Exposing the GOP's Shameful Historical Role in the Native American Genocide
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These Indians had been assured by the U.S. government that they would be safe in Colorado. The government instructed them to fly a U.S. flag over their village, which they did, to assure their safety.
However, another Civil War “luminary,” Colonel John Chivington, had other plans for them as he raided the village with 750 heavily armed soldiers. One account of what happened appears in the book Crimsoned Prairie: The Indian Wars (1972) by the renowned military historian S. L. A. Marshall, who held the title of chief historian of the European Theater in World War II and authored thirty books on American military history.
Chivington’s orders were: “I want you to kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.” Then, despite the display of the U.S. flag and white surrender flags by these peaceful Indians, Chivington’s troops “began a full day given over to blood-lust, orgiastic mutilation, rapine, and destruction — with Chivington . . . looking on and approving,” according to Marshall, who writes that the most reliable estimate of the number of Indians killed is “163, of which 110 were women and children.”
Upon returning to his fort, Chivington “and his raiders demonstrated around Denver, waving their trophies, more than one hundred drying scalps. They were acclaimed as conquering heroes, which was what they had sought mainly.” One Republican Party newspaper announced, “Colorado soldiers have once again covered themselves with glory.”
An even more detailed account of the Sand Creek Massacre, based on U.S. Army records, biographies, and firsthand accounts, appears in Dee Brown’s classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West:
“When the troops came up to [the squaws,] they ran out and showed their persons to let the soldiers know they were squaws and begged for mercy, but the soldiers shot them all. . . . There seemed to be indiscriminate slaughter of men, women and children. . . . The squaws offered no resistance. Every one . . . was scalped.”
The effect of such behavior was to eliminate forever the possibility of peaceful relations with these Indian tribes. They understood that they had become the objects of a campaign of extermination.
As Brown writes, “In a few hours of madness at Sand Creek, Chivington and his soldiers destroyed the lives or the power of every Cheyenne and Arapaho chief who had held out for peace with the white men.” For the next two decades, the Plains Indians would do their best to return the barbarism in kind.
The books by Brown and Marshall show that the kind of barbarism that occurred at Sand Creek, Colorado, was repeated many times during the next two decades. For example, in 1868 General Winfield Scott Hancock ordered Custer to attack a Cheyenne camp with infantry, which Custer did.
The attack led Superintendent of Indian Affairs Thomas Murphy to report to Washington that “General Hancock’s expedition . . . has resulted in no good, but, on the contrary, has been productive of much evil,” according to Brown.
A report of the attack prepared for the U.S. secretary of the interior concluded: “For a mighty nation like us to be carrying on a war with a few straggling nomads, under such circumstances, is a spectacle most humiliating, and injustice unparalleled, a national crime most revolting, that must, sooner or later, bring down upon us or our posterity the judgment of Heaven.”
As the war on the Cheyenne continued, Custer and his troops apparently decided that to “kill or hang all the warriors,” as General Sheridan had ordered, “meant separating them from the old men, women, and children. This work was too slow and dangerous for the cavalrymen; they found it much more efficient and safe to kill indiscriminately. They killed 103 Cheyenne, but only eleven of them were warriors,” Brown writes.