History in the Making

The battle over the Sand Creek massacre just won't end.

Halaas would rather see a new sign beside the Civil War monument that explains Sand Creek in all its controversial complexity. In fact, the Historical Society already has a sign program in place. If approved by the legislature, a Sand Creek placard could be raised within a year.

"We'd tackle Sand Creek head-on," he says. "We have money available. If approved by all the parties involved, and we'd certainly work with a lot of partners, we'd like to do it."

Problem is, the legislature has already spoken. Although a resolution doesn't carry the weight of law, any change in direction should be approved by the General Assembly, which doesn't convene in regular session until January. In the meantime, officials have decided to allow historians, Sand Creek descendants and others to speak at committee meetings that begin this week.

"I'm listening," says Russell George, a Republican who sponsored Martinez's resolution in the House. "I'm open-minded on this. I still feel the same way I always have about Sand Creek, that there's a mistake or a problem on the monument. But I'm not wanting to hurry. No one wants to impose something on others that doesn't make sense. If that means reconsideration, if that's where the information leads, then I'm willing to go back to my colleagues."

Dottie Wham, a Republican senator who heads the committee discussing Martinez's resolution, also wants to make sure lawmakers do the right thing.

"I want to hear from the people who want to talk to us," Wham says. "I totally believe it wasn't a Civil War battle but an unfortunate incident that happened during the Civil War years. For all of our benefit, the history ought to be right."

Even Martinez, who stands behind his measure, welcomes suggestions.
"We're not trying to change history," Martinez says. "The Native Americans who were massacred should not be remembered under that statue as a battle. But I'm always open to a better idea."

In a less controversial move, a bill declaring the Sand Creek massacre site as a national historic site has passed the U.S. Senate. The measure, sponsored by Colorado senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, also directs the U.S. Park Service to study the current site in southeastern Colorado to make sure it is indeed the place where the massacre occurred.

Although the 1,425-acre field near the town of Chivington might be the spot, a search last fall sponsored by the Colorado Historical Society failed to unearth artifacts that would confirm the location. Two to three tons of ammunition were fired during the attack, historians say, yet only two bullets and a picket pin used to tie a horse were found during the survey. Artifacts could be buried beyond the reach of metal detectors or they may have washed downstream. Historians just don't know. If Campbell's bill is passed by the House and signed by President Clinton, it would allow a more extensive survey by state officials, historians and Native American leaders. It also would include a more thorough examination of historical records.

To read Fletcher's recent feature on the Sand Creek controversy ("Battle Cry," May 28), visit www.westword.com.

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