“Damn any man in sympathy with the Indians!”
- Colonel John Milton Chivington, Expedition Commander, 1st Regiment Cavalry, Colorado [U.S.] Volunteers, November 28, 1864
Photo Caption: Fort Lyon, Post Quartermaster’s Office, Nov. 28, 1864: National Park Service artist’s rendition - COL Chivington, Expedition Commander lays out his plan for the attack on Sand Creek, pounding his fist on the table. Right of him, Samuel Colley Indian Agent, to left is Major Jacob Downing. Other officers and men around the table are 2LT Chauncey Cossitt, Post QM, Pvt. Evander Light, Co. E-1, 1LT Joseph Maynard, Expedition Adjutant, 2LT Joe Cramer, Co. K-1, 2LT Wm. Minton, Acting Post Adjutant, and CPT Sam Cook, Co. F-1.
1858 - Santa Fe Trail: Overland traveler, Daniel Kellogg, wrote in his diary “Oct. 16th ...Bent would stand in the gate-way of the fort for hours at a time oblivious to his surroundings, stolid as an Indian.” We can imagine a weathered William Bent, attired as a frontiersman in the cold fall wind at the portal, wrapped in an unique Navajo robe made with craft and care for long-lasting use.
At that moment in time, William had survived where his brothers Charles, Robert. John and George had not. He still prospered at his post and in Westport from profits of an international economy spanning continents, oceans and countries. Half a world away, in the Far East, his remaining brother Silas was a Navy flag officer serving with Commodore Matthew Perry who was opening America’s doorway to Japan.
As he stared past the masonry walls of his “new” fort he likely couldn’t imagine in six years, his friends, the Cheyennes of his deceased wife, would be running for their lives from soldiers whose leader would plan an attack on them from a room just feet away. He could hardly envision that on the other end of the Santa Fe Trail a Methodist-Episcopal preacher was posted in the Kansas-Nebraska Conference near Omaha. That man would hold the power of life and death over Bent’s children, in-laws and partners-in-trade. They would die under the fire of soldiers he commanded. If William could see the future in that gateway to his post the chill that October day would have stung his bones.
We are such a visual bunch, that is, our society. We hunch over our cell phones peering at little screens while screening out the world just steps away. By our own free will we have imposed “tunnel-vision” on ourselves with computers and social media. But there are still artists and visionaries among us.
It’s rare when we find someone like a crime scene sketch artist that can take our words, our descriptions and turn those mental and voice images into a full color representation. A drawing or painting can take us from a concept to something our brains can comprehend. Some years ago I learned painters and drawers of portraits could truly say more with one picture than one thousand words could explain.
It was so amazing when a National Park Service artist took the words of a meeting in Lieutenant Chauncey Cossitt’s office at Bent’s New Fort on the evening of Nov. 28, 1864 and gave us a picture. [See painting.] It brought the low-ceilings of a dark room inside the rock and masonry structure with the tallest, a hulking John Chivington and equally tall ”Major” (Indian Agent) Samuel G. Colley near the supporting cross-beams as several others crowded around a table. They were listening to the Colonel planning the march and attack on the village at Sand Creek.
As it often does out here, on that late afternoon, the winds were subsiding, sand and dust were settling. The cold night air was taking hold in the clear sky of a brief twilight. At about 1630 hours (4:30 PM) several officers and men gathered in Cossitt’s office with the slight flames of lamps casting shadows on the close walls.
The former New Yorker, post Quartermaster, was in charge of military supplies and commissary. His cold and dark office was inside the thick walls of Bent’s buildings overlooking the Arkansas R., which he’d leased to the U. S. Army on Sept. 9, 1860 to use as an annex to Fort Wise then being constructed.
1630 Hours [4:30 P.M.] – Ft. Lyon Commissary. A moonless dark would envelope the frontier post. In the next few hours only stars and a near-freezing night would surround about 675 men and horses moving in the dark march to an uncertain objective.
Next week, Part II
Travel well, Jeff C. Campbell
Jeff C. Campbell, a veteran police officer / investigator, published author of articles, books, and a series of novels. He’s an independent historian focusing on the Southwest, the Civil War in the West and Colorado’s Territorial days..