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Dark History: The Tragic Sand Creek Massacre of November 29, 1864

Unveiling the Dark Realities and Honoring the Courage of Whistleblowers

On November 29, 1864, an act of unspeakable horror unfolded at Sand Creek, 180 miles southeast of Denver. A regiment of Colorado volunteer cavalrymen launched a ruthless assault on an encampment of Cheyenne and Arapaho Native Americans.

This tragic event, now known as the Sand Creek Massacre, claimed the lives of approximately 200 people, the majority being women and children. What was initially portrayed as a Union victory against “red rebels” who had allegedly aligned themselves with the Confederacy, quickly unraveled into a shameful display of brutality and violence.

A delegation of Arapaho and Cheyenne leaders met with the U.S. military on Sept. 28, 1864, at Camp Weld, Colo., to seek peace on the plains east of Denver, almost two months before the Sand Creek Massacre. Source: Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

Leading the assault was John Chivington, a pistol-packing minister who painted the raid as a triumphant Union achievement. However, as rumors of unthinkable atrocities began to circulate, the true nature of the massacre emerged. Congressional inquiries were launched, delving into the accounts of survivors and witnesses, which exposed a grim reality—troops had not only killed combatants but also targeted and slaughtered pacified, noncombatant Native Americans.

Captain Silas Soule, a courageous whistleblower, stepped forward and testified against his fellow soldiers, providing chilling details of the massacre. He revealed that troops had callously shot, scalped, and mutilated innocent men, women, and children. Soule’s unwavering commitment to truth and justice, however, came at a high price. Just two months after his testimony, he was murdered in Denver, paying the ultimate price for his courageous stand against the massacre.

A memorial for the Sand Creek Massacre.

For years, the state of Colorado memorialized the Sand Creek Massacre as a battle and honored the soldiers involved as heroes. It took the tireless efforts of tribal and white scholars, activists, and descendants to finally overturn this distorted narrative in the 1990s. Through their dedicated work, the truth of Sand Creek was unveiled, forcing society to confront the dark realities of the past and acknowledge the horrific crimes committed against the Native American people.

The legacy of Sand Creek serves as a sobering reminder that the value of life hinges upon the pursuit of truth. The tragedy also highlights the immense courage displayed by history’s whistleblowers, those brave individuals who risked everything to expose the truth and bring justice to light. Their actions inspire us to carry forward their work, fostering a society built upon truth, empathy, and accountability.

In remembering the victims of the Sand Creek Massacre, we honor their memory by acknowledging the immense suffering inflicted upon them. We must strive to learn from this tragic chapter in history, ensuring that such acts of violence and injustice are never repeated. Let us stand together, Native and non-Native alike, in pursuit of healing, reconciliation, and a future founded on mutual respect and understanding.

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