National Park Service Expanding Native American Massacre Historic Site

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

In southeastern Colorado, the National Park Service will now expand a historical site about 170 miles southeast of Denver. The proposed expansion is dedicated to the slaughter of more than 200 Native Americans by US troops in November 1864. The Sand Creek Massacre took place on November 29, 1864. The Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site honors the dead, those who survived, and their ancestors.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced the expansion on Wednesday, Oct. 5. Haaland is the first Native American to hold the position or to lead a US Cabinet agency. She is tackling issues that affect Native American communities head-on. Her Tribal Homelands Initiative aims to provide fundraising for land purchases. It also requires federal managers to seek out tribal knowledge pertaining to natural resources.

US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and National Park Service Announce Expansion of Sand Creek Massacre Historical Site

The expansion of the historic site will allow visitors to learn more about the 1864 massacre of Cheyenne and Arapaho. Most of those killed were women and children, said Haaland. She added that it is the United States’ “solemn responsibility” to “tell the story of our nation.” This includes the heinous relations early settlers and US troops had with Indigenous people.

“The events that took place here forever changed the course of the Northern Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho, and Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes,” said Haaland in a statement. “We will never forget the hundreds of lives that were brutally taken here – men, women and children murdered in an unprovoked attack. Stories like the Sand Creek Massacre are not easy to tell but it is my duty – our duty – to ensure that they are told. This story is part of America’s story.”

History of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre

On November 29, 1864, at least 11 Chiefs, including Black Kettle, White Antelope, and Big Man, gathered by Big Sandy Creek. Around 750 Cheyenne Plains and Arapaho people joined them. The creek sat about 40 miles from Fort Lyon, and the first Treaty of Fort Laramie was previously signed in 1851. This severely limited the Cheyenne and Arapaho hunting grounds in the Great Plains. The tribes gathered in the hopes of finding peace between the Colonist Military and the established tribes.

The Governor of the Territory of Colorado, John Evans, sent out a proclamation in the summer of 1864 that all “friendly” Native Americans should head to Fort Lyon for shelter and supplies. Though, this was in direct opposition to the order at all Colorado forts that the Military should fire on any Native American approaching a fort. Chief Black Kettle reached out to Major Edward Wynkoop at Fort Lyon to negotiate peace.

Governor Evans and Colonel Chivington failed to reach peace with Chief Black Kettle. Major Wynkoop was instructed to show the Cheyenne and Arapaho where they could camp outside of Fort Lyon until negotiations were reached. Black Kettle moved his people, mostly women, children, and the elderly, to the bend of Big Sandy Creek.

On the morning of November 29, Colonel Chivington and the 1st Colorado Infantry Regiment of Volunteers and 3rd Regiment of Colorado Cavalry Volunteers left Denver. They moved just southwest of the encampment. No one gave Chivington orders to leave Denver. But at around 6:30 in the morning, US troops opened fire on the encampment. Over eight hours, the troops massacred around 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho people. Soldiers wandered the encampment for hours after, committing atrocities against the dead before finally leaving on December 1.