John Evans of Colorado Territory sought to open up the Cheyenne and
Arapaho hunting grounds to white development. The tribes, however,
refused to sell their lands and settle on reservations. Evans decided to
call out volunteer militiamen under Colonel
John Chivington to quell the mounting violence. Evans used isolated incidents of
violence as a pretext to order troops into the field under the
ambitious, Indian-hating military commander Colonel
Chivington. Though John Chivington had once belonged to the clergy, his
compassion for his fellow man didn't extend to the Indians.
In the spring of 1864, while the Cival War raged in the east, Chivington launched a campaign of violence against the Cheyenne and their allies, his troops attacking any and all Indians and razing their villages. The Cheyennes, joined by neighboring Arapahos, Sioux, Comanches, and Kiowas in both Colorado and Kansas, went on the defensive warpath. Evans and Chivington reinforced their militia, raising the Third Colorado Calvary of short-term volunteers who referred to themselves as "Hundred Dazers". After a summer of scattered small raids and clashes, white and Indian representatives met at Camp Weld outside of Denver on September 28. No treaties were signed, but the Indians believed that by reporting and camping near army posts, they would be declaring peace and accepting sanctuary.
Black Kettle was a peace-seeking chief of a band of some 600 Southern Cheyennes and Arapahos that followed the buffalo along the Arkansas River of Colorado and Kansas. They reported to Fort Lyon and then camped on Sand Creek about 40 miles north.
Shortly afterward, Chivington led a force of about 700 men into Fort Lyon, and gave the garrison notice of his plans for an attack on the Indian encampment. Although he was informed that BlackKettle has already surrendered, Chivington pressed on with what he considered the perfect opportunity to further the cause for Indian extinction. On the morning of November 29, he led his troops, many of them drinking heavily, to Sand Creek and positioned them, along with their four howitzers, around the Indian village.
Black Kettle, ever trusting, ran up President Lincoln's American flag and a white flag of truce on a large lodge pole in front of his tipi to reassure his people.
Chivington raised his arm for the attack.
The colonel was as thourough as he was heartless. An interpreter living in the village testified, "THEY WERE SCALPED, THEIR BRAINS KNOCKED OUT; THE MEN USED THEIR KNIVES, RIPPED OPEN WOMEN, CLUBBED LITTLE CHILDREN, KNOCKED THEM IN THE HEAD WITH THEIR RIFLE BUTTS, BEAT THEIR BRAINS OUT, MUTILATED THEIR BODIES IN EVERY SENSE OF THE WORD."
By the end of the one-sided
battle as many as 200 Indians, more than half women and children, had
been killed and mutilated (some sources put the figure as high as 500). The vast majority of victims were however women and children. Black Kettle's wife although shot 9 times somehow managed to survived the attack. The survivors, over half of whom were wounded, sought refuge in the camp of the Cheyenne Dog Warriors (who had remained opposed to the 'peace' treaty) at Smokey Hill River.
As word of the massacre spread among them via refugees, Indians of the southern and northern plains stiffened in their resolve to resist white encroachment. An avenging wildfire swept the land and peace returned only after a quarter of a century.