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Public Statements

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site Trust Act of 2005

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


SAND CREEK MASSACRE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE TRUST ACT OF 2005 -- (House of Representatives - June 27, 2005)

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Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this bill. I congratulate my Colorado colleague, Mrs. MUSGRAVE, for introducing it and thank the leadership of the Resources Committee for making it possible for the House to consider it today.

Enactment of the bill is a vital step toward formal establishment of the Sand Creek National Historic Site, as authorized in 2000 by Public Law 106-465.

The purpose of the Historic Site will be to recognize the national significance of what we now recognize as a permanent stain on the history of our State of Colorado--the San Creek massacre--and its ongoing significance to the Cheyenne and Arapaho people and descendants of the massacre victims.

The Act authorizes establishment of the national historic site once the National Park Service has acquired sufficient land to preserve, commemorate, and interpret the massacre site.

The National Park Service has acquired approximately 920 acres, but the majority of land within the authorized boundary is privately owned and is not open to the public. The National Park Service has been working in partnership with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes and the State of Colorado towards establishment of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.

This bill will authorize the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma to convey approximately 1,465 acres to the Secretary of the Interior to be held in trust for the tribes. Once these lands are conveyed, the National Park Service will be able to formally establish the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.

Sand Creek was the site of an attack with terrible and long-lasting effects. Its history speaks to what can happen when military force is misused for political purposes.

The leader of the attack was John M. Chivington, who earlier had been hailed as the hero of the battle at La Glorieta Pass--sometimes called the ``Gettysburg of the West--which ended the efforts of the Confederacy to seize New Mexico and other western territories.

As history records, Chivington seemed destined for even greater prominence. He was a leading advocate of quick statehood for Colorado, and spoken of as a likely candidate for Congress. At the same time, tensions between Colorado's growing white population and the Cheyenne Indians reached a feverish pitch. The Denver newspaper printed a frontpage editorial advocating the ``extermination of the red devils'' and urging its readers to ``take a few months off and dedicate that time to wiping out the Indians.'' Chivington took advantage of this public mood, attacking the territorial governor and others who counseled a policy of conciliation and treaty-making with the Cheyenne.

Finally, during the early morning hours of November 29, 1864, he led a regiment of Colorado Volunteers to where the band led by Black Kettle, a well-known ``peace'' chief, was encamped. Federal army officers had promised Black Kettle safety if he would return to this location, and he was in fact flying the American flag and a white flag of truce over his lodge, but Chivington ordered an attack on the unsuspecting village nonetheless.

After hours of fighting, the Colorado volunteers had lost only 9 men in the process of murdering between 200 and 400 Cheyenne, most of them women and children. After the slaughter, they scalped and sexually mutilated many of the bodies, later exhibiting their trophies to cheering crowds in Denver.

Chivington was at first widely praised for the ``battle'' at Sand Creek, and honored with a widely-attended parade through the streets of Denver.

Attitudes began to change as tales circulated of drunken soldiers butchering unarmed women and children. At first, these rumors seemed confirmed when Chivington arrested six of his men and charged them with cowardice in battle.

But the six, who included Captain Silas Soule, were in fact militia members who had refused to participate in the massacre and now spoke openly of the carnage they had witnessed. Shortly after their arrest, the U.S. Secretary of War ordered the six men released and Congress began preparing for a formal investigation.

Soule himself could not be a witness at any of the investigations, because less than a week after his release he was shot from behind and killed on the streets of Denver.

Although Chivington was eventually brought up on court-martial charges for his involvement in the massacre, he was no longer in the U.S. Army and could therefore not be punished. No criminal charges were ever filed against him. An Army judge, however, publicly stated that Sand Creek was ``a cowardly and cold-blooded slaughter, sufficient to cover its perpetrators with indelible infamy, and the face of every American with shame and indignation.''

The massacre remains a matter of great historical, cultural and spiritual importance to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, and is a pivotal event in the history of relations between the Plains Indians and Euro-American settlers.

The effort to establish the Sand Creek National Historic Site was led by former Senator Ben Campbell of Colorado. It has gone through several stages:

The Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site Study Act (Public Law 105-243) directed the National Park Service, in consultation with the State of Colorado, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, and the Northern Arapaho Tribe, to complete two tasks. First, the Act directed the Park Service to ``identify the location and extent of the massacre area.'' Second, the Act directed the Park Service to prepare a report that assessed the national significance of the Sand Creek Massacre site, the suitability and feasibility of designating it as a unit of the National Park System, and a range of alternatives for the management, administration, and protection of the area.

Following completion of these studies, Senator Campbell introduced legislation to authorize the establishment of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site as a unit of the National Park System. Enactment of this bill is an important step toward completing that effort. I urge its approval by the House.

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