Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal members commemorate Sand Creek
By Carol Berry
with ambivalent feelings about Thanksgiving were offered yet
another reminder of the country’s grim history as the Sand Creek
Massacre Spiritual Healing Run/Walk journeyed to Colorado’s
capital while the city’s residents were carving up this year’s
About 40 youth from the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Montana,
Wyoming and Oklahoma started out early Thanksgiving Day from the
massacre site near Eads, Colo. and ran 186 miles to Denver in a
three-day commemoration for their ancestors killed by Colorado
militia Nov. 29, 1864 in a peace camp along Sand Creek.
The healing aspect of the event was underscored by a sunrise
pipe ceremony that sent the runners on their way from
southeastern Colorado and a candlelight vigil Nov. 28 in Denver
at an outdoor sculpture by Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds,
The vigil at Denver Art Museum coincided with the first Native
American Heritage Day, proclaimed by Congress to fall yearly on
the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. Gov. Bill Ritter
proclaimed Nov. 27-29 Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run
Memorial Days 2008 in Colorado.
Bill Tall Bull, Cheyenne, the event coordinator, spoke as the
vigil began and as the annual holiday decorations on Denver’s
city/county building were lit in a blaze of color. He reminded
those gathered in light snow that the area was Cheyenne and
Arapaho homeland, a recurring theme over the three days.
A Cheyenne inscription near the sculpture translates, “We are
always returning back home again,” he said. The sculpture, a
circle of 10 branched, red pillars, is inscribed with symbols
and words denoting events in tribal histories, including the
Sand Creek massacre.
The runners were joined Nov. 29 in the last mile of the 10th
annual event by young and older supporters who congregated with
them at the state capitol in downtown Denver.
Otto Braided Hair, who headed the Northern Cheyenne group, said
the tribes’ older people “never wanted to be forgotten – what
they went through. They wanted their stories to continue – who
they were and what happened to them.
“The history of the Sand Creek massacre has been pushed aside –
many of you don’t learn about it in your schools. But we can’t
forget who we are or where we came from. These are homelands of
the Cheyenne and Arapaho. This is where our old people lived.
This is where we came from.”
La Force Lone Bear, Northern Cheyenne, a traditional healer and
chair of the planning committee for the run, was presented with
the governor’s proclamation by Ernest House Jr., executive
secretary of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs.
Lone Bear said reparations should be made to the dispossessed
tribes, noting the government gave World War II Japanese
internees $25,000 each for their imprisonment and “this was our
Lone Bear sang as White Antelope, his ancestor, had sung at the
attack on Sand Creek, “All my relatives, remember – only the
rocks stay on the earth forever,” and then he voiced the names
of those commemorated.
The 10th anniversary of the Sand Creek Run/Walk on Nov. 29
included an honoring ceremony for Army Capt. Silas Soule,
Company D, 1st Colorado Cavalry, and Army Lt. Joseph A. Cramer,
Company K, 8th Ohio Cavalry, at a Denver cemetery.
Soule defied orders of his commander, Army Col. John Chivington,
to fire on unarmed Indians camped along Sand Creek and later
testified against him for the atrocities he committed. Cramer
also testified against Chivington, who was officially condemned
for his actions but whose funeral 30 years later was “the
largest ever held in Denver,” one speaker noted.
One of Soule’s descendants, Byron Strohm, read a letter from
Soule to another officer and described it as “very hard to read,
and even harder to hear.” The letter detailed atrocities
committed at Sand Creek, including the slaughter of women and
children who were pleading for their lives “by men who claimed
to be civilized.”
Sweatshirt-clad runners huddled inside the art museum and on the
capitol steps the following day, trying to keep warm.
K.C. Warledo, 15, Southern Cheyenne from Weatherford, Okla.,
said the run was a “good experience, and I’ll be back.” The
weather en route to Denver wasn’t bad, and the participants ran
one mile and then rode in the vans, she said.
The Sand Creek massacre has been the subject of at least three
apologies, one by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), and others by the
2008 Colorado Legislature and the United Methodist Church, for
which Chivington was a lay minister.
Bill Convery, state historian, said the Colorado Historical
Society has allocated $5,000 and is seeking contributions for a
memorial to Soule near the place in Denver where he was ambushed
and killed by a soldier loyal to Chivington.
Community partners and supporters of the 2008 Run included the
Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Northern Arapaho Tribe, Cheyenne and
Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, Community of Eads, Colo., Colorado
Historical Society/Colorado History Museum, Denver Art Museum,
Denver Indian Center, Denver Indian Family Resource Center,
Denver Indian Health and Family Services, Fairmount Heritage
Foundation, alterNative Voices, Denver Police Department,
National Park Service, Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs and
Mayor’s Agency for Human Rights and Community Relations.