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The Sand Creek Massacre, occurring on November 29, 1864, was one of the most infamous incidents of the Indian Wars. Initially reported in the press as a victory against a bravely fought defense by the Cheyenne, later eyewitness testimony conflicted with these reports, resulting in a military and two Congressional investigations into the events.
Starting in the 1850’s, the gold and silver rush in the Rocky Mountains brought thousands of white settlers into the mountains and the surrounding foothills. Dislocating and angering the Cheyenne and Arapaho who lived on the land, the Pike's Peak Gold Rush in 1858 brought the tension to a boiling point.
The Indians soon began to attack wagon trains, mining camps and stagecoach lines, a practice that increased during the Civil War, when the number of soldiers in the area was greatly decreased. Soon, this led to what became known as the Colorado War of 1863-1865.
As the violence between the Native Americans and the miners continued to increase, territorial governor John Evans sent a Voluntary Militia commander by the name of Colonel John Chivington to quiet the Indians. Though once a member of the clergy, Chivington's compassion did not extend to the Indians and his desires to extinguish them all was well known.
In the spring of 1864, while the Civil War raged in the east, Chivington launched a campaign of violence against the Cheyenne and their allies, his troops attacking any and all Indians and razing their villages. The Cheyenne, joined by neighboring Arapaho, Sioux, Comanche, and Kiowa in both Colorado and Kansas, went on the defensive warpath.
Soon, Evans and Chivington reinforced their militia, raising the Third Colorado Cavalry of short-term volunteers who referred to themselves as the "Hundred Dazers." After a summer of scattered small raids and clashes, the Cheyenne and Arapaho were ready for peace, and as a result, the Indian representatives met with Evans and Chivington at Camp Weld outside of Denver on September 28, 1864. Though no treaties were signed, the Indians believed that by reporting and camping near army posts, they would be declaring peace and accepting sanctuary.
However on the day of the "peace talks” Chivington received a telegram from General Samuel Curtis (his superior officer) informing him that "I want no peace till the Indians suffer more...No peace must be made without my directions."
Unaware of Curtis's telegram, Black Kettle and some 550 Cheyenne and Arapaho, having made their peace, traveled south to set up camp on Sand Creek under the promised protection of Fort Lyon. Those who remained opposed to the agreement headed North to join the Sioux.
Knowing that the Indians had surrendered, Chivington led his 700 troops, many of them drinking heavily, to Sand Creek and positioned them, along with their four howitzers, around the Indian village. The ever trusting Black Kettle raised both an American and a white flag of peace over his tepee.