“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.

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.

The Second Seminole War Ends

Today in History, August 14, 1842:

After seven years of war on the Florida peninsula, the second Seminole War is declared to be at an end.

The war had begun when the US government attempted to enforce the Indian Removal Act and the Treaty of Ft. Gibson in which the Seminole Tribe was to move to the Creek Reservation west of the Mississippi River, in Indian Territory.

The tribe resisted with the leadership of Osceola beginning in 1835. Numerous battles ensued, but the government began to succeed with smaller raids and false truces with which they captured as many as 3-4,000 Seminoles, forcing their removal.

Osceola was captured in 1837 and imprisoned in Charleston, SC where he died.

The Dawes Commission in Indian Territory

Today in History, April 28: 1897 – The Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes, two of the five civilized tribes, agree to relinquish communal control of their lands after being convinced to do so by the Dawes Commission. The Dawes Act had previously ruled that other tribes must give up their lands and adapt to white customs, but the five civilized tribes were exempt; an 1830 treaty gave them control of their lands as long as the grass grows and the rivers run. Soon after convincing the Chickasaws and the Choctaws to give up the rights to their lands, the other civilized tribes followed suit, resulting in most of their land being given to settlers, including in the Sooner’s land run. In FDR’s administration the five civilized tribes would be given back the control over some of their lands, but the damage had been done.

The Chisolm Trail

Today in History, March 4: 1868 – Jesse Chisholm dies. The famous Chisholm Trail is named for Jesse. Most of us assume that Chisholm was a cattle baron that established the trail to take his cattle north. Not so. Jesse was a “halfbreed” in the vernacular of the time…part Scot and part Cherokee. He lived amongst the Native Americans in Arkansas and Indian Territory, and established himself as a merchant. He often negotiated the release of hostages taken by Native American tribes. He knew the landscape well, and established a route from Wichita, Kansas to the Red River, then further south into Texas for his commerce. When Texans needed to move their cattle north to rail heads in Kansas, they used Chisholm’s trail, widening it to as much as 400 yards which can still be seen. Over a million cattle would be moved along the trail established by Jesse Chisholm.