For many years I have been honored to attend the early morning Sand Creek Memorial Services at Riverside Cemetery on the Northern edge of Denver on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This year marks the 147th anniversary of the massacre at the Sand Creek site in Southeast Colorado, a few miles from Eads, where Col. John M. Chivington ordered troops to murder women and children in the Camp of Black Kettle whose tent flew the American flag. It’s always cold at Riverside, and I think those unkempt grey and white soldier stones amplify the bitter cold.
This year, even though the Colorado sun was already shining, I drew the straw for a gruesome task. Normally I read the Mayor’s proclamation recalling the event and the memorial service. But this year I am pleased to report that Mayor Michael Hancock came to the ceremony at the State Capitol later and read his proclam-ation. In my memory, I believe Hancock was the first mayor to read his own proclamation. And I commend him for that and the people in attendance were very pleased. But Davad Halaas, chief historian of the Sand Creek massacre, asked me to read the recently discovered letter of Capt. Silas Soule who described in great detail what horrors actually happened.
It was a hard read, but it should be read. In the letter he asks how it was that civilized white men could perform such deeds. I thought of my grandmother Flaherty who reported British troops in Ireland in early 1900’s wearing black and tan uniforms using children as target practice in the farm fields of County Cork. The Black and Tans were criminals released from British prisons and honest British officers warned Irish people that they could not control their own troops. They warned farmers in West Cork to keep their children hidden away from the killers.
Soule tells in his letter to his superiors that he ordered his men not to murder women, children and elderly. He writes that he did not sign up for such illegal orders. He asked the authorities not to make Chivington a general as demanded by The Rocky Mountain News on its editorial pages. When Soule signed his letter, a letter sup-pressed by military authorities, I suspect he knew he was signing his own death certificate. For testifying against the atrocities at Sand Creek on November 29, 1864, Soule was shot and killed on 15th and Arapahoe. Police never found his assassin. I believe we should be grateful that the Denver Parks Board allowed a memorial to be placed on a private building near park space near the bus stop heading to points north in Denver. The plaque marks the spot where Soule drew his last breath. If you search long enough you can find the small square memorial thanking Soule for being a profile in courage and not allowing his troops to kill innocents.
Today I told people about the Saturday service. Most had not heard of Sand Creek and the tragedy which haunts that name.
Thankfully, Chivington did not make general. The Congressional hearings interrupting our Civil War broadcast the story of his authorities too far and wide. Denver did not elect him to Congress, and even The Rocky Mountain News could not spin Chivington’s trying to make Colorado safe for decent people. But later the people of Denver did elect Chivington coroner.
And as I told this story to Regis students in the Regis library this evening, they mentioned they had not heard of The Rocky Mountain News. Ah, to be so young!