Opinion. Most American students are never taught about the Sand Creek Massacre that happened in November 1864 during the Civil War. The battle was not fought in the North, nor the South, but rather in Colorado, 170 miles southeast of Denver. 

Led by U.S. Army Col. John Chivington, a Methodist minister, on November 29, 1864, 700 hundred members of the Colorado Territory militia attacked peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian villages while most of the Native men were away hunting. 

Author David Truer (Ojibwe) writes in The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee about the Sand Creek Massacre: “One eyewitness said he ‘saw one squaw lying on the bank, whose leg had been broken. A soldier came up to her with a drawn sabre. She raised her art to protect herself; he struck, breaking her arm. She rolled over, and raised her other arm; he struck, breaking that, and then left her without killing her. I saw one squaw cut open, with an unborn child lying on her side.’”

While the exact number of those killed that day will never be known, it is estimated that up to 200 died by brutal deaths.  Most were women and children. 

Chivington provided his superior with a different story and even exaggerated the number of casualties. He reported his men killed between 400 and 500 Indians — “almost an annihilation of the entire tribe.” 

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Fortunately, another account of what occurred at Sand Creek was recorded by Capt. Silas Soule, who was reportedly appalled by the attack on the group of peaceful Indians. 

“Hundreds of women and children were coming towards us, and getting on their knees for mercy,” Soule wrote. Most, he wrote, were shot or had “their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized.” 

The brutal acts performed at Sand Creek were carried out by a militia that had been assembled during the summer of 1864 by Territory Governor John Evans, who also served as superintendent of Indian Affairs. Evans issued two proclamations that summer, calling for the “killing” of Indians. He chose Chivington to lead the militia.

Fast-forward 157 years to this past Tuesday. In a long overdue gesture, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) on Tuesday signed an Executive Order rescinding the pair of proclamations still in effect granting the right to kill American Indians.

In attendance on the steps of the state capitol in Denver were several tribal nations, including representatives of the Southern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribe, and the Northern Arapaho Tribe, as well as members of Colorado's American Indian and Alaska Native communities, Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera and other Colorado state officials.

Native News Online reached out to the governor’s office to ask why Gov. Polis issued the Executive Order now. 

Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera, who also is the current chair of the Colorado Indian Commission, said in an email: “While the Executive Order won’t remove this stain from our state’s history, it will enable us to move forward together in making Colorado a place where all people feel welcome, safe, and have the opportunity to thrive.”

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Gov. Polis’ gesture to rescind the two proclamations that allowed the atrocity of the Sand Creek Massacre should serve as impetus to the U.S. Congress to pass the Remove the Stain Act (S.1073H.R. 2226), which would rescind each Medal of Honor awarded for acts that occurred on December 29, 1890, at Wounded Knee Creek, Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota.

When still a member of Congress, then Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) introduced the Remove the Stain Act in the 116th Congress. She said the act was “about more than just rescinding Medals of Honor from soldiers who served in the US 7th Cavalry and massacred unarmed Lakota women and children [in 1890] – it’s also about making people aware of this country’s history of genocide of American Indians.”

The legislation was reintroduced in the 117th Congress in both chambers because prior legislation did not move out of committees during the last Congress. 

It is absurd that 20 members of the U.S. 7th Cavalry were awarded the Medals of Honor for killing between 150 to 300 innocent women and children. It is more insulting to American Indians and all of humanity that the medals still stand as a sign of honor.  

Congress needs to follow Colorado's example and right a wrong that has stood for more than 130 years.  Revoke the medals of the men who committed atrocities against Lakota men, women and children.  Pass the Remove the Stain Act.  




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Native American Heritage Month Musings

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About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected]