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Chapter 8 Victory and Defeat
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After Sand Creek: The End of Ritual

Sand Creek achieved notoriety soon after it occurred. It represented a definitive end to an era of cooperation between the tribes of the southwestern Plains and Anglo cultures and produced changes within both cultures. It, of course, had its most profound effect on those most directly involved.

Sand Creek and similar incidents probably contributed to the erosion of optimism associated with westward expansion. The settlement of the West could no longer seem to be unalloyed progress. Jefferson and his contemporaries who had looked to the West so eagerly had espoused the Renaissance ideal of toleration and subscribed to the notion of the perfectivity of mankind through the application of reason. Thus the Native Americans were essentially like the Europeans but had not yet enjoyed the benefits of education and, particularly, science. According to this view, assimilation could not be far off. Incidents like Sand Creek indicated that this ideal was far from being realized.

Sand Creek also became a cause for severe friction between the federal government and the state. A schism formed between federal and Colorado political and military leaders. Federal leaders lined up uniformly against the events at Sand Creek. Committees were formed—first in the House of Representatives, and then a joint committee of the Senate and the House—which condemned the actions at Sand Creek. As the House committee put it in 1865:

As to Colonel 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 variest savage among those who were the victims of his cruelty.[46]

The events that occurred after the empaneling of a military commission to investigate Sand Creek illustrate well the growing federal-state an-


tagonism. A fact-finding military commission set to work in Denver in 1865. The proceedings were not public, but word of them spread through Denver, sparking general resentment about the investigation and those who testified "against" Chivington and the Third Colorado. One of the first to testify, and one of the most outspoken, was Silas S. Soule, who had been a captain in the First Colorado Cavalry. During the investigation, several shots were fired at him from ambush. Finally, he was shot and killed by a soldier from the Colorado Second named Squiers. Squiers was apprehended in Las Vegas, New Mexico, by a Lieutenant Cannon of the New Mexico Volunteers. Cannon brought Squiers back to Denver, but soon thereafter Cannon was found dead in his Denver hotel room. It was suspected that he had been poisoned. Squiers escaped again, and reports later placed him in California.[47]

Relations between Anglos and Native Americans, too, were predictably ruptured. Sand Creek set off a period of violent reprisals on the part of the Cheyenne and Arapaho. Virtually all of the individuals in these two groups now wanted revenge. For a time, Black Kettle's position as leader of the Cheyenne was taken over by two who were more warlike, Leg-in-the-Water and Little Robe, even though Black Kettle himself now wanted war and busied himself rallying half-blooded Cheyenne and Sioux against the white man. When the old trapper and friend of the Cheyenne, Jim Beckworth, urged peace, Leg-in-the-Water replied:

But what do we have to live for? The white man has taken our country, killed our game; was not satisfied with that, but killed our wives and children. Now no peace. . .. We have now raised our battle-axe until death.[48]

All of these groups, including the outcast and extremely warlike Dog Soldiers of the Cheyenne, were brought together on the Republican River. Now more than two thousand warriors could be directed upon selected targets. And selected they were; no longer did small bands raid as opportunity suggested. The actions of the warriors were directed by the war councils of the soldier societies. In the face of the obvious efforts to exterminate them, the Cheyenne and Arapaho put aside for the time being the individualism that had hampered their military operations. Raids on the Julesburg stage station, several large ranches, and wagon trains along the Platte route provided food to the hungry tribes, although George Bent had to instruct the raiders on the use of many unfamiliar items, including how to open tin cans.[49] The night after the Julesburg raid, a victory dance was held "in full view" of the soldiers and civilians huddled together in Fort Rankin. A lieutenant, Eugene F. Ware, watched from the fort all


night. The Indians, illuminated by the light from fires built with telegraph poles they had cut down, were

circling around the fire, then separately stamping the ground and making gestures . . ., and finally it was a perfect pandemonium lit up with the wildfire of burning telegraph poles. We knew the bottled liquors destined for Denver were beginning to get in their work and a perfect orgy was ensuing.[50]

But such victories were short-lived. With the end of the Civil War, more troops were committed to dealing with the "Indian problem." Over the next five years, many battles were fought. Treaties were signed (and soon broken), but Anglos gradually asserted their control over the movements of the Cheyenne and Arapaho.

