On Wednesday, September 24, members of the Sand Creek Massacre Commemoration Commission will head northeast from Eads along Chief White Antelope Way to the banks of Sand Creek, where 150 members of the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes were killed by volunteers led by Colonel John Chivington on November 29, 1864. Ten miles short of the site, they'll pass through the dusty, emptied-out prairie town of Chivington.
This is a true ghost town, haunted by the legacy of Chivington -- a Methodist minister who fought for the Union at the Battle of Glorietta Pass, then went on to co-found what would become the University of Denver before he led his band of volunteers to Sand Creek.
And even as the Sand Creek commission -- appointed by the executive order of Governor John Hickenlooper in March -- determines how to mark the 150th anniversary of this dark chapter in Colorado history, Victoria LeftHand, a native American living in St. Louis, has started a Change.org petition to change the name of that town -- or what's left of it.
Here's her petition:
In the early morning hours of November 29, 1864 at Sand Creek, Colorado as they lay asleep U.S. Colonel John M. Chivington, commander in charge of the Colorado Volunteers, was responsible for the needless deaths of approximately 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho men, women, and children who were all under the "protection" of the United States government. Under his command, Chivington's men not only brutally murdered these people, but mutilated their bodies (including genitalia) and, in a show of "victory", paraded these so-called souvenirs down the streets of Denver while the townspeople looked on and cheered. During the brutal attack, not only was a United States flag flown in open sight, but a white flag, which is a universal sign of surrender, was also displayed in the open at the Cheyenne and Arapaho camps at Sand Creek for all eyes to see.
While President Lincoln "promised" to investigate AND punish Chivington for his crimes, no justice has ever been served and in fact, instead of facing justice for the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children who were all under the protection of the United States government, a town in the State of Colorado was named after the commander in charge of such an atrocity -- Chivington. Genocidal mass murders should NEVER be allowed, let alone HONORED.
In remembrance of the 150 year anniversary of this massacre of the estimated 150 innocent Cheyenne and Arapaho men, women, and children brutally and unjustly killed at Sand Creek, I would ask that you change the name of the town of Chivington, Colorado and let the healing of these Nations begin. This will be an ongoing petition until the town named after Colonel John M. Chivington is REMOVED from the State of Colorado and RENAMED. Please help to begin the healing process.
So far, over 3,700 people have signed that petition, including John White Antelope, who says he's a "direct descendent of Chief White Antelope," who lost his life at Sand Creek when Chivington's men charged -- and wound up with a road named after him. "To have a town so close to the massacre site named after [Chivington] is a slap in the face to every Indian past and present!" he writes.
Today, the town of Chivington has been all but wiped off the map -- but as members of the commission, myself included, are learning, it won't be as easy to erase the legacy of Chivington himself.
For updates on the commission's activities, go to sandcreekmassacre150.com.
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