On this dayNov 29, 1864

U.S. Forces Kill Hundreds of Indigenous People in Sand Creek Massacre

Joanna B. Pinneo

On November 29, 1864, American troops murdered more than 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho people who were living peacefully along Sand Creek in eastern Colorado. Days before the massacre, white officials had assured chiefs of the village that their community would not be harmed.

At dawn on November 29, hundreds of U.S. soldiers led by Colonel John Chivington surrounded the village. Residents responded by waving white flags and pleading for mercy; one of the chiefs even raised the American flag in an attempt to demonstrate that he, too, was American. Ignoring these symbols of surrender and peace, the white troops opened fire with carbines and cannons, slaughtering more than 200 Native American people. Most of the victims of the massacre were women, children, and the elderly and infirm. After the massacre, the troops burned the village, mutilated the bodies of the deceased, and removed body parts to keep as trophies. Some scalps of the dead became props in plays that the troops later performed to celebrate, as one soldier boasted, “almost an annihilation of the entire tribe.”

Violence against Indigenous people in the U.S. had been overlooked and ignored for decades. Many white settlers in America cultivated a view that Native people were less human and worthy of dignity and respect than white people. This was evident in the horrific violence and slaughter on display at Sand Creek. Officers tried to justify the massacre by asserting a false narrative that described Indigenous people as less than human and dangerous, and claimed that the soldiers who committed the massacre had acted in self-defense. This fabricated account was disputed by other American soldiers who witnessed the massacre and felt compelled to tell the truth. “Hundreds of women and children were coming towards us, and getting on their knees begging for mercy,” described U.S. Captain Silas Soule in an 1865 letter to Congress, “[only to be shot] and have their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized.”

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