Colorado History

Sand Creek Massacre Run Remembers Ancestors, Supports Standing Rock Sioux

Today is the 152nd anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre, that dark day in Colorado history when over 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho — mostly women, children and elderly — were killed at a peaceful camp along Sand Creek by volunteers led by Colonel John Chivington.

The eighteenth annual Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run/Walk arrived in Denver on Sunday, November 27. Descendants of the massacre who now live on reservations in Oklahoma, Wyoming and Montana — where their ancestors ultimately landed when they fled Colorado after the killings — joined in the run that started on November 24 at the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, outside of Eads, in southeastern Colorado. Early Sunday morning, they arrived at Denver's Riverside Cemetery to honor Captain Silas Soule. Not only did Soule refuse to participate in the massacre, but he wrote his former commander, Edward Wynkoop, about the atrocities (as did Lieutenant Joseph Cramer) — which led to an Army inquiry and two congressional investigations that resulted in the action being labeled "a massacre" in 1865.

But by then, Soule had been assassinated on the streets of Denver, just months after Chivington's troops paraded through the frontier town, displaying belongings and pieces of bodies from those killed at Sand Creek.

"Without Soule, no one would have gotten out alive," said Otto Braided Hair, a Northern Cheyenne leader who helped organize the run. "Because of Soule and Cramer, we're here."

From Riverside, the runners — many of them children — headed downtown, past the spot where Soule was killed, and on to the steps of the State Capitol. It was on this same spot two years ago, on the 150th anniversary of the massacre, that Governor John Hickenlooper apologized to the descendants on behalf of the State of Colorado.

The spiritual run had come a long way from that first event, when "no one knew about Sand Creek," said Braided Hair. Today, people do. And while the crowd was smaller this year, the speeches were no less heartfelt.

"The young ones, they've been waiting a long time," said Greg Spotted Bird, a Southern Cheyenne who'd brought a group from Oklahoma. "We have a purpose on this run. We clean the blood that was spilled along this way. I'm proud in my heart to know the Cheyenne and Arapaho wouldn't die."

Braided Hair concluded the ceremony with a reminder that "our ways of life are still being threatened. Our relatives, the Standing Rock Sioux, they want their homelands protected, their water protected." (The night before, when many of the participants were staying at a downtown hotel, they'd spotted a protest of the North Dakota pipeline on the 16th Street Mall — and many of the young runners had gone out to stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux.)

And then Braided Hair asked the descendants to raise their staffs for "those who continue to protect their way of life, and the environment," and to remember Chief White Antelope by singing the song "Nothing Lives Long, Except the Earth and the Mountains" — the song White Antelope was singing as he was killed by Chivington's men at Sand Creek.

"Sing it in honor of your ancestors, victims of the Sand Creek Massacre."

See our slideshow of the eighteenth annual Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run/Walk.
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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