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Another Federal Massacre of Indians

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.

“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.”

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Great article!

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