Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

John Hickenlooper, Edward Wynkoop, Black Kettle and Sand Creek agreement signing

Yesterday, the State of Colorado, History Colorado and representatives of the tribes whose ancestors died at Sand Creek -- the Northern Cheyenne of Montana, the Northern Arapaho of Wyoming, and the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes of Oklahoma -- signed a Memorandum of Agreement, "government-to-government," said Governor John Hickenlooper, recognizing the sovereignty of the tribes. The signing was the culmination of over two years of concerns, complaints and discussions as the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre approaches.

And it focused on a subject that Hickenlooper has been thinking about for more than 25 years.

That's because when the unemployed geologist was getting ready to open the Wynkoop Brewing Co., Denver's first brewpub, at the corner of Wynkoop and 18th streets, Hickenlooper started researching the history of Major Edward Wynkoop, to find out the story behind the street name.

He learned that during his time in the Colorado territory, Wynkoop flipped 180 degrees regarding his position on Native Americans. "That message was illuminating," Hickenlooper told the group gathered yesterday at the History Colorado Center for the signing and the announcement of the Sand Creek Massacre Commemorative Commission, established by executive order.

"What changed Wynkoop was Black Kettle," Hickenlooper said of the Southern Cheyenne chief with whom Wynkoop negotiated, arranging for Black Kettle and his followers to go to a peaceful camp on the banks of Sand Creek.

As thanks for his work, Wynkoop was relieved of his command. And although Black Kettle survived the slaughter, more than 150 native Americans where killed at that peaceful camp on November 29, 1864 by volunteers led by Colonel John Chivington.

Wynkoop "took an active part in the investigation," Hickenlooper noted. Armed with eyewitness accounts by Captain Silas Soule and Captain Joseph Cramer, Wynkoop helped with three congressional investigations that wound up declaring the action "a massacre." And as thanks for his work, Soule wound up killed on the streets of Denver -- "the only political assassination in Colorado history," said Hickenlooper.

"The story has power," the governor noted. And so do the two moves he announced yesterday. "The MOA and the commission create an avenue for statewide collaboration, communication and coordination to educate the public about the Cheyenne and Arapaho people and the history of the Sand Creek Massacre," Hickenlooper said. "Both will serve to strengthen our ongoing relationship with the tribes, honor their history, celebrate their culture and, most importantly, prevent horrific acts such as these from ever occurring again."

And the first action under the MOA starts today, as representatives of the tribes meet with History Colorado officials to determine the fate of Collision, the History Colorado exhibit on the Sand Creek Massacre that was finally closed last June, after tribal representatives complained that they were not consulted about its content, and pointed out errors in the display. "This is a strong commitment to work together," History Colorado head Ed Nichols said at yesterday's signing. "The history of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe is also the history of Colorado."

And in fact, if not for the Sand Creek Massacre, the Cheyenne and Arapahoe might have remained in Colorado. But in fear for their lives, the survivors fled north and east, splitting into the tribes that signed the MOA yesterday.

More from the Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "A century and a half later, the wounds of Sand Creek are still fresh."

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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