From hero to villain
By the end of the fighting over one hundred Indians had been killed. Two-thirds of them were women and children. All of the dead were scalped, some had up to half a dozen scalps taken from their heads. Most were mutilated, some had their fingers cut off to steal their rings, while the chiefs as well as others had their genitalia cut off and taken as trophies.
Over the following weeks, Chivington and his men were lauded in the Denver press by the editor of the Rocky Mountain News, William Byers, who wrote in December, “Among the brilliant feats of arms in Indian warfare, the recent campaign of our Colorado volunteers will stand in history with few rivals,” and that they had carried out a “thousand incidents of individual daring” and “once again covered themselves with glory.” Chivington led the victory parade of the now named Bloody Third Regiment into Denver to a hero’s welcome.
Indian agent Sam Colley, outraged by the massacre at Sand Creek, wrote to U.S. Senator James R. Doolittle of Wisconsin, who was a member of the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the (Civil) War. Colley informed Doolittle that the Indians who had been attacked were peaceful and under the protection of his Indian agency and Fort Lyon. News of the massacre continued to spread and on January 10, 1865, the U.S. House of Representatives directed the Committee on the Conduct of the War to hold hearings to try to establish what took place at Sand Creek.
General Curtis immediately requested the resignation of Chivington in the hope that it would prevent an army inquiry into the matter. Chivington resigned, but it was futile. On January 11, the army chief of Staff, General Halleck ordered Curtis to open an investigation. Curtis reinstated Major Wynkoop as commander of Fort Lyon and asked him to conduct an investigation into the attack at Sand Creek. Wynkoop’s sent a report to Curtis containing testimonies received from John Smith, his teamster Watson Clark, Private David Lauderback, and Indian agent Sam Colley. All were scathing in their denunciations of Chivington’s attack.
On March 13 1865, the Committee on the Conduct of the War began congressional hearings in Washington D.C. regarding the events which had occurred at Sand Creek. Indian agent John Smith gave his eye witness testimony as to the atrocities he had witnessed carried out by Chivington’s men. Smith told how he had witnessed around 100 Indians, men, women and children, surrounded by soldiers who fired on them indiscriminately. Smith testified that he witnessed Indians killed from “sucking infants up to warriors…women cut all to pieces, worse mutilated” than he had ever seen before, with “their brains knocked out.”
Smith felt that Chivington’s reason for the attack at Sand Creek was that he had intended to rerun for Congress and that an Indian war would result in him remaining in Colorado where he could continue “electioneering.” Smith also stated that Major Anthony had promised the Indians camped at Sand Creek protection.