Colonel John Milton Chivington, Part 1
October, 2001: When this investigation began, the “Reverend Colonel” or “Fighting Parson” had to be given a clean slate. All the denouncements and volumes of praises and allegations were set aside. The inquiry had to start blank since there’s been much written, misconstrued and so full of misconceptions about this man. Everything had to be re-examined and most critical - the sources had to be primary - from diaries, testimonies, official records, letters and previous bona fide investigations.
Right off the bat, this posed a dilemma since, as this investigator traced secondary histories and biographies of the man, it found most of the myth of Chivington came from his own mouth, not other objective sources or observers. His story was further complicated because he didn’t leave much of a legacy written in his own hand.
For instance, there’s this glorious story of 1862 where the “Hero of Glorieta” Colonel [COL] Chivington went back to the nation’s capital to lobby for transfer of the Colorado First to the eastern theatre, then petitioning Secretary of War and the President himself for conversion of the 1st into a cavalry regiment. Oh, and along the way, he says he had intimate conversations with Stanton and Lincoln. Years later, he claimed Lincoln was “... my old-time friend” who he visited at the Executive Mansion. (The Pet Lambs” Denver Republican, 1890). Near the same time, late August, early Sept. 1862, an article was run in the Rocky Mountain News that the COL had participated in the Battle of the 2nd Bull Run or 2nd Manassas. [RMN never followed up or retracted the story.] Some of his feats defy the space / time continuum. Remember travel was by horse, stage and, once east of the Mississippi, some train travel.
Hard to be in two places at once.
Examining Chivington’s military records and pension file, there is no corroboration that he ever made it east of the Missouri-Kansas border. Although the RMN (enamored with him and owner William Byers’ A.F.&A.M. brother) states he was going to Washington, his muster records show he was on “detached service” to Ft. Scott, KS from Sept. 19, 1862.
The best documentary and eyewitnesses we have for this period show Chivington on temporary duty at Ft. Scott, Kansas, seen on the road between there and Kansas City and attending a Methodist camp meeting and assisting staunch Methodist General James “Jim” Lane with recruiting operations in the Wyandotte Co. and Leavenworth, KS area.
Stories often credit Chivington with acquiring orders for mounts for the 1st Reg. in Washington. It appears that the new Governor of the Territory of Colorado, John Evans (who was a real friend, an Illinoisan, former Whig, Republican, railroad associate and appointee of Lincoln’s) was responsible for the conversion of the 1st Reg., the new cavalry accoutrements and arms, not Chivington, an unknown in Washington. Evans, while in D.C. that fall of 1862, got arms and mounts for the 2nd Colorado Cavalry. As well, during this time, Evans sent an introductory letter endorsing Chivington to the Commander, Dept. of Kansas, BG. Blunt* at Ft. Leavenworth [Aug. 4th]. Evans made no mention or hint of Chivington going to Washington from there. (Ft. Scott, a supply and remount station was within Blunt’s command area.)
[* James Blunt rose to rank of MG, an abolitionist, “free-stater” in Kansas, and had other commonalities with Evans as a Doctor schooled and practiced in Ohio.]
This investigator tried to find well-researched sources leading to primary sources. I started with Reginald Craig’s biography, The Fighting Parson, The biography of John M. Chivington, Westernlore Press, 1959, L.A., CA. The first third of the book appears to be a fair background on the man; then an obvious slant in favor of Chivington followed. It was curious since Craig touted his independence stressing his training as an attorney.
In 2006, at the Denver University Penrose Archives, Dr. Raymond Carey’s* collections revealed New York Public Library papers from novelist Dorothy Gardner’s Collections (The Great Betrayal a story about the massacre, Garden City, NY, Doubleday & Co. Inc., 1949). Within, there is a set of letters to her including one in 1949 from Craig. He identified himself as the great great grandson of Chivington, which changed him from a disinterested third party to someone creating a family member’s narrative. Craig could have saved readers and researchers years of digging by being up front about the relationship.
[* Historian, Carey was a well-noted and respected Sand Creek writer / researcher for about 30 years while on the faculty of D.U. He was premier in this endeavour. His book on Sand Creek would have been welcome. He inspired Dr. Gary Roberts’ work on the subject. – Denver University was founded by Chivington, Evans and others.]
Some of the best research on Chivington has been under the auspices of The General Commission on Archives and History of the United Methodist Church [GCAH]. In 2016, Dr. Gary L. Roberts, under their authority, investigated his history along with Methodist elder, Governor (Dr.) John Evans. The years of study were released as Massacre at Sand Creek: How Methodists Were Involved in an American Tragedy, Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. [Copies are available at the Western National Parks Association bookstore at the NPS offices in Eads and at the National Historic Site, as well as on-line.]
Roberts, in conjunction with the church and especially Robert J. Williams, General Secretary, United Methodist Church, [GCAH], Madison, NJ [Williams-Collection-UMC] were able to put together their combined efforts in the above noted book. Writer had the privilege of communicating with Williams as well and has been privy to some of the copies of original letters and notes from church records re: Evans, Chivington and Bishop Matthew Simpson.
The “General Minutes” answer two oft-debated questions about Chivington: when was he ordained, and was he still a minister / Reverend in 1864? To the second part, yes. Apparently his ordination wasn’t revoked at that time. To the first part, Chivington was converted to the Methodist-Episcopal Church in 1842 at a revival by Bishop Simpson. He moved from Ohio to Illinois then Missouri Conference where, in 1850, he was “admitted into full connection and elected deacon and subsequently “ordained deacon.” Minutes further show he was in 1860 by the Kansas and Nebraska Conference – Presiding Elder, Rocky Mountain District. It appears the last “Minutes” in which he was actively mentioned was 1870.
Another important documentation of the COL was released in 2007 by Lori Cox-Paul [A NARA Archivist out of Kansas City], John M. Chivington, The Reverend Colonel, appearing in Nebraska History, Lincoln, V. 88, No. 4, Winter 2007. She compiled a concise, objective analytic profile of Chivington’s life. It may still be available in print or on-line. She presented her findings in Denver, Oct. 9, 2009, to a full house at the Western Historical Association meeting.
Next in the series, COL Chivington Part 2
Jeff C. Campbell