I don’t call the ball club from Cleveland by their name. Seeing close-ups of their players makes me cringe. It’s not superstition or anxiety about the game. Every time I hear their team name and see their cartoon mascot I think of the Sand Creek Massacre.
I visited the site of the November 29, 1864 Sand Creek Massacre this summer when I was in Colorado. I took an interstate to a highway to a narrow road to a dirt road to get to this sacred site that is a long way from everywhere. I couldn’t even see the Rocky Mountains from this sun-baked patch of south-eastern Colorado. I squinted even wearing sunglasses. Sagebrush and cottonwood trees marked the landscape. The Sand Creek riverbed was dry. The rangers warned of rattle snakes.
John Evans was the Colorado Territory Governor in 1864. He exploited the growing tensions between White settlers and Native Americans for his own political and business gains. His speeches added to the fear-filled air, even issuing a proclamation in August, 1864 for citizens to “kill and destroy…hostile Indians.”
John Chivington was the commander of the Third Regiment of the US army. He had been a popular Methodist Episcopal preacher. His regiment wasn’t seeing any action and Chivington was eager for advancement.
Evans and Chivington invited “friendly Indians of the plains” to go to designated places of safety. One of the negotiated places of safety was Sand Creek. By mid-October there were 700 people living at Sand Creek, mostly Cheyenne and some Arapahoe.
When the sun rose on November 29 the village at Sand Creek started to stir. Children and grandparents, young men, old women, mothers, fathers, tended to chores. They heard the beating of hooves and called out, “The buffalo are coming.” But the thunder wasn’t from buffalo. It was from hundreds of U.S. soldiers. Peace Chief Black Kettle raised the white flag and the U.S. flag. And still the soldiers came. Cheyenne and Arapahoe chiefs walked toward the soldiers to ask for a parley. The U.S. soldiers fired and all the chiefs except Black Kettle were killed.
On top of horses, the U.S. soldiers chased the fleeing Cheyenne and Arapahoe. Some, mostly women, children and the elderly, dug sand pits in the river bed. Chivington ordered the U.S. soldiers to fire the howitzers. The soldiers executed those who surrendered. They gunned down those who fled. The firing stopped when the U.S. troops ran out of bullets. Between 165 and 200 Cheyenne were killed, two-thirds of them were women, children and the elderly. Another 200 were wounded or maimed.
The following day U.S. soldiers ransacked and burned the village. They took trophies from the fallen bodies – scalps, fingers, genitals.
Some time later, The Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War found that Chivington had “surprised and murdered in cold blood….unsuspecting men, women, and children…who had every reason to believe that they were under [US] protection….” No one was every indicted or tried in military or civilian court. Chivington remained an ordained clergy person of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
I’ll watch the World Series tonight. I’ll cheer on the Cubs. I’ll admire good plays by their opponent. And I’ll remember Sand Creek.
Thought-provoking even for someone like me in the heart of Indian Country. A couple things: John Evans really got around. The town of Evanston, Wyoming, is named for him. So is Evanston, Illinois, home of my alma mater, Northwestern University. It always amazes me how much travel some people did at a time of primitive transportation methods. Second, I’m pleased and proud to mention that my wife, now a retired teacher, taught almost her entire career in largely Indian schools. And to cap it, her last position was as a K-6 librarian at the Crow Agency school almost at the entrance to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. She worked with a team of teachers who brought the substandard reading level of students up to grade level. And for her contributions to that effort, she was given her own Indian name – a high honor. Somewhere I have the actual Crow name. Translated, it essentially means She Who Teaches with Stories.
thanks so much for your response. I went seminary at Garrett-Evangelical, right there on Northwestern’s campus. I’d love to hear more about your experience in Montana and your wife’s experience teaching.
Where to begin? I’m the third-generation descendant (both sides of my family) of an ethnic group called Germans from Russia. (They started coming to the frontier steppes of Russia in the late 18th century, during the reign of Catherine the Great, herself German.)
I know a lot more about the Old World-to-New World journey of my mother’s “people.” Briefly, they, a group including my grandfather, my grandmother, my then infant aunt, my widowed great-grandmother and a couple of her young sons (my great-uncles), boarded the SS Teutonic in Liverpool in late May 1914. They had made the overland journey from the Black Sea region of Russia (in the vicinity of Odessa), likely to Bremen or Hamburg, thence to the UK. They left about a month before the assassination in Sarajevo triggered the start of World War I.
Because of that immigrant ship’s ports of call, my ancestors did not go through Ellis Island. Instead, they disembarked at, I believe, Quebec. Likely they took a train across Canada to one of the western provinces, likely Manitoba or Saskatchewan, and ultimately ended up in North Dakota. One more move put them in Eastern Montana where they homesteaded.
Pick up the story in 1951, when I was born at the Northern Pacific hospital in Glendive, Montana. So I’m a proud Eastern Montana boy. Love the grandeur of Montana’s mountains, lakes and streams but also appreciate the sometimes overlooked beauty of the badlands and high plains where I grew up. Attended school in several towns as my family kept moving up the Yellowstone River valley and graduated high school in Billings. That’s where I got my official start in journalism (I had worked on student papers in two high schools) as a part-time, weekend sports writer for the Billings Gazette.
I was fortunate enough to land a full-tuition industry scholarship to Northwestern and attend Medill. Given my parent’s finances – they were working poor at a time when the phrase hadn’t been coined – and my position as the eldest of six children, there is no way I otherwise would have gotten to Evanston. I graduated in 1974 and launched a 25-year reporting and editing career that took me to Colorado, Wyoming and Michigan before I returned to Billings in early 1981. I spent 16 more years at the Billings Gazette (my third stint, counting high school), then became disgruntled enough at management to join other folks in launching a free, independent weekly newspaper. I helped for about a year, then really needed a less financially precarious existence so I began my career change. I worked for about five years at a major operations center that Wells Fargo uses in Billings (internal customer and technical support for bankers and personal tellers; no actual banking), and then a former Gazette colleague (and fellow NU alum) recruited me to a Bozeman, MT-based tech startup called RightNow Technologies. That was in 2005. Oracle bought RightNow in late 2011. Another five years in the proposal/RFP response management field brought me to where I wanted to get out of the career rat race and enjoy semi-retirement. So now, I’m driving bus at Big Sky, a total and good change of pace, and writing.
My wife? Well, like me, she is a small-town Montana native who grew up near here and received her elementary education degree from Montana State University in nearby Bozeman. She picked up library and reading endorsements along the way and after a brief stint in the classroom (kindergarten) became a school librarian for nearly all of her 25-year teaching career. She taught in several majority-Indian schools, her last stint being as a K-6 librarian at the Crow Agency school, right at the entrance to the Big Horn National Battlefield. Her skills in helping kids, especially Indian children, become better readers didn’t go unnoticed. When she left the Hardin, Montana system (which includes Crow Agency), she received the high honor of being given her own, unique Crow name. An honor shared, for example, by Barrack Obama when he came to that location in 2008.
Nowadays, as a retired teacher, she is pursuing her passion of sewing and quilting. My closet includes four or five shirts she made for me. Beautiful work.
Enough of my rambling. Thanks for asking.