May 3, 2007

Ceremonies dedicate Sand Creek Memorial


Mary Breslin

In memory of the fallen, the Sand Creek memorial is dedicated to fallen Native Americans.

On a classic Colorado spring morning of wide blue skies and brisk breezes, representatives of Native American tribes from around the western states came together with tribal leaders, politicians and supporters to dedicate the Sand Creek National Historical Site Saturday.

Representatives of the Arapaho and Cheyenne nation performed honor songs

As part of the Sand Creek Massacre site dedication Saturday, representatives of the Arapaho and Cheyenne nation performed a round of honor songs. Former U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell also addressed the crowd at the Sand Creek Massacre site dedication on Saturday.

Representatives of the Arapaho and Cheyenne people as well as representatives of the state and federal governments shared a common theme in their speeches — that the day was a beginning point for healing for the descendants of those who died in a bloody raid on a peaceful American Indian settlement at Sand Creek.

Cheyenne Chief Gordon Yellowman offered an opening prayer for the ceremonies in which he asked the creator to, “be with our elders and relatives here today to witness this occasion.”

Representatives of the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes then performed traditional honor songs handed down from generation to generation to honor those who died in what has become known as the Sand Creek Massacre.

Begin your own traditions

Governor Bill Ritter told the crowd that, “It is fitting to have a memorial here. It has been too long in coming.” Ritter said that non-Native Americans should take a cue from the tribes and begin their own oral traditions, telling their children of what happened at Sand Creek, so that, “we never forget what happened here.”

Former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell spoke passionately of the long quest to have the site designated as a national historical site and the need to acknowledge what happened there in order to allow healing to take place. Nighthorse Campbell said the encampment was flying a U.S. flag with a small white flag below it to indicate the group was peaceful and under the protection of the U.S. Army on Nov. 29, 1864, the day of the attack. In a touch of irony, he said it is believed that on that day Chief White Antelope was wearing a peace medal given to him by the president during a trip to Washington.

Chivington paraded body parts of those slaughtered through the streets of Denver

Nighthorse Campbell said the attack was not made by the U.S. Army as some believe, but rather by the Colorado Militia led by Colonel John Chivington, who later paraded body parts of those slaughtered through the streets of Denver.

According to Nighthorse Campbell, Chivington and others’ purpose was to, “get rid of the Indians in order to get to statehood faster.” Not all of the soldiers participated in the massacre, he said. A few were revolted by it and gave eye witness accounts of the atrocities that took place during the massacre, in some cases at their own peril.

Historical records indicate that between 140 and 180 Native Americans died

Historical records indicate that between 140 and 180 Native Americans died at the site and afterward as a result of their injuries. Chivington’s conduct was later investigated by the military and the U.S. Congress, but no disciplinary action was ever taken against him or his soldiers in the case.

Joe Big Medicine, a headsman of the Southern Cheyenne nation and member of the Sand Creek Site Committee said he had worked on the project for about 12 years. According to Big Medicine, two researchers came to his home years ago and told him, “We have lost Sand Creek. Can you help us to find the massacre site?”

He said the group relied heavily on maps drawn by George Bent, especially one drawn some 10 years after the massacre, which detailed where certain chiefs were camped, including War Bonnet, One Eye, Black Kettle, Lean Bear and White Antelope. Big Medicine said that both he and Southern Cheyenne Chief Laird Comesevah heard the screams and cries of the women and children when they walked across the area searching for the site of the massacre.

A good day for Native Americans

Big Medicine said Saturday was a good day for Native Americans and that he was satisfied with the observance. He added he would eventually like to see a site designated for tribal ceremonies that would not be open to the public, noting there was still considerable work to do towards developing the site and that tribal representatives will remain involved in the process.

After the dedication program, Nighthorse Campbell told The Lamar Ledger that the day represented the “circle being complete,” and added that “a healing process got started today.” He called it tragic that the massacre was done in the name of expansion and said the practice of calling Native Americans savages was wrong. “Our children are not savages,” he said.

Ben Nighthorse Campbell served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1987 through 1992 and in the U.S. Senate from 1993 until 2005.


Mary Breslin is the editor of The Lamar Ledger. She can be reached by e-mail at:

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