Sunday, October 5, 2014

Last Stop Sand Creek

The foothills of the Rockies stretched out to grasslands and prairies that rolled eastward like a huge ocean of saffron colored grasses. From Bent’s Fort, we traveled northwest about 80 miles to our last stop before heading the Ruby Slipper towards home across Kansas. I have seen many wide plains and do love the expanse of undulating lands in the Midwest. But I don’t think I have ever seen such a span of land as I saw near Chivington, Colorado. The breadth of the view stretched forever to the horizon and was breathtaking. I took numerous pictures but none can hold the awe of standing right there.

The destination was Sand Creek Massacre Site. I knew the story but wanted to see this sad National Site for myself. After miles of traveling roads nearly alone without other cars…or homes…we turned on a gravel road for eight miles. The loneliness was almost spooky. A ranger walked out to meet us as we drove into the main area (obviously he doesn’t face herds of people so visitors are welcomed one by one).  When we stepped out of the car, wind nearly knocked us over. It wasn’t a storm wind, just good old hard and strong prairie wind.

The ranger talked about the history….about the area’s weather including the relentless wind….about the spotty cottonwoods…the stream. Sand Creek was known as a battleground until 2007 or so when it was properly named a massacre site. This was no battle; this was murder. In November of 1864 while the Civil War raged, a group of Cheyenne and Arapahos lead by Black Kettle was