Why was the Indian village at Sand Creek attacked?

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Why was the Indian village at Sand Creek attacked?


Overview: American expansion westward was well underway by the 1860’s. The United States had already rushed for gold in California, defeated Mexico in war, and was now establishing their new empire in the interior west. The only remaining human obstacle standing in the way was the original peoples of the west, the American Indians. The “Indian problem” as it became known, was the focus of the United States government and military. During the 1860’s the attempt to remove American Indians from land sought after by white settlers became very difficult due to the start of the Civil War. In the newly formed territory of Colorado, citizens and political leaders alike feared Indian attack. The local political and military leaders of Colorado pleaded for the return of the federal military. But with the escalation of the Civil War, Colorado citizens were left to defend themselves. Panic and fear spread throughout the territory. Newspaper stories in Denver were constantly writing about “Indian Raids.” What remained of the regular military did its best to protect the territory. In November of 1864 a combined force of volunteer and federal troops decided to attack an Indian village along Sand Creek. That fateful decision became the most controversial event in the history of the American West. This Mini-Q asks, “Why was the Indian village at Sand Creek attacked?”

Document A: Routes to the Pikes Peak gold regions

Document B: Land reserves from Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 and Fort Wise Treaty of 1861

Document C: Hungate Massacre newspaper article.

Document D: Governor Evans proclamation and correspondence from Indian agent S.G. Colley

Document E: Newspaper article on the cost of Indian raids

HOOK EXERCISE: Volunteer Indian Fighters
Background: In August of 1864, Governor Evans received permission from the federal government to raise a volunteer military regiment to protect Colorado Territory. Recruited to fight the Indians, these men were enlisted for 100 days. Below is the official recruitment poster placed in all the territory’s newspapers.
Directions: Imagine living in Colorado Territory in 1864. The men in your family have decided to answer the call and enlist in this volunteer regiment? With a partner a) using the poster below, list the incentives for becoming a volunteer Indian fighter; b) what hardships would the rest of the family face while the men were gone?; and c) what potential problems could arise when using volunteers to fight instead of professional soldiers?

Background Essay
Why was the Indian village at Sand Creek attacked?

At first light on the morning of November 29th, 1864 Col. John Chivington lead a group of American soldiers on an attack of an Indian village in southeastern Colorado Territory. As gun fire rang out, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian men, women, and children scattered throughout the dry creek bed. Many found temporary relief in dug out pits along the creek bed. The fighting lasted until mid-afternoon. When the guns went silent at least 150 Indians were killed, many of them women and children.

In the early 1700’s, the Cheyenne Indians migrated from Canada into Minnesota. By the late 1700’s the tribe became nomadic and began following the buffalo herds. By 1790 the Cheyenne lived in the Black Hills. Following this move westward, the tribe split into the Northern and Southern tribes. By 1830 the Southern Cheyenne had migrated to the Arkansas River region (modern day Colorado & Kansas). For the next thirty years the domain of the Southern Cheyenne stretched from central Kansas to the Rocky Mountains.

As the Cheyenne and their close allies the Arapaho established themselves in the Arkansas River region, the United States government wanted to clarify what land reserves these tribes would occupy. Under the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1851) the defined range of Indian land stretched from the Platte River to the Arkansas River. With white settlers only passing through this region in the 1850’s, there was little confrontation.

Everything began to change with the discovery of gold along Cherry Creek in 1858. 300,000 miners rushed into Colorado in 1859. Permanent settlements were quickly established on Indian land and resources were limited. Settlers considered the Cheyenne and Arapaho people savages and wanted them out of the way. A territorial government was established and a new treaty was drawn up to further reduce Indian land. Several Cheyenne chiefs signed the treaty, including the peace chief Black Kettle. The Treaty of Fort Wise (1861) greatly reduced the land allotted to the Cheyenne, placing them in a small parcel of arid, gameless land in southeastern Colorado. Many of the Southern Cheyenne chiefs did not sign this treaty and refused to acknowledge it. Tension and hostility was mounting in Colorado Territory!