In 1868, Black Kettle and his wife were killed at the Battle of Washita, the army forces there being led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. Though Custer claimed that 103 Indian men were killed in this battle, more reliable estimates, from three sources, were between 9 and 20 men and 18 and 40 women and children killed. General Philip Henry Sheridan remarked after receiving Custer's report that "If we can get in one or two more good blows, there will be no more Indian troubles in my department."[51]

In the Treaty of Medicine Lodge, signed on October 28, 1867, the Cheyenne and Arapaho ceded their claim to their preferred territory between the Arkansas and Platte rivers. They accepted by this treaty an area bounded by the 37th parallel and the Cimarron and Arkansas rivers. Increasingly, of course, they were in no position to bargain. The land to which they were finally assigned was determined not by treaty, but by executive order in 1869. This land was in the Indian Territories, a good distance east of what had been the prime buffalo grounds north of the Arkansas, and far from where their old friend William Bent had established his trading posts.

William Bent’s life ended in the same year that the Cheyenne and Arapaho relinquished their freedom. On May 19, 1869, Bent died of pneumonia, which he contracted while taking a wagonload of goods for trade to Santa Fe, as he had done so many times before. Returning home, he was caught in a late spring snowstorm. He was buried in Las Animas, where later his eldest daughter, Mary Bent Moore, and her husband, Judge R. M. Moore, would be laid to rest beside him. The Pueblo Chieftain, in an obituary, estimated William Bent’s fortune to be between $150,000 to $200,000 when he died—evidently the years and misfortunes he had endured had not dulled his business acumen.


William Bent's children, other than Mary, chose the Cheyenne way rather than the world of the white man. George and Charles in particular, haunted by what they had seen at Sand Creek, fought bitterly against the increasing restrictions to the Cheyenne way of life. Charles would become, in Lavender's words, "the worst desperado the plains have ever known," pursuing a path of treachery and cruelty. In one instance he staked out a naked captive, cut out his tongue and "substituted another portion of his body in its place," built a fire on his stomach, and howled with glee as the man died in agony.[52] Charles also attempted to kill his father after William disowned him in disgust. George moved with the Cheyenne to their final reservation in what is now Oklahoma. Julia married Edmund Guerrier, another half-breed who had been present at the Sand Creek Massacre. Both George and Julia have grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren still living on the Oklahoma reservation areas as members of the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribe.

Sand Creek, then, marked the real end of the era of cooperation based upon ritual exchange between the Native Americans and Americans. The Bents and Ceran St. Vrain had laid the foundation for this collaboration with the construction of Bent's Old Fort and their willingness to accommodate the traditions of their trading partners. The demise of the fort was the removal of a key element in the ritual interaction between the Americans and Native Americans. Without such ritual interaction, by which to establish a common humanity, each side regarded the other as something less than "real" and "human." The recent arrivals rallied under the leadership of men like Chivington, the Methodist minister-warrior, who was determined to establish the hegemony of his value and belief system. Very quickly, however, Chivington and the more parochial system he espoused were displaced as the federal government reclaimed control of the culture of modernity, capitalism, and individualism.

Mircea Eliade observed that

one of the outstanding characteristics of traditional societies is the opposite that they assume between their inhabited territory and the unknown and indeterminate space that surrounds it. The former is the world (more precisely, our world), the cosmos; everything outside it is no longer cosmos but a sort of "other world," a foreign, chaotic space, peopled by ghosts, demons, "foreigners" (who are assimilated to demons and souls of the dead).[53]

He elaborated on this by saying that unknown, "chaotic" space must be made known through consecration. Without such means, the unknown remains the unformed and terrifying, and those who populate it retain


the status of demons. What Eliade says here in regard to "traditional" man is equally true of "modem" man, although the ideology of individualism works stubbornly against this realization. The events we have examined in this chapter are evidence that Eliade was correct in his observation that the "unconsecrated" remains unknown and terrifying. In the absence of ritual between the Plains Indians and the Anglos from the East, each side appeared as demons to the other—demons in the form of the three-year-old boy at whom the soldiers of the Colorado Third took turns shooting, demons in the shape of the Hungate children.


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Chapter 8 Victory and Defeat
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