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Removal of the American Indian from Colorado Territory

Updated on August 6, 2014

Lone Survivor

Curly (1859-1923), survivor of Custer massacre–Crow Indian scout for Custer, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left.  c. 1907
Curly (1859-1923), survivor of Custer massacre–Crow Indian scout for Custer, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left. c. 1907 | Source

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The White Man's Approach

After the Mexican-American War of 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago assured the United States all southwest lands, which also encompassed Colorado territory. With the onset of white settler expansion due to the gold rush, it was the very beginning of an end for the nomadic ways of the American Indian.

During the next decade, the discovery of gold caused a great stir within the Eastern communities of the United States. Thousands upon thousands took the venture across the great plains in search of pay dirt. At first, the American Indians were peaceful with the encroachment; however, after a breach in agreement of the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, the American Indians grew hostile once the white settlers started to infringe upon their annexed hunting grounds, which at that time was mostly Colorado Territory.

Anxiety and Defiance

Although the next agreement, the Treaty of Fort Wise, which promoted a reservation with farming subsistence was supported by Arapaho and Cheyenne elders, but the young warriors’ societies that held out, and staunchly defied the United States Government. This created a split in unison amongst the American Indian societies. Many wanted peace, and were willing to maintain that peace by trusting the United States Government to meet their needs. On the other side of the dilemma, warrior societies were indignant about the white man slowly push them out of their ancestral lands. No longer able to meet their subsistence needs, many urged others to fight against the white man so that they could regain what was truly belonging to them.

Depiction of Sand Creek Massacre

Depiction of the Sand Creek Massacre by Cheyenne eyewitness and artist Howling Wolf, 1875
Depiction of the Sand Creek Massacre by Cheyenne eyewitness and artist Howling Wolf, 1875 | Source

Restless Warriors

In 1863, the Indians became restless with their pent-up situation, disgruntled and starving they started stealing livestock from nearby ranchers. This led to more accusations against the Cheyennes and Arapahos, creating distrust between the native Americans and the military units which patrolled the western plains. The incident, which touched off, the first contention between the Anglo settlers and the native was the Hungate family massacre in early 1864. This act of violence incensed the white communities, but most Indians felt there was no other choice but to attack and pillage for their survival.

Memorial Head Stone

Sand Creek massacre Site
Sand Creek massacre Site | Source

Sand Creek Historic Site

An Unspeakable Act

In the winter of 1864, the Sand Creek Massacre created even more unrest. Colonel John Chivington’s murderous raid upon old men, women and children, set off reprisals by the warriors’ societies throughout the next decade. Even today disbelief and outrage are still felt by the native American communities. An eyewitness account by John S. Smith, an interpreter who lived in the village for many years gave gruesome details of the events of that day. His sworn statements only validated the injustices made against the native Americans by United States military troopers.

"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."

The Anglo settlers in Colorado no longer tolerated the Indian threat. Many vowed that extermination was the only means to end the uprising. Including Colonel Chivington himself who explained “Nits make Lice,” during a congressional investigation of the Sand Creek massacre. Eventually Chivington was reprimanded, but that did not satisfy the Indian Nation.

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Only One Escaped

Battle of the Little Bighorn River
Battle of the Little Bighorn River | Source

Annexation

Apart from the extreme views of Coloradan settlers, the majority of Easterner sentiment promoted further annexation of the Indians. Unfortunately, there was no other means to solve the Indian issue. In order for the Indians to continue with their tribal life outside of Anglo control, the best alternative other than their complete annihilation was to place them in a reservation situation where they were protected from negative perceptions.

Even though the next few decades wrought more Indian reprisals, the infamous Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 was one of the very last stands that the Indians made in defense of their right to free range. Eastern patience ran thin and eventually the Indian nation as a whole was split up and divided into various reservations, and their nomadic way of life faced its end.

Cited Sources

(Colorado: A History of the Centennial State, pgs. 68-70. Abbott, leonard, and Noel, 4th ed, 2005.)

(The Sand Creek Massacre: Southern Cheyenne, Nov. 29th, 1864. Last of the Independents: www.lastoftheindependents.com/sandcreek.htm)

Sand Creek Massacre

© 2012 ziyena

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  • cclitgirl profile image

    Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

    This hub is chock-full of great information. I grew up in Colorado and I'm doing a hub about Garden of the Gods and the Utes. I myself am part Navajo and the Native American history of the US is one that fascinates me. Thanks for sharing this. I will link to it in an upcoming hub.

  • Dale Hyde profile image

    Dale Hyde 5 years ago from Tropical Paradise on Planet X

    A great hub focused on history is always welcome! Well done, and most informative. I am only "part" Native American, however, my grandmother was full-blooded and taught us much about the atrocities and history.... Much has never been published. Voted up, interesting and useful!

  • farmloft profile image

    farmloft 5 years ago from Michigan

    Interesting, voted up. So sad, that we couldn't have shared this nation in better ways. In ways it was soooo long ago, and sometimes I think -- look how fast things change(d).

  • WillStarr profile image

    WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

    Early America was rife with such inexcusable atrocities, and both sides were guilty.

    Good Hub.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Beautifully researched and written. Sand Creek is one of those stains upon the American conscious that simply will not go away.

  • mperrottet profile image

    Margaret Perrottet 5 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

    Voted Up and Interesting. The treatment of Native Americans was such a tragedy.

  • tapasrecipe profile image

    tapasrecipe 5 years ago from Spanish tapas land

    Loving it lots and lots, do more please.

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