The American Civil War started in 1861 and most federal troops that were in the West to enforce treaties and protect white settlers were pulled back east to fight against the Confederacy. A remnant of the American army remained in Colorado to preserve the territory for the Union. An attempt by Confederate soldiers from Texas to invade Colorado and take over the gold fields was halted at the Battle of Glorieta Pass in the spring of 1862 in New Mexico Territory. Colorado and New Mexico volunteers played a significant role in defeating the Texans, led in part by Col. John Chivington. Chivington returned to Colorado as a hero. It would not be the last time he would be praised by Colorado settlers for saving their territory.

Even though Colorado Territory appeared safe from Confederate invasion, Indian raids on the settlers continued. The regular army did not have enough resources to protect the citizens and consistently failed in establishing peace in the territory. Governor John Evans attempted to establish political ties with the different tribal bands in the territory but hostilities continued. Governor Evans was also attempting to bring in federal military reinforcements, but his requests were denied. So he turned to the new military commander of Colorado Territory, Col. Chivington and both men began to plan their own defense of the territory.

After the formation of the Colorado 3rd Volunteer Regiment (Aug., 1864), it was up to Col. Chivington to train these men and prepare them to fight Indians. In the meantime another military commander was attempting to establish peace with the Cheyenne. Major Edward W. Wynkoop, commander of Fort Lyon in southeastern Colorado, held a council with Black Kettle and then accompanied him and other Cheyenne chiefs to Denver for a peace council (Sept. 28, 1864) with Governor Evans and Col. Chivington. Black Kettle and the chiefs were told to surrender to military authority at Fort Lyon. Back at Fort Lyon, Maj. Wynkoop told Black Kettle to keep his people at Sand Creek (40 miles from the fort), fly an American flag, and his people would be safe. On November 5th Maj. Wynkoop was replaced by Maj. Scott J. Anthony as commander of Fort Lyon. Wynkoop was considered to be too friendly with the Indians and Anthony came with orders to have no contact with them. http://americainthe1860s.wikispaces.com/file/view/sand%2520creek%2520massacre.gif/281693058/sand%2520creek%2520massacre.gif

Col. Chivington arrived at Fort Lyon with the Colorado 3rd Volunteer Regiment on November 27th. He began to make plans with Maj. Anthony for the attack on the Indian village at Sand Creek. Several other officers at Fort Lyon were in disagreement in attacking Black Kettle and his people. These officers believed that Maj. Wynkoop had promised protection to Black Kettle and considered his village peaceful. Despite the protest, at 8:00pm, Nov. 28th Col. Chivington and the soldiers began marching the 40 miles towards Sand Creek. Besides the 700 soldiers, Chivington also brought four mountain howitzers. The fateful day had arrived.

The aftermath of the attack at Sand Creek was anything but peaceful. Once again Col. Chivington and his men returned to Denver with a hero’s welcome. However, it was discovered that some of his men had committed heinous acts at Sand Creek. Many of the Indian bodies had been scalped, butchered, and body parts were cut off as souvenirs. Back east, letters were received in protest of Col. Chivington’s actions. The federal government ordered two congressional hearings on Sand Creek and one military tribunal. Many soldiers and citizens testified, retelling the gruesome details of that November day. Col. Chivington retired from military duty shorty after Sand Creek and thus no charges could be filed against him. The Cheyenne warrior societies known as the Dog Soldiers retaliated and began raiding throughout the region, killing settlers and attacking stagecoach lines and towns. Black Kettle survived the attack and continued his efforts to work towards peace with the American government.

The question remains, why? Why was the Indian village at Sand Creek attacked?

