The LA Times carries the story of the dedication of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in southeastern Colorado. It tells of the sad story of how Col. John Chivington and his regiment, the First Colorado Volunteers, attacked a peaceful and unprepared village of Cheyenne and Arapahoe under Chief Black Kettle on November 29, 1864. Over 160 Indians were killed in cold blood, mostly women, children and the elderly. Former Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell was able to get funding through Congress to establish this memorial. The National Park Service has this website that tells more about the site and its history.
This was of particular interest to me, as my graduate school colleague and friend Doug Scott led the effort to relocate the site and conducted archaeological investigations to prove its identity. Doug co-authored a book on his work entitled Finding Sand Creek. Doug has had a great career doing historical archaeology for the National Park Service. He is best known for his work at the Battle of the Little Bighorn battlefield, where his innovative research totally recast our understanding of the course of the battle. That deserves a post of its own that I’ll get to later.
Chivington and the First Colorado Volunteers are now rightfully remembered in infamy for their inexcusable behavior at Sand Creek. It is an amazing turnabout, as he and his troops had covered themselves in glory two years before in a little known battle in an obscure chapter of Civil War history.
In the summer of 1861, Confederate troops left El Paso, TX and occupied the town of Mesilla, NM. They proclaimed Mesilla the capital of the Confederate Territory of Arizona. In February, 1862, a Confederate force under Gen. Henry Sibley invaded the rest of New Mexico Territory, working his way north along the Rio Grande. He outmaneuvered or outfought several Union garrisons, caught asleep and out of the rigors of Civil War campaigns in the East. By March 10, 1862, Sibley had occupied Santa Fe.
Confederate strategic aims were two-fold. First, capture the Colorado gold fields to secure another means of financing the war. Second, set up land communication with California where there were many Confederate sympathizers.
In late March, 1862, Sibley sent troops north toward Colorado. On March 26, the Confederates were met by the First Colorado Volunteers, with Chivington second in command, at the Battle of Glorieta Pass in the mountains northeast of Santa Fe. The Confederates were soundly defeated. This defeat coupled with overextended supply lines led to a complete collapse of the Confederate occupation of New Mexico. By May, all of Sibley’s surviving troops were back to Mesilla and El Paso and their dreams of a Confederate Southwest were at an end.