This Day In History: Colorado Orders Indians to Sand Creek Reservation (1864)

Today in history, in 1864, the  Colorado Governor John Evans demands that all Indians that are living in the area must report to Sand Creek Reservation. If they did not do so then they would be treated as hostile Indians and would be shot on sight. This was the prelude to the infamous Sand Creek Massacre.

The governor’s offer was intended to protect the Indians from angry settlers. He also had an ulterior motive as he wanted to seize all the Indians lands. He wanted to do this to encourage more settlers to come to Eastern Colorado. No soon had he offered sanctuary to the Indians that he issued a decree that allowed white settlers to kill any Indian deemed to be hostile. They did not have to seek any permission to do so and they could effectively kill any Native American with impunity.

Governor Evans also created a militia to protect the settlers, in fact, it would be used to attack the Indians. This militia was placed under a regular army officer Colonel John Chivington. He was  an ambitious man who hoped to be elected to political office by fighting Indians.

Sand Creek Massacre Memorial

The Indian in eastern Colorado were not really aware of this measures and their consequences. Only recently, many local chiefs had visited Lincoln in Washington. The Cheyenne Chief after witnessing the might of the Americans, their vast numbers, and cities, he urged the Indians to make peace with the white settlers.  He called on the tribes to make peace or die.

When hearing of the order of the governor of Colorado, Black Kettle and his tribe agreed and they travelled to a fort, in compliance with the directive. Here plans were made for the Cheyenne to resettle on the Sand Creek Reservation. Black Kettle received the assurance of the local army commander that he would be protected. In fact, Chivington and his militia were drunk and out of control. Black Kettle left the fort believing that he and his tribe were safe.

Indian painting of the Massacre at Sand Creek

That tribe headed towards the Reservation. When the men were out hunting Chivington and his militia attacked the Indian women and children. Over 100 were killed by the militia. Many of the dead being scalped and mutilated. Chivington had ordered the attack because he believed that the massacre would make him popular. Some have argued that he could not control his drunken men.  Amazingly, Black Kettle and some others survived as they had been out hunting during the attack.

America was shocked when they heard of the massacre and Governor Evans was forced from office. Chivington and his men were not prosecuted. Evans did, however, go on to a successful and lucrative career building and operating Colorado railroads.