23, 1943.

The film was set in Casablanca, Morocco in December, 1941.  This time frame is important to the viewer if not the players.  Rick Blaine is an exiled American who owns a high-end bar.  Between continuously matching wits with the local French authorities and Nazis, Rick manages to barter for immigration papers for those fleeing the Nazis and to deal with an old romance interest who re-enters his life…Ilsa.  “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

The film is at heart a romance, but at the same time a gritty war thriller.  Humphrey Bogart was well accustomed to playing the heavy, and did so well.  Ingrid Bergman did an excellent job playing the femme fatale, but by the time the show is over, one is hard pressed not to find Claude Rains’ portrayal of Captain Louis Renault to be the most compelling.

The plethora of one-liners definitely added to place Casablanca at the top of any “greatest” list, even 75 years later.  Near the end of the film, Rick and Louis are caught at the airport by Nazi SS Major Strasser.  Louis ends up shooting the Major.  As Louis’ troops rush up in response to the shot, Louis says hastily, “Major Strasser’s been shot.  Round up the usual suspects.”

It is important to note the film was released less than a year after the Pearl Harbor attack at a time when the question of who would be victorious was still a very open discussion.  Those viewing the movie most likely had fathers, brothers and sons fighting on a steaming, miserable island named Guadalcanal or on ships in the same theater.  Less than a month earlier (November 8) American soldiers and sailors took part in the landings of Operation Torch assaulting French North Africa.  This would include fighting the Nazis and the Vichy French (French sympathetic to or under the thumb of the Nazis.)  These battles would include Morocco and the Naval Battle of Casablanca between Allied, German and Vichy French naval forces.

All of this was the backdrop for the premiere of Casablanca.  How much more real, how much more emotion, must have been involved seeing it for the first time in 1942.

You’ve Seen Much About Assassination Today – Some History About “Jack” Kennedy


Today in History, November 22, 1963:

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  Thanksgiving must have been miserable in ’63.

This being the 55th anniversary of that terrible event, the coverage has been immense, so there isn’t much I could add about the event itself. And I would just as soon not mention the person who took JFK from us. So…a little history about JFK that not everyone may know.

To say that JFK came from a political family is an understatement. In the latter part of the nineteen century and early of the twentieth, both of his grandfathers were rivals in Massachusetts politics. John Francis “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald rose from a Boston shopkeeper’s son to be Mayor, a US Representative and political boss, and was none to happy when PJ Kennedy’s son Joseph began courting his daughter Rose. PJ served in the Mass House and Senate and was also a political mover and shaker.

Nonetheless, Honey Fitz loved the many resulting grandchildren, doting on his namesake, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

JFK’s father rose in politics as well, making note as an Irish Catholic appointed to Ambassador to England for FDR. Joe brought his children with him, and JFK watched the German bombing of England first hand. Joe was a controversial isolationist and did not have FDR’s trust.

During his senior year at Harvard JFK would write a thesis called “Why England Slept” about England’s pre-war actions. Joe would see this published, although it didn’t win a Pulitzer like the 1957 “Profiles in Courage” by JFK…which Joe also made sure was acclaimed.

JFK’s older brother Joe was being groomed for high political office, but was killed in WWII while piloting a B-24 Liberator on a dangerous mission over Europe. So the mantle fell to “Jack”, also a war hero for his exploits in the Pacific Theater.