Out in Bill Dawson’s old metal ranch barn, just east of where the ranch house was nestled in a grove of native cottonwoods, we had a 3-day meeting in what’s called the Council Room.
For near eight of the last ten years now, the National Park Service has held Consultation Meetings there with tribal representatives of Northern and Southern branches of the Arapaho and Cheyenne. They are descendants of those who survived or were killed during the massacre of 29 & 30 November and 1 December 1864.
It was extraordinary in subtle ways with more tribal representatives, tribal government legislators and executives than we’ve ever seen. The room holds about thirty people comfortably, but this time there were 50 plus each day, not to mention the Colorado Lt. Governor, representatives of the State Historical Soc. and a documentary film crew. Catering (good chow) was provided by Hawk’s Nest of Sheridan Lake, who made some on the spot changes for the larger than usual group.
Kiowa County should be proud of the accomplishments since 1998. One aspect you probably don’t know is this NPS site is the first that was built from the ground up out of the initiative of the tribes followed by a precedent setting series of tribal consultations continuing through the present every six months. The NPS didn’t cut the tribes or the citizens of this county out after the Dedication on April 28, 2007. The site management still includes all “stakeholders.” The public is always welcome at the site and admission fees won’t be charged (a unique feature written into the legislation up front).
Recently, there have been some comments lodged, mostly supportive about articles this newspaper has run about Sand Creek and its history. I can’t and won’t speak for the Independent, the National Park Service or the tribes. I will offer this to anyone who disagrees with my research and writing about the people and events before, after and during the massacre. – Come on ahead – I’m easy enough to find. As I’ve said, I have no proprietary interest in my research. The information is public and anyone can find it. The myths, misconceptions, and propaganda from all sides are out there, too. Through accuracy I hope to dispel junk history.
My purpose is to find witnesses who were there be they Cheyenne, Arapaho, soldier, farmer, rancher or pioneer. All have their story and deserve to be reported with objective ink rather than make believe. As you read the articles, I hope you note, as space permits, I try to give you their quoted words rather than my interpretation.
With solid information in hand, corroborate the statements and see their fit with sworn testimony and something often missed, how the statements fit with the topography of the Big Sandy watershed. We’ve found at least two important geographic features [from soldier records] that aren’t duplicated anywhere else in this stretch of the Big Sandy valley. Those landmarks are confirmed by all (I do mean all) of the artifacts found to date that locate the “projected village site.” Most of the massacre didn’t take place in the village but upstream and in all directions.
In May 2009, working with the NPS American Battlefield Protection Program, we attempted to understand the width and breadth of the field of operations during the three days the soldiers were on the ground. After serious consideration of natural escape and pursuit routes, written, and oral renditions, archaeology (both private and site projects) and translating those words onto the land with topographic and aerial maps, we concluded that all the actions covered between 35 and 50 square miles! The difference was the method of calculation by either escape route corridors or by counting total numbers of square miles through which the corridors pass.
Actions started at the village site, up Sand Creek as far as 8 miles, west onto the prairies maybe two-plus miles and to the north and northeast as much as 8 to 10 miles. We found the total ground was astounding.
Another thing most people don’t get is that, although the first shots fired [small arms ] by Company H, 1st Regiment soldiers at the edge of the village, few Cheyenne and Arapaho casualties were in or near the village itself. Most soldier and tribal deaths and woundings occurred beyond the perimeter of the village. Folks tend to judge their understanding of the massacre by movie and fictional images rather than the 200 plus witnesses we’ve been able to locate. Movies compress time and space for the purpose of the story regardless of facts. [Most recent estimates: Cheyenne & Arapaho killed in action = 230, wounded in action = 200 estimated; Soldiers killed in action = 18, wounded in action = 78 estimated.]
As has been true all along, the site location and the events research are “works in progress”, and each new bit takes us closer to full understanding.
Oh, by the way, Commissioner Richard Scott gave a well-received and thoughtful speech at the “10-Year Retrospective” Thursday evening panel of speakers at the Plains Theatre. You should have been there. As one of the first of the panel to speak, he represented the citizens of our county very well. His inclusion of public sentiment and conscience, economic impact, historical points of view and acceptance of the horrific event the National Historic Site commemorates was all well said.
Poignant messages were delivered by state and tribal dignitaries, Ernest House, Holly Norton, William Walks Along (N. Cheyenne), Al Addison (N. Arapaho), Joe Big Medicine (S. C&A) Jace Killsback (N.C.) Conrad Fisher (N.C.) and Tom Thomas (NPS). This topped off a day highlighted by a visit from Donna Lynne, Lt. Governor of the State of Colorado, who gave the Governor’s message at the consultation meeting.
Mr. James Doyle (NPS) ended the evening. (Some may recall he served in our community for four months as temporary Superintendent) Also, he has made several trips to Eads and the county as a representative of Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell’s staff. Doyle gave a compelling closing with heart-felt personal recollections of the process begun in the 1990s. Hard to believe. (As far as I know, Senator Campbell and I aren’t relatives; although, I do call him “Uncle Ben.”)
My last note: the articles I write about Sand Creek aren’t created to dictate the truth of the matter, but to give you an accurate report. The truth is for you to judge. You are welcome to believe any version of truth you want.
Travel Well, Jeff C. Campbell
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 and Colorado.