Background Essay Questions

  1. What was the date of the attack at Sand Creek?

  1. Describe the migration of the Cheyenne Indians from the early 1700s to 1830.

  1. What event triggered confrontations between the Cheyenne and white settlers?

  1. How did the United States government attempt to remove the Cheyenne from land sought by white settlers?

  1. Why was Col. Chivington considered a hero after the Battle of Glorieta Pass?

  1. What role did Maj. Wynkoop play in dealing with the Cheyenne?

  1. After Col. Chivington arrived at Fort Lyon, why was there disagreement on the plan to attack the

  1. List three things that occurred in the aftermath of the attack at Sand Creek.

Understanding the Question and Pre-Bucketing

Understanding the Question

  1. What is the analytical questions asked in this mini-Q?

  1. Rewrite the question in your own words.

Directions: Using any clues from the Mini-Q question, the Background Essay and the document titles on the cover page, create possible bucket labels.
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Document Analysis
Document A: Routes to the Pikes Peak gold regions, circa 1860s.

file:pikes peak-gold rush-map01.jpg

  1. What is the title of this map?

  1. Find the label “Buffalo Country” on the map. If buffalo are located in that region, who else is located in that region?

  1. Based on the details of the map, what crosses through “Buffalo Country?”

  1. What are the potential problems between the white miners and Cheyenne Indians?

  1. How does this map help answer the question, why was the Indian village at Sand Creek attacked?

Document B: Land reserves from Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 and Fort Wise Treaty of 1861.
Shaded area represents land reserved for the Cheyenne and Arapaho under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851.

Black area represents the land allotted to the Indians in the Fort Wise Treaty of 1861.


  1. Using prior knowledge from Document A, what do the dotted lines represent on this map?

  2. Compare the land reserved for the Cheyenne under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 with the land reserved under the Fort Wise Treaty of 1861. What changes have occurred?

  1. Do you think the Cheyenne Indians and the white settlers will be satisfied with the changes in the two treaties? Explain your answer.

  1. Does an Indian village located on Big Sandy Creek (Cr.) have access to white settlers in Colorado Territory? Explain your answer.

  2. How does this map help answer the question, why was the Indian village at Sand Creek attacked?

Document C: Hungate Massacre newspaper article.

A Horrible sight!
The bodies of those four people that were massacred by the Cheyennes on Van Wormer’s ranch, thirty miles down the Cut-off, were brought to town this morning, and a coroner’s inquest held over them. It was a most solemn sight indeed, to see the mutilated corpses, stretched in the stiffness of death, upon that wagon bed, first the father, Nathan Hungate, about 30 years of age, with his head scalped and his either checks and eyes chopped in as with an axe or tomahawk. Next lay his wife, Ellen, with her head also scalped through from ear to ear. Along side of her lie two small children, one at her right arm and one at her left, with their throats severed completely, so that their handsome little heads and pale, innocent countenances had to be stuck on, as it were, to preserve the humanity of form. Those that perpetrate such unnatural, brutal butchery as this ought to be hunted to the farthest bounds of these broad plains and burned to the stake, was the general remark of the hundreds of spectators this forenoon.

June 15, 1864

The Denver Commonwealth


  1. What date was this newspaper article written?

  1. What details does this newspaper article provide to the reader?

  1. According to this article, what did most of the spectators expect to have happen to the perpetrators?

  1. How does this document help answer the question, why was the Indian village at Sand Creek attacked?

Document D: Governor Evans proclamation and correspondence from Indian agent S.G. Colley

Denver, June 27, 1864

To the friendly Indians of the plains:

Agents, interpreters, and traders will inform the friendly Indians of the plains, that some members of their tribes have gone to war with the white people. They steal stock and run it off, hoping to escape detection and punishment. In some instances they have attacked and killed soldiers, and murdered peaceable citizens. For this the Great Father is angry, and will certainly hunt them out, and punish them. But he does not want to injure those who remain friendly to the whites. He desires to protect and take care of them. For this purpose, I direct that all friendly Indians keep away from those who are at war, and go to places of safety.

Friendly Arapahoes and Cheyennes belonging to the Arkansas River will go to Major Colley, United States Indian agent at Fort Lyon, who will give them provisions and show them a place of safety.

The object of this is to prevent friendly Indians from being killed through mistake. None but those who intend to be friendly with the whites must come to these places. The families of those who have gone to war with the whites must be kept away from among the friendly Indians.

The war on hostile Indians will be continued until they are all effectually subdued.

John Evans,

Governor of Colorado Territory, and Superintendent of Indian Affairs.

Fort Lyon, Colorado Territory

July 26, 1864

Sir: When I last wrote you I was in hopes that our Indian troubles were at an end. Colonel Chivington has just arrived from Larned, and gives a sad account of affairs at that post. They have killed some ten men from a train, and run off all the stock from the post. As near as they can learn, all the tribes were engaged in it… There is no dependence to be put in any of them.

I have done everything in my power to keep the peace. I now think a little powder and lead is the best food for them.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

S.G. Colley

United States Indian Agent.

Hon. John Evans,

Governor and Superintendent Indian Affairs.


  1. Who wrote the first correspondence and what date was the document written?

2. Who wrote the second correspondence and what date was the document written?

  1. What is the message Gov. Evans is attempting to send the Indians of the plains in his proclamation?

  1. According to Gov. Evans, who should the friendly Arapahoe and Cheyenne report to for safety?

  1. What warning does Gov. Evans give at the end of his proclamation?

  1. According to Agent Colley’s correspondence to Gov. Evans, what conclusions has he reached about the Indians in his region?

  1. How do these documents help answer the question, why was the Indian village at Sand Creek attacked?

Document E: Newspaper article on the cost of Indian raids.

It is not an extravagant estimate that Colorado has lost and will lose half a million dollars by the present Indian war. It is being lost in the check to immigration; in the stoppage of commerce and trade; in the enhancement of prices; in the loss of crops, stock and other property; in calling away laborers and the consequent stoppage of mining and other industrial pursuits; and in the general check to the prosperity and progress of the country. In this estimate no account can be taken of the far greater loss in human life.

It is fair to presume that with a State Government and the influence it would have given at Washington, and with the military authorities, the greater portion of this amount would have been saved; a destructive Indian war would have been avoided, and hundreds of human lives saved. Against the paltry expense of sixteen hundred thousand dollars per year, at which some people are so much alarmed, we have an outright loss of half a million added to the incalculable loss of human life.

August 29, 1864

Rocky Mountain News


  1. What date was this newspaper article written?

  1. According to this article, besides a half a million dollars, how else has the Indian war impacted Colorado Territory?

  1. According to the article, what is the significance of Colorado still being a territory and not a state?

  1. How does this document help answer the question, why was the Indian village at Sand Creek attacked?

Bucketing: Getting Ready to Write

Review the documents and organize them into your final buckets. Write the final bucket labels under each bucket and place the letters of the documents in the buckets where they support the label. A document can support more than one label. Remember, your buckets are going to become your body paragraphs.


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Thesis Development and Roadmap

The Pitchfork

On the pitchfork below, write your thesis and your roadmap. The thesis will go on the handle and the supporting themes will go on the fork tines. Your thesis is always an opinion and answers the Mini-Q question. The roadmap is created from your bucket labels and lists the topic areas you will examine in order to prove your thesis.


Thesis Development
The Thrash Out
The purpose of the thrash out is to clarify as a class the “bucket labels” in order to develop your thesis statement.
Complete the following tasks:

  1. With a partner or in groups of three come up with three potential bucket labels.

  1. Each group share their potential bucket labels with the class.

  1. As a class, come up with the three best bucket labels.

  1. Individually select the one label you are best prepared to argue for in a “thrash out” with your classmates. Be prepared to defend your choice using evidence from the documents.

  1. Divide the class into three groups, one for each label. Join the group that matches the label you selected and prepare to present the evidence from the documents that support why that label is the best.

  1. After each group presents their arguments, a second round is held where you may bolster your arguments and/or probe the weaknesses of an opposing group. Again, you must use the documents as evidence for all statements.

  1. You may at any point switch groups if you become convinced that they have made a more logical argument.

Mini-Q Guided Essay
Working Title: Why was the Indian village at Sand Creek attacked?
Introductory Paragraph

Background: Thousands of settlers were coming to Colorado Territory to live. Miners, farmers,

ranchers, and city folk began encroaching on Indian land. Confrontation and

hostility was inevitable. The Civil War forced the settlers to defend themselves.
Thesis and Roadmap: The Indian village at Sand Creek was attacked in order to fulfill the duty of citizens

in the territory, to protect their families and to avenge the Indian hostilities

committed upon white settlers.
Evidentiary Paragraph #1

Topic Sentence: Hundreds of Colorado citizens answered the call of their governor to become

Indian fighters.

Evidence: Citizens read about the multiple costs of the Indian war in the newspapers. (Doc E)

There was an expectation of citizens to respond to Indian hostility and the territory

was not going to receive federal military support. (Doc C)

Attempts at reaching peace had failed and the only action left was military action.

(Doc D)
Evidentiary Paragraph #2

Topic Sentence: Colorado citizens volunteered to fight Indians to protect their families and


Evidence: Without taking military action the economic reasons for coming west to Colorado

was in jeopardy. (Doc. A,E)

The federal government attempted to force the Cheyenne onto a small reservation

by treaty, causing Indian hostility and the citizens were forced to defend themselves.

(Doc. B,E)

It was evident by July, 1864 that Indian hostilities were continuing with attacks and

the killing of settlers. (Doc. D)
Evidentiary Paragraph #3

Topic Sentence: Revenge for the loss of settler lives became a primary reason for the volunteers

to attack the village at Sand Creek.

Evidence: The Hungate massacre being blamed on the Cheyenne Indians. (Doc C)

The mutilated bodies put on display in Denver. (Doc C)

The newspaper account of the costs of the Indian war with “the far greatest loss in

human life.” (Doc. E)
Conclusion Paragraph

Restate the Thesis and main ideas: Citizens of Colorado volunteered their services and attacked the village at Sand Creek. Duty, protection, and revenge led the 3rd Colorado into action. That fateful day remains one of the most controversial events in the history of the west.


  1. Artistic impression of the Sand Creek Massacre,

http://americainthe1860s.wikispaces.com/PERIOD+5. Linked to the original

found at the Colorado Historical Society.

  1. Recruitment poster: “Attention Indian Fighters,” Found @ Picturehistory.com.


  1. “Sand Creek” map, Found @PBS, New Perspectives on the West.


  1. “Routes to the Pikes Peak Gold Regions,” Library of Congress- Maps Division,

Transportation & Communiction. http://memory.loc.gov/cgibin/query/D?gmd:129:./temp/~ammem_dHWL::.

  1. Map of Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 and Fort Wise Treat of 1861, Found @ Lone Wolf,

The Novels of Kevin I. Cahill. http://www.kclonewolf.com/History/SandCreek/sctime-02-1860-1863.html.

  1. “A Horrible Site, The Commonwealth, June 15, 1864.” Williams, Scott C. 1997. Colorado

History Through the News: The Indian Wars of 1864 through the Sand Creek Massacre, Pike of Ware Publishing, Aurora, CO, p. 44.

  1. Gov. Evans & Agent Colley correspondence, Found @ University of Wisconsin Digital

Collections, Documents Relating to Indian Affairs. http://images.library.wisc.edu/History/EFacs/CommRep/AnnRep64/reference/history.annrep64.i0012.pdf. pp. 218-19, 230.

  1. “$500,000, Rocky Mountain News, Aug. 29, 1864,” Williams, Scott C. 1997. Colorado

History Through the News: The Indian Wars of 1864 through the Sand Creek Massacre, Pike of Ware Publishing, Aurora, CO, p. 185.

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