"Sins of SAND CREEK"
Letters detail massacre of American Indian women and children
Two long-lost letters surfaced in an Evergreen home this month that bear grisly testimony to the 1864 slaughter of 163 Cheyenne and Arapaho by U.S. troops at Sand Creek.
The letters were written by two Army officers who refused orders to kill the terrified men, women and children encamped under a white flag of surrender and a U.S. flag in southeastern Colorado.
"The letters are ground zero for a congressional investigation in 1865," David Halaas, chief historian of the Colorado Historical Society, said Thursday.
An investigation team located the site of the massacre last year. Halaas said the letters pinpoint where the killings and mutilations occurred.
"These are the most important evidence we have about the Sand Creek Massacre," Halaas said, adding that the letters are authentic.
An Evergreen woman, Linda Rebeck, found the letters this month in a box of her elderly mother's papers. Rebeck's great-grandfather had been a farmer near the site of the massacre by U.S. troops.
She released the letters Wednesday to Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell on the eve of a hearing on his bill to establish a memorial at the massacre site in southeastern Colorado.
Capt. Silas Soule and Lt. Joseph Cramer, Army officers who refused orders to kill American Indian women and children in the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, wrote the letters to Maj. Ed Wynkoop, about two weeks after the massacre. They detailed the horrors performed under the leadership of Col. John Chivington.
"A squaw ripped open and a child taken from her," wrote Cramer, in hope of stopping Chivington from getting a promotion in the aftermath of the massacre. "Little children shot while begging for their lives."
Soule was equally descriptive.
"Hundreds of women and children were coming toward us and getting on their knees for mercy," wrote Soule, who was later murdered in Denver by an ally of Chivington's. "Most of the Indians yielded four or five scalps."
The letters to Wynkoop worked. A series of federal investigations followed, Halaas said.
In an 1864 treaty, "the U.S. government agreed that this was a massacre of a peaceful people under the American flag and promised reparation," Halaas said. "This is the only time I know of that reparations were promised."
No payments were ever made.
Cramer and Soule had been stationed in southeastern Colorado near Bent's Fort. They were commanded to follow Chivington and his troops to the Cheyenne and Arapaho camp, where about 500 Indians slept peacefully under an American flag.
The two officers were ordered to follow Chivington to the Indian camp. When they arrived and the attack began, they ordered their troops not to fire, knowing that Chivington would try to oust them from the military, Halaas said.
"I told the colonel (Chivington) that I thought it murder to jump them friendly Indians," Cramer wrote. "He says in reply, 'Damn any man or men who are in sympathy with them.'"
The letters were handwritten and sent to Wynkoop in Washington, D.C. But each of the officers made handwritten copies - including the copy that Rebeck found. Halaas said the writing matches other letters by Soule and Cramer.
"We'd heard of these letters, Halaas said. "Both of these men testified before Congress and said almost the same things. What they saw was so horrible that they went after Chivington, knowing he was going to go after them."
Rebeck said her mother inherited the letters from her mother, whose father was Mark L. Blunt, a successful Arkansas Valley farmer who had known the Bent family and had stayed at Bent's Fort near the massacre site. A restoration of the fort still exists.
"Mother told me once that she had letters about Sand Creek, but I never read them," said Rebeck, who read them for the first time this month and contacted the Colorado Historical Society.
"It was hard to see little children on their knees have their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized," Cramer wrote.
Rebeck also found nine or 10 affidavits, part of the congressional investigation, that were written by a company clerk in red and blue ink.
"Today there are people who still believe that the soldiers did not commit atrocities," Halaas said. "Let them read these letters and them see the passion. These men are shocked. They are angry. And they feel guilty."
See The Sand Creek Massacre Letters for the complete text.
Frazier, Deborah, "Sins of Sand Creek. Letters detail massacre of American Indian women, children",
Created April 4, 2001; Revised October 27, 2002
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