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Sand Creek Massacre: Filling in the blanks before the 150th anniversary

The fifteenth annual Sand Creek Massacre Healing Run was full of moving sights and sounds -- from its start at the actual massacre site, which is marked by a sign advising visitors of the "sacred ground" where over 150 Cheyenne and Arapahoe were killed on November 29, 1864, to the State Capitol, and where a Civil War monument lists Sand Creek as one of the battles of that war. I cataloged many of those sights in the current current Westword cover story; photographer Anthony Camera captured many more in this slide show of the last day of Sand Creek Massacre Healing Run. But for me, one of the most telling signs was blank.

The Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site is eight miles outside the present-day town of Eads, on the banks of Sand Creek. This is where over a hundred Indian lodges were camped; members of the Arapahoe and Cheyenne tribes believed they'd been offered protection at this spot. They were wrong. Colonel John Chivington led a raid on the camp, massacring more than 150 people, most of them women, children and elderly men.

Some of the soldiers -- most notably Captain Silas Soule and Lieutenant Joe Cramer -- refused to participate; they wrote their commander, Colonel Edward Wynkoop, to tell him of the horrors of what they'd seen, and that led to two congressional investigations and Sand Creek being declared a massacre in 1865. But for all the study, there are still many blanks to the Sand Creek story.

The blank wall in History Colorado, for example, which gives no hint of the exhibit beyond; "Collision," the Sand Creek Massacre exhibit that opened along with the facility in April 2012, was closed this past summer after History Colorado finally entered into consultations with members of the tribes. Whether that exhibit will ever reopen, and if so in what form, has yet to be determined.

That blank wall echoes the empty sign at the turnoff on White Antelope Way to the massacre site. Back in 1950, when a monument to the Sand Creek Battle Field was erected at the site, a sign at this spot directed visitors there. But because of problems on what was then private property -- today, it is run by the National Park Service -- that sign was replaced decades ago...with one that included a wrong date, among other slights. So it was taken down by the state; it, too, has yet to be replaced. Today, the blank board is punctuated by bullets.

With the 150th anniversary of the massacre fast approaching, the final story on Sand Creek has yet to be written.

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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