Descendants of Sand Creek Massacre sue feds



At the Sand Creek Massacre (1874-1875)

The Denver Post is reporting that descendants of those killed in the Sand Creek Massacre are suing the federal government for reparations promised almost 150 years ago and ostensibly never delivered.

"The lawsuit allows that it is very likely Congress appropriated some money in 1866 to reimburse bands of Cheyenne and Arapaho that suffered at Sand Creek," writes former Gazette reporter Eric Gorski. "But it alleges that only a portion was paid, the amount was insufficient and it was given to tribes rather than individuals as spelled out in the Treaty of the Little Arkansas."

(See a December Post story for a great (long) read on the background of the suit.)

The event was so impactful that even the remembering of it is fraught. Take Westword's story about the Collision: The Sand Creek Massacre 1860s-Today exhibit at the History Colorado Center in Denver.

In fact, most tribal representatives first learned of preliminary plans for Collision in November 2011, fewer than six months before the History Colorado Center was slated to open, and were so concerned by what they heard — starting with the very name — that they asked for a meeting. That December, History Colorado representatives, including state historian William Convery, traveled to Billings, Montana, by the Northern Cheyenne reservation, to hear their objections. Which were numerous. "We sincerely apologize that we have not consulted the tribes earlier," Convery wrote in a letter co-signed by History Colorado CEO Ed Nichols in early January 2012. "The work we have done together in the past, which continues to include our exhibit program today, has been productive and important. It is precisely because we value these relationships and honor the tribes that an exhibit about the Sand Creek Massacre becomes a critical piece of our opening exhibition plan. This story is one the people of Colorado need to know."

And of course there's the other side. According to local historian Dave Hughes, the historic characterization of the battle over time has amounted to "obvious slander and injustice." He quotes soldier John Coplen's version of events:

"In justice to myself and comrades, I must brand that charge of massacre a stupendous falsehood, conceived in jealousy and envy, as a few of the facts will amply attest. Our forces numbering 500, after an all night's ride from Fort Lyon, at sunrise on the 29th Nov. 1864, encountered the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, numbering 1000 or more at their camp. Although surprised at the discovery of our approach, the Indians advanced to meet us, and by firing upon us engaged us in a conflict that lasted until late in the afternoon. Eleven of our comrades were killed and forty wounded, some of whom subsequently died of their wounds. The Indians had extensive fortifications, fresh made, consisting of long deep cuts in the sand, and under the then dry Sand Creek. Scalps of men, women and children, recently taken from our white neighbors, were recovered. The number of Indians killed was not definitely known, but the majority of them retreated and made good their escape. As to the killing of squaws and pappooses, only a few were killed, and that mainly the result of accident; the squaws fighting as desperately as the males, and in a dress and equipage scarcely distinguishable from that of the men. Thus the battle was calumniously christened "a massacre," not truth- fully but falsely and enviously by military and political aspirants for influence, office and commanding power on the general frontier."

But here's Congressional testimony from March 14, 1865:

Question. Were the women and children slaughtered indiscriminately, or only so far as they were with the warriors?

Answer. Indiscriminately.

Question. Were there any acts of barbarity perpetrated there that came under your own observation?

Answer. Yes, sir; I saw the bodies of those lying there cut all to pieces, worse mutilated than any I ever saw before; the women cut all to pieces.

By Mr. Buckalew:

Question. How cut?

Answer. With knives; scalped; their brains knocked out; children two or three months old; all ages lying there, from sucking infants up to warriors.

By Mr. Gooch:

Question. Did you see it done?

Answer. Yes, sir; I saw them fall.

Question. Fall when they were killed?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Did you see them when they were mutilated?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. By whom were they mutilated?

Answer. By the United States troops.

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