Cherry Creek and the City of Denver
The picture of the miner panning for gold, and the cherry branches behind him,reference the discovery of gold along Cherry Creek during the Pike’s Peak gold rush In 1858. The first small mining communities in what would become Denver were Montana city,and Auraria.
Another site was developed on the bluff overlooking the intersection of the South Platte River, and Cherry Creek. This site was named Denver city, for the territorial governor of Kansas territory. The city rapidly developed due to the mining, cattle, and transportation industries. The location of the new city however, was right across the South Platte from the traditional camping grounds of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians. It was just a few years after the founding of the city that the Colorado militia, under Col. Chivington in 1864, carried out the Sand Creek massacre. Following the admonition” that the only good Indian is a dead Indian” the militia, when out and attacked the peaceful Cheyenne village of Chief Black Kettle.
Many of the militia were drunk at the time of the attack. Not only did they kill women, children and babies, but the mutilations were savage, even by the standards of the time. Originally hailed as heroes in Denver, the truth eventually came out. There were plenty of eyewitness accounts,and plenty of discussion.
“I saw the bodies of those lying there, all cut to pieces, worse mutilated than any I ever saw before, the women cut all to pieces… With knives; scalped ;their brains knocked out; children two to three months old; all ages lying there from sucking infants up to warriors… By whom were they mutilated ? By the United States troop.”
John S Smith congressional testimony of Mr. John S Smith 1865
“Jis to think of that dog Chivington and his dirty hounds up thar on Sand Creek. His men shot down squaws, and blew the brains out of little innocent children. You call sich soldiers Christians do ye? And Indians savages? What der yer spose our Heavenly Father,, who made both them and us thinks of these things? I tell you what I don’t like hostile red skin any more than you do. And when they are hostile. I’ve fought’em hard as any man. But I never yet drew a bead on a squaw or papoose and I despise the man who would.”
A brief excerpt from the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War reads as follows:
As to Col. Chivington, your committee can hardly find fitting terms to describe his conduct. Wearing the uniform of the United States, which should be the emblem of justice and humanity; holding the important position of commander of a military district, and therefore having the honor of the government to that extent in his keeping, he deliberately planned and executed a foul and dastardly massacre, which would have disgraced the verist savage among those who were the victims of his cruelty. Having full knowledge of their friendly character, having himself been instrumental to some extent in placing them in their position of fancied security, he took advantage of their in- apprehension and defenseless condition to gratify the worst passions that ever cursed the heart of man.
In closing on this subject I would like to add a few comments:
First, I included the Sand Creek story in the picture that relates to Cherry Creek, Denver and mining because the discovery of gold and the relentless pressure from minors and settlers caused the government to continually vacate treaties that were signed with the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians. Examples of this are the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, and the 1861 Treaty of Fort Wise. The ineffectiveness of these treaties caused the peace chiefs to lose credibility among many of their people. It led to the increasing influence of Cheyenne Dog Soldiers. The Dog Soldiers came to believe that peace treaties were worthless, and that the only way to protect their territory was to fight for it. The Dog Soldiers committed plenty of depredations themselves. In the end they were no more effective in preserving the Cheyenne territory than the peace chiefs. When gold was discovered peace treaties were irrelevant. Ten years after these events gold was discovered in the Black Hills. The treaty with the Sioux Indians that had been negotiated as a result of Red Clouds war, was immediately abrogated, and the Indians told to report to the reservation, or be viewed as hostile. The battle of the Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee were just part of the aftermath of the discovery of gold.
Finally, it’s essential to remember that not all of the forces with Chivington participated in the massacre. In spite of Chivington’s admonition “ damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! I have come to kill Indians and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under G-d’s heavento kill Indians… kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.”
Two officers, Capt. Silas Soule, and Lieut. Joseph Cramer commanding companies D and K respectively of the first Colorado cavalry, refused to follow Chivington’s order and told their men to hold fire. Soule would eventually testify to what he saw at Sand Creek, and the reason he refused to participate. Soule was murdered on the streets of Denver for his efforts.
In later years, many of Chivington’s men would say that they were just following orders, but Capt. Soule and Lieut. Joseph Cramer clearly demonstrate that each man is responsible for his own character, and his own soul.