Run for Their Lives

One man goes the distance for the memory of Sand Creek.

But after poring over mountains of documents, archaeological data, oral histories and scientific evidence, the park service now believes the massacre happened more or less where the marker says it did: along a wide bend of the Big Sandy some ten miles northeast of the withering town of Chivington ("Shifting Sands," June 10).

The official results won't be released until this winter, however. And after they are, the park service, following a bill signed into law last year by President Bill Clinton, must then study ways to preserve and manage the land. The organization has until next summer to report back to Congress.

But as far as the Cheyenne are concerned, the massacre site has never been lost. From time to time, Cheyenne elders have held ceremonies near the marker and felt a strong spiritual presence. "We know where it is," Brady says.

A poster seeking volunteers for the mission that would become the Sand Creek Massacre.
A poster seeking volunteers for the mission that would become the Sand Creek Massacre.

To the Cheyenne, spirits are very much alive. They are part of the everyday world and connected with all living things. When someone is killed suddenly or dies violently, their souls become lost, Otto Braided Hair says. With the healing run, which is part of a long-standing tribal tradition, the Cheyenne hope to bring some rest to the people who were massacred.

"It's not a jog down the street. It's a ceremony," Otto Braided Hair says. "We're a spiritually based tribe. Ours is a way of life that honors, respects and reveres elders, no matter if they are with us or not. Even though it's been 200 or 400 years, we acknowledge their prior existence through prayer. With this healing run, we are honoring our ancestors."

And that is why several dozen members of the Northern Cheyenne tribe are expected to attend. Nelson Tall Bull, who's 76, plans to be among them.

"I'll join in the beginning," he says. "I know my limits. But it's not based on a contest. It's not a sport. I'm interested in the acts of prayer and talking to the spirits there. I also believe it's time the whites recognized the plight of the Indians, especially the Cheyenne. The healing means between the white and the Indian."

Otto Braided Hair agrees. "There needs to be healing on both sides," he says. "There are descendants of Chivington, the volunteers and the government who are still here. They're welcome to take part if they allow themselves to."

Members of the Southern Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho and Southern Arapaho tribes have also been invited. If all goes as planned, the healing run could be one of the largest spiritual gatherings at Big Sandy Creek.

"It's real big," says David Halaas, chief historian with the Colorado Historical Society. "This is very special. For me, it's a statement that the location area is known. It's a statement that there are still people who don't know about Sand Creek and its meaning. And it's a statement that it's time to start healing."

That healing will not be exclusive to the Big Sandy. According to Otto Braided Hair, the route will match as closely as possible the 180-mile path that Chivington's troops took back to Denver. Because some soldiers carried home the scalps, genitalia and personal artifacts of dead men, women and children, prayers will be offered along the way.

"We believe those people's spirits were lost down there at Sand Creek and stayed with the body parts and belongings that were taken up to Denver and the Smithsonian and other places," Otto Braided Hair says. "We don't know where all of them were taken. They could be in some laboratory somewhere, or they could have been sold. But those people who were traumatized are still wandering around out there. With this healing run, we're cleansing that."

After 135 years, it's time.

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