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Thursday, May 22, 2014

What to Remember on Memorial Day - Another Federal Massacre of Indians

What to Remember on Memorial Day 

May 28, 2012 by William N. Grigg

“What you are proposing is murder,” Lt. Joseph Cramer told his commanding officer, Colonel John Chivington of the Third Colorado Cavalry, shortly before daybreak on the morning of the planned assault. Cramer and several other members of Chivington’s command staff had severe misgivings about the prospect of a sneak attack against a band of defenseless of Cheyenne Indians who had been promised protection.

Chief Black Kettle had distinguished himself through repeated efforts to secure the peace – on one occasion riding weaponless between opposing skirmish lines to prevent a battle from breaking out. In witness of his non-belligerency he had been provided with a United States flag by military officers who promised to protect the Cheyennes and Arapahos who lived in his encampment. 

The "Battle" of Sand Creek could be considered the last engagement in which the U.S. flag flew over Americans who mounted a desperate defense of their homes and families against a barbarous aggressor. 

During the months leading up to the November 1864 attack on the Sand Creek Reservation, Black Kettle had cooperated in efforts to identify and apprehend Indians who had stolen horses and attacked white settlers. He had also repeatedly petitioned both civilian and military officials on behalf of Indians who had suffered similar abuses.
Black Kettle is in the front row, second from the left.
 “The Indians talk very bitterly about the whites – say they have stolen their ponies and abused their women, taken their hunting grounds, and they expected that they would have to fight for their rights,” wrote Lt. George Hawkins in an official report filed during the bitter winter of 1863. The concept that Indians had rights they were entitled to defend was foreign to Colorado Governor John Evans and General Samuel Curtis. 

During a September 1864 conference in Denver, Evans disingenuously insisted that owing to a “state of war” the military had plenary authority over Indian affairs, and that he was powerless to negotiate a peace treaty. Curtis wasn’t interested in a modus vivendi with the Indians: “I want no peace until the Indians suffer more,” he wrote in a directive to Colonel Chivington. “Pursue everywhere and chastise the Cheyennes and the Arapahos…. No presents must be made and no peace concluded without my consent.” 

Chivington was indecently eager to carry out that barbarous directive. Considered a war hero of sorts following a Civil War engagement with Confederate forces in New Mexico, Chivington chafed under the restraints placed on his volunteers. He also resented the fact that the Third Colorado Cavalry, which had yet to see action, had been saddled with the sardonic sobriquet “The Bloodless Third.” 

Chivington’s zeal for combat was highly selective, however. In staging his punitive expedition he was careful to avoid contact with any group of Indians who were actually capable of fighting back. 

With Black Kettle’s people still mired in slumber, and dawn’s tentative fingers peeling away the blanket of darkness, Chivington dismissed the complaints of his underlings as an offense to his exquisitely refined sense of honor: “I believe it right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians who kill and torture women and children. Damn any man who is in sympathy with them.” 

Chivington gave the order, and 750 troops opened fire on the undefended village. The pitiless rifle onslaught was intermittently punctuated by the throaty report of four twelve-pound howitzers. 

Emboldened by the sight of an unarmed and helpless opponent, Chivington’s troops swarmed the camp and surrendered themselves unconditionally to their most depraved impulses.

“There are gruesome eyewitness accounts about braining live children, cutting off fingers to get rings, cutting off ears to get silver earrings, and multi-scalping the same corpse,” recalled historian J. Jay Myers in his book Red Chiefs and White Challengers. A volunteer named Robert Grant later testified that he saw one dead Indian mother “cut open with an unborn child lying by her side. I saw the body of [a Cheyenne named] White Antelope with the privates cut off.”

It wasn't a "battle" in any sense.
 More than 150 Cheyennes – most of them women and children – were slaughtered at Sand Creek. Black Kettle, his gravely wounded wife Medicine Woman, and the other Cheyennes and Arapahos who survived were forced to sign another useless treaty and relocate to an even more desolate reservation on the shores of the Washita River in Oklahoma. 

Nearly four years to the day after Chivington’s murderous raid, Black Kettle’s band endured another unprovoked massacre, this one carried out by George Armstrong Custer's Seventh Cavalry at Washita. Black Kettle and his wife were gunned down while carrying a flag of truce. 

In his book  Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West, Hampton Sides points out that the Sand Creek Massacre, which became the U.S. military’s template for murderous “pacification” operations against the Indians, “is now widely regarded as the worst atrocity committed in all the Indian wars.” At the time, it was celebrated as a brave and noble deed.

“Chivington returned to Denver in triumph,” writes Sides. “At a theater his men paraded their war trophies before the cheering crowds: Scalps, fingers, tobacco pouches made from scrotums, purses of stretched pudenda hacked from Cheyenne women. The Denver newspapers praised the Colorado Volunteers for their glorious victory.”  Finish reading @Source Pro Libertate