Colorado History

A Sand Creek Massacre Memorial Would Join These Colorado Capitol Monuments

The grounds of the Colorado State Capitol hold many monuments — and if legislators approve the Sand Creek Massacre Memorial, they could soon hold one more. Here's an inventory of the pieces you'll find today outside the Capitol; descriptions (excluding editorializing) are from the site, where you'll also find photos and a map. And if you think it's grim to have a monument to a massacre, note that there are already two monuments to Armenian genocide at the Capitol — and the Sand Creek Massacre happened in Colorado territory, not an ocean away.
Civil War Monument
West Portico

This statue of a Civil War cavalryman, dismounted with rifle in hand, honors the Colorado soldiers who fought and died in the Civil War. The statue was designed by Captain Jack Howland, a member of the First Colorado Cavalry; it was erected in 1907, and the names of Coloradans reportedly killed in the service were added in the ’20s (though one was actually shot escaping a brawl in Denver). But the big addition came in 1999:

Sand Creek Interpretive Plaque
West Portico

Why did the Civil War Monument need interpreting? Because it lists Sand Creek as a “battle” — and even while the Civil War was still being waged, three investigations in Washington, D.C., determined that it was actually a massacre. By the late ’90s, some people wanted to remove the Civil War Monument altogether; the compromise was this plaque, written by historians and legislators and approved by descendants of the massacre, who preferred that the tragedy be remembered accurately rather than ignored altogether:

“The controversy surrounding this Civil War Monument has become a symbol of Coloradans’ struggle to understand and take responsibility for our past. On November 29, 1864, Colorado’s First and Third Cavalry, commanded by Colonel John Chivington, attacked Chief Black Kettle’s peaceful camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians on the banks of Sand Creek, about 180 miles southeast of here. In the surprise attack, soldiers killed more than 150 of the village’s 500 inhabitants. Most of the victims were elderly men, women, and children.

“Though some civilians and military personnel immediately denounced the attack as a massacre, others claimed the village was a legitimate target. This Civil War Monument, paid for by funds from the Pioneers’ Association and the State, was erected on July 24, 1909, to honor all Colorado soldiers who had fought in battles of the Civil War in Colorado and elsewhere. By designating Sand Creek a battle, the monument’s designers mischaracterized the actual events. Protests led by some Sand Creek descendants and others throughout the twentieth century have since led to the widespread recognition of the tragedy as the Sand Creek Massacre.

"This plaque was authorized by Senate Joint Resolution 99-017."

Keep reading for the rest of the monuments outside the Colorado State Capitol.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun