The Sand Creek Massacre is one of the most horrific events in US history, and the legacies of the massacre remain to this day. If you live in the US and don’t know about Sand Creek, take the time to learn—as members of the US, this is your history too (I don’t wanna hear shit about how your family wasn’t in the country yet, your ancestors weren’t involved, you would never do anything racist, etc—this is a massacre of innocent women and children that facilitated the creation of the state of Colorado, and by proxy, the expansion of the US through the American West—the wealth, land, and power of the contemporary US has been built in part on the legacy of Sand Creek).
In the months immediately before the massacre, freight from the east to Denver was largely at a standstill as Indians disrupted travel in an attempt to ward off further intrusion. Flour was $45 a sack and other prices skyrocketed, adding to the hysteria fanned by Indian-war proponents. Another impetus to violence, the scalped remains of a family of four from near Denver were brought to the city for display, although whether they were killed by Indians has been disputed.
Before Sand Creek, the Cheyenne were still recovering from an 1849 cholera epidemic that killed nearly half the tribe, and they were receiving conflicting signals from the U.S. Army. Although Army Col. John Chivington and Territorial Gov. John Evans did not accept Indians’ commitments to peace, Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle nevertheless agreed to a camp at Sand Creek believing he had a promise of safety from Army Major Edward Wynkoop…Although the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 promised vast lands to the Arapaho and Cheyenne to discourage warfare, the pressure of white encroachment resulted in a new treaty and tribal anger about the much smaller reservation that resulted.
On November 29, 1864, Cheyenne Chief White Antelope sang his death song as some 200 Arapaho and Cheyenne were massacred by Colorado Volunteers of the U.S. Army at Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado Territory. The Indians had been promised safety by the military and some even gathered futilely under the Stars and Stripes hoisted at the encampment above a white flag of peace.
In a bitterly cold dawn, about 700 members of the Third Regiment of Colorado Volunteers rode through the camp in a sneak attack, shooting mostly women, children and elderly in an hours-long frenzy. Many of the victims’ bodies were mutilated by soldiers—some of them said to be drunk—and disfigured remains were paraded through the streets of Denver to jubilation and applause.
The massacre was truly grotesque, not just because of the high death toll, but because of the nature of the violence, which included widespread rape, torture, and execution-style killings. Lt Silas Soule, who participated in the massacre, described it in a letter to a superior:
The massacre lasted six or eight hours…it was hard to see little children on their knees have their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized….They were all scalped, and as high as a half a dozen [scalps] taken from one head. They were all horriby mutilated…You could think it impossible for white men to butcher and mutilate human beings as they did there, but every word I have told you is the truth, which they do not deny.
In the years that followed, many of the survivors of Sand Creek joined the Indian Wars, fighting alongside their Northern relatives and the Lakota. Many of the Cheyenne woman warriors joined the ranks after seeing or experiencing sexual violence during Sand Creek. Mochi, for example, was 24 when she saw a US soldier shoot her mother in the head; another soldier attempted to rape her, and she shot him, escaped the massacre, and went on to fight in battles against the US military for 11 years, before being imprisoned as the only formal Native woman prisoner of war in US history.
Body parts (particularly scalps, genitalia, breasts, hands, and feet) taken from the massacre site were extremely popular trinkets to buy, and were often kept on display in bars, stores, and household mantles. Cradleboards were sold with baby remains still inside, moccasin sets stuffed with rotting feet. These pieces were traded all across the country, and later collected by museums, who used to boast of their displays of such items (body parts were also taken at Washita, Wounded Knee, and most other smaller massacres). Many of these items have not yet been repatriated, and museums continue to create offensive displays of the massacre, that legitimate US military action.
Survivors were promised reparations from the US government, and their descendants continue to pursue them, though as of yet, they have not been paid. Cheyenne & Arapaho treaty rights to land on their ancestral territories in Colorado and Wyoming continue to be violated; Cheyennes & Arapahos in the region were removed to Oklahoma, where we remain. In Oklahoma, treaty rights were once again ignored, and the Dawes Act effectively obliterated the Oklahoma tribal land-base. In Oklahoma, Cheyennes & Arapahos survived more massacres, as well as widespread starvation and preventable disease (from being forced to live on inadequate rations and in deplorable conditions). While there are large Cheyenne & Arapaho communities, we have yet to be able to return to our homelands as a tribe.
Fun History Fact: The overwhelming majority of cowboys in the U.S. were Indigenous, Black, and/or Mexican persons. The omnipresent white cowboy is a Hollywood studio concoction meant to uphold the mythology of white masculinity.
Barbara Winslow, Feminist Movements: Gender and Sexual Equality
The next time someone tells me that you can’t have feminism in historical settings I’m going to print out 1,000 copies of this post, bind the paper, and throw it at them.
“My wish is to ride the tempest, tame the waves, kill the sharks. I want to drive the enemy away to save our people.” HOLY SHIT.
The most impressive naval career of all the female sailors is that of William Brown, a black woman who spent at least twelve years on British warships, much of this time in the extremely demanding role of captain of the foretop. A good description of her appeared in London’s Annual Register in September 1815: “She is a smart, well-formed figure, about five feet four inches in height, possessed of considerable strength and great activity; her features are rather handsome for a black, and she appears to be about twenty-six years of age.” The article also noted that “in her manner she exhibits all the traits of a British tar and takes her grog with her late messmates with the greatest gaiety.”
Brown was a married woman and had joined the navy around 1804 following a quarrel with her husband. For several years she served on the Queen Charlotte, a three-decker with 104 guns and one of the largest ships in the Royal Navy. Brown must have had nerve, strength, and unusual ability to have been made captain of the foretop on such a ship….The captain of the foretop had to lead a team of seamen up the shrouds of the foremast, and then up the shrouds of the fore-topmast and out along the yards a hundred feet or more above the deck….
At some point in 1815, it was discovered that Brown was a woman and her story was published in the papers, but this does not seem to have affected her naval career….What is certain is that Brown returned to the Queen Charlotte and rejoined the crew."