On a windswept prairie in southeastern Colorado, some people say they can still hear the cries of those killed in the Sand Creek Massacre of November 29, 1864. Others today speak for ancestors who died in the massacre and who cannot describe their horrific fate themselves.
The Sand Creek Massacre is remembered now with letters, oral accounts, songs, speeches, ceremonies, memorials, government hearings and dusty records.
An annual commemoration—the 14th Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run— was offered November 21-25 to remind others that “we must never, never forget their memory,” said Norma Gourneau, Northern Cheyenne.
Youth set out from the historic site in Kiowa County, Colorado on Thanksgiving eve and ran 177 miles northwest to Denver. They passed through some of their traditional lands on Thanksgiving day and the following Native American Heritage Day.
Before they left the historic site, runners, tribal members and others attended a burial ceremony for a Native man and boy who died at Sand Creek. Their remains were repatriated from the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, in Washington, D.C.
The runners were from tribes who together lost nearly 200 members at the Sand Creek Massacre—Northern Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho, and Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. They honored not only the Sand Creek victims, but also the late LaForce (Lee) Lone Bear, former chairman of the healing run and a spiritual leader of the Northern Cheyenne.
Letters from Army officers who refused to participate in the massacre brought forth voices from the past, telling of women and children on their knees, begging for their lives as soldiers shot them, some of the mothers killing their children and then themselves, refusing and fearing captivity. The letters were read at a concluding ceremony in Denver at the state capitol, the run’s annual destination. The documents may ultimately become part of a cultural and research center in the community of Eads, near the massacre site.
Voices were raised in support from two religious groups at this year’s event. One was the Indigenous Peoples Concerns Committee of the Boulder, Colorado Quaker Meeting and the other was the United Methodist Church (UMC). In 1864 Col. John Chivington, a UMC clergymen, led the troops who committed the massacre.
Both groups are part of increased discussion, at least in Colorado, about the massacre at a camp on Sand Creek, where 13 peace chiefs and their families and followers had been assured safety by the very Army that killed them.
“We live on land stolen from the Arapaho and Cheyenne peoples, and we are all unconscious beneficiaries of the swindle,” said Quaker Committee members Aya Medrud and Paula Palmer, who believe the Boulder community needs healing because of its role in the tribes’ removal.
The run, which included candlelight and honoring ceremonies, formally concluded at the steps of Colorado’s capitol, where Ernest House Jr., Ute Mountain Ute, executive secretary of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, read a proclamation from Gov. John Hickenlooper that memorialized Lone Bear and declared November 21-25, 2012 Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run and Remembrance Days.
The proclamation praised the voices that continue to speak Native history, asserting that the healing run will live in the “oral histories of American Indians” through tribal storytellers.
Run chairman Reginald Killsnight Sr., Northern Cheyenne, called on the drum to sing the Chiefs’ Song, an honor song for the 12 of 13 peace chiefs killed at Sand Creek. The late Lone Bear’s son, Kevin Lone Bear, said his father’s legacy “is in the spirit of our grandchildren.”