This Day in History – November 29, 1864: 133 Cheyenne & Arapaho Massacred at Sand Creek

Robert Lindneaux portrays his concept of the Sand Creek Massacre.
Courtesy of History Colorado H.6130.37

This Day in History – November 29, 1864

On November 29, 1864, seven hundred members of the Colorado Territory militia embarked on an attack of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian villages. The militia was led by U.S. Army Col. John Chivington, a Methodist preacher, as well as a freemason. After a night of heavy drinking by the soldiers, Chivington ordered the massacre of the Indians. Over two-thirds of the slaughtered and maimed were women and children. This savage atrocity has been known as the Sand Creek Massacre ever since.

While the exact number of American Indians killed that day varies, award-winning historian Alan Brinkley wrote that 133 Indians were killed, 105 of whom were women and children.

For years, the United States had been engaged in conflict with several Indian tribes over territory. The Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851 had given the Indians extensive territory, but the Pikes Peak gold rush in 1858 and other factors had persuaded the U.S. to renegotiate the terms of the treaty. In 1861, the Treaty of Fort Wise was signed by Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs. The treaty took from the Indians much of the land given to them by the earlier treaty, reducing the size of their reservation land to about 1/13th of the original amount.

Although the peace seeking chiefs signed the treaty to ensure the safety of their people, not all of the tribes were happy with the decision. In particular, a group of Indians known as the Dog Soldiers, made up of Cheyenne and Lakota, were vehemently opposed to having white settlers on what the Indians still referred to as their land.

In 1864, a group of Civil War soldiers under Chivington, with the blessing of Colorado governor John Evans, began to attack several Cheyenne camps in Colorado. Another attack on Cheyenne camps occurred in Kansas by forces under the command of Lieutenant George S. Eayre. The Cheyenne retaliated for the attack, furthering the aggression of the U.S. forces.

In an attempt to maintain peace, two chiefs, Black Kettle and White Antelope, tried to establish a truce. They were advised to camp near Fort Lyon in Colorado and fly an American flag over their camp to establish themselves as friendly.

RELATED: Northwestern’s Sand Creek Massacre Commemoration Honors Victims Recognizes Founder’s Tie to the Massacre

Even though, they complied with this directive, on November 29th, while the majority of the males were out hunting, Chivington and his 700 troops attacked the Indian campsite near Fort Lyon. Despite the American flag flying overhead and the raising of a white flag after the attack began, Covington continued with the massacre.

Most of the Indians killed were women and children, and many of their bodies were mutilated.

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