Colonel Chivington and the Sand Creek Massacre

Camp Weld Conference.Shows Cheyenne chief Black Kettle and others assembled.
Camp Weld Conference.Shows Cheyenne chief Black Kettle and others assembled. | Source

John Chivington was an officer in the Union Army and commanded the 1st Colorado Volunteers during the Indian wars. He had a major role in what may have been the worst of atrocities in the Indian Wars on the great Plaines of the western United States. If a different man had been in charge it might not have happened and possibly Custer’s last Stand might have been averted. That is speculation on my part, however.

What was the Sand Creek Massacre? The event was the killing of Cheyenne Indians, primarily women, children and old people who were under an agreement with the U.S. government of being in a state of peace. Colonel Chivington led the attack without provocation. His troops were made up of 700 soldiers of the Colorado Territory militia against about less than two hundred peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho, mostly women and children, who were killed and mutilated. Scalps and body parts were taken as trophies.

Ironically, Chivington was an ordained Methodist minister, had a good record in the Civil War and was against slavery. However, his feeling toward Indians was mostly hatred.

The lust for silver and gold brought tens of thousands of miners to Colorado in the1850’s and 1860’s. They invaded the places that the Cheyenne and Arapaho considered their homeland. In 1858 the Pikes Peak Gold Rush brought tensions to the point of a clash, according to Wikipedia. The Indians attacked wagon trains, mining camps, and stagecoach lines during the Civil War. The Army troops were short of men out west because of the war. John Evans, the governor of Colorado Territory wanted to open the Indian hunting grounds to white development, but the tribes did not want to sell and go to reservations. Evans used isolated incidents as an excuse to “...order troops into the field under the ambitious, Indian hating territory military commander Colonel Chivington,” according to the Wikipedia article “The Sand Creek Massacre.”

Edmond Guerrier who provided testimony against Colonel Chivington
Edmond Guerrier who provided testimony against Colonel Chivington | Source

Chief Black Kettle, the chief of about 800 Indians, most of whom were Cheyenne went to Fort Lyon to establish peace and afterward along with his followers camped near Sand Creek. The Indians known as Dog Soldiers, who had made many of the raids against whites, were not there. Most of the warriors went hunting because the government had given assurances of peace. They had been given to believe that if they flew an American flag it would show that they were peaceful and prevent attack from U.S. Troops. Despite what were probably sincere promises of peace from U.S. government officials they were attacked and slaughtered by the militia under Chivington.

Unfortunately, Fort Lyon changed its command officer to one who was in favor of Chivington. The soldiers under Chivington were drinking heavily the night before the attack. They ignored the white flag and the American flag in the village and massacred the majority of the Cheyenne. One officer, Captain Silas Soule, refused to follow Chivington’s order and told his men to hold fire. About 15 soldiers were killed and about 50 wounded. According to Wikipedia these were mostly friendly fire, likely from the soldiers who had been drinking. Reports conflicted regarding casualties. The Wikipedia article on Chivington reports 150 to 200 Indians estimated killed whereas Chivington testified to a Congressional committee that they had killed 500-600 Indians and that few were women and children. He denied that very many were women and children. Other witnesses disagreed. “ ...prominent mixed–race Cheyenne witness Edmond Guerrier, said that about 53 men and110 women and children were killed,” from Wikipedia.

In the beginning with Chivington’s testimony that they had defeated hostile Cheyenne the incident was at first considered a victory. Later Captain Soule testified to the contrary and the U.S. Congressional investigation found that Chivington had “acted wrongly.” A soldier that had been involved in the massacre later murdered Soule.

Although Chivington was condemned for his involvement in the massacre charges could not be made against him because he resigned from the Army and avoided charges got amnesty because of a post-Civil War amnesty.

There was public outrage over the Sand Creek incident and it may have caused a change in Indian policy.

The incident led to Indians seeking revenge and retaliation against whites. The liner notes to the book Month of the Freezing Moon, the Sand Creek Massacre November 1864 by DuaneSchultz mentions Custer attacking another peaceful Cheyenne village. A few years later Cheyenne braves along with warriors from other tribes would get revenge on General Custer.


My feeling about the Indian wars differs from much of what many people believe. War and what leads up to war, in my opinion, is usually a lot of circumstances and events. In many cases different actions or decisions could well have changed events and results. I also believe that the roots run deep. It is possible that this event led to the Battle of the Little Big Horn, also known as Custer’s last stand. I do not accept the idea that we can blame

  • Indians
  • Whites
  • Government
  • Greed, which is the popular catchall for everything today.

In my opinion the culprit, so to speak, is the clash of cultures. Think how many cultures were involved over a very long time. On the “white” side there are the English, French, Spanish and American Cultures, which have similarities but also differences. On the Indian side are several hundred different peoples with different cultures—some opposite of others. Even very sincere negotiations can go wrong through misunderstandings. Each side has a tendency to think the other side understands things in the same manner they do. A big question on both sides is who has the authority to bind their side to anything.

What often created problems in the Indian wars was the fact that many American soldiers on the frontier were not professional. Those who followed Chivington were militia supplemented by short-term volunteers who called themselves “Hundred Dazers” according to Wikipedia article on the Sand Creek Massacre. Many of these soldiers might be out of work miners who consider it a lark.

The Sand Creek Massacre is a sad episode in American history. The Cheyenne and other Indians died for no good reason by an officer who probably should not have been in charge of anything.

Note on sources: Much of the data in this article is from articles in Wikipedia about Colonel Chivington and of The Sand Creek Massacre.

Reference is also made to the book Month of the Freezing Moon, The Sand Creek Massacre November 1864 by Duane Schultz

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Comments 24 comments

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 5 years ago from Texas, USA

I remember seeing a documentary on the Sand Creek Massacre a few year ago. I enjoyed reading your article and I found it educational.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

It made me wonder some about human nature that a man of the church could be so involved in the killing of other humans. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

Hi Don,

So true! How could a minister representing the church and God be responsible for a massacre of such proportions killing innocent people who were under a flag of peace? Amazing! Not my idea of religion...that's for sure! It is no wonder the Indians wanted revenge and got it at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Interesting (and also sad) history. Voted useful, interesting and up. Thanks!

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Hi Peggy,

Actually the Methodist church gave apologies to the Indians.I tend to think the man was mentally deranged but who knows.

thanks for commenting.

Angela Blair profile image

Angela Blair 5 years ago from Central Texas

Enjoyed this Hub, Dahoglund. Have read several other accounts of this incident and all agree -- Chivington hated Indians and wanted them all dead. One account says an old Indian man waved the flags as woman and children tried to flee to indicate the village was friendly and living in peace and he was the first killed. Seems there was only a few very old men and women and children in the camp at the time of the attack. I think this was one of the most disgraceful and horrendous acts of all time -- yet not uncommon -- there were others of similar nature. Interesting and well written Hub -- voted UP! Best, Sis

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Hi Angela, one thing that s tricks me even more than the Colonel is the troops so willing to kill. The government was scraping the bottom of the barrel, so to speak, to patrol the frontier during the Civil War period.Thanks for commenting.

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Prior to Chivington's raid, the Cheyenne and Arapahos had been carrying out brutal raids on settlements, farmers, and ranchers all across Kansas and into Colorado, and that was what set him off:

That, of course, in no way justifies what he did.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Hi Will, that is true but it was the invasion of their territory of their land by miners and others.Sand Creek itself was more or less under a truce at the time.Testimony reprinted in the Book "Month of the Freezing Moon,"states that the village was friendly, Chivington knew that the Indians were friendly and yet he committed the massacre.

Possibly I should elaborate more on the facts that led up to it. However, it gets pretty involved.I may do some revising .Thanks for commenting.

B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

Incidents of us versus them massacres go back throughout human history and prehistory. I suppose there are theories why. The morality and legality of such incidents can get complicated -- like drawing the line between it is okay to conquer and subject another people to civilize them and get booty but massacres are not okay. See for example:

Years ago I read the Lakeside Classics edition of VOYAGE TO THE PACIFIC OCEAN IN 1793 by Alexander Mackenzie. That was 11 years before the Lewis and Clark Expedition and was one of the reasons Jefferson sent that expedition, according to a TV documentary I saw once. Anyway, Mackenzie tells of being a guest at an Indian village -- I think in what is now southern Ontario, but I don't recall for sure, and I don't recall which tribe -- and was invited on a raid. He trekked with a band northward for I forget how many days, and then he witness the pre-dawn massacre of an Eskimo village. The Indians ran the Eskimos through in their beds with spears. So it goes.

Even though that was the first journey across the continent by whites, all along the way Indian tribes had European-made goods that tribes at the Pacific coast had gotten in trade.

Here is more about Mackenzie:

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for commenting and adding additional information.Yes, there have been atrocities and massacres throughout history. What makes this one significant is that the victims were non-combatants, were accepted by the military as peaceful, were under a flag of protection. In other words there simply was no military reason for such an attack. The country was outraged and Chivington only escaped punishment because of a general amnesty of the Civil War. The incident escalated hostilities with the Indians.

Keri Summers profile image

Keri Summers 5 years ago from West of England

I think I read about this in the book "Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee"? As always, interesting to read your own theories about contributing factors. As you say, not that anyone can excuse such heartless violence for "no reason".

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I never read that particular book but I am sure it is mentioned in a number of books concerning the Indian wars.Thanks for commenting.

Keri Summers profile image

Keri Summers 5 years ago from West of England

If you do ever read it, I would be so interested in your opinions of what the book is saying.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Dee Brown seems to be a good historian and I have read other books of his.One I read recently is "The Gentle Tamers" which is about women in the old west.

Keri Summers profile image

Keri Summers 5 years ago from West of England

I shall put that one on my reading list.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I think you will find it informative.

grinnin1 profile image

grinnin1 4 years ago from st louis,mo

Great article. I agree with the clash of cultures being the main culprit. Have never seen a picture of Chivington before. Happen to be having a forum discussion on the subject. Would like you to weigh in if you have an opportunity. Your ideas and definition of truth are good and worth thinking about.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

grinnin, Thanks for reading and commenting. I will look at your forum.

old albion profile image

old albion 4 years ago from Lancashire. England.

Hi dahoglund. A very nice hub, well researched and presented. I had not heard of this incident before.



dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Hi old albein, I think it is a lesson in how military discipline could break down and someone in power being able to act on his own and not in the best interest of the country he serves.Much of the harm between races in the Indians wars was due to various actions on all sides that were not part of legitimate government action. This is one place where I believe government should be in charge.

Thanks for commenting.

Grizzly 3 years ago

I'm not quite sure how to say this; you made it extlemery easy for me!

Omar 3 years ago

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dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Omar, thanks for for reading and your interest.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author


Thanks for reading and commenting.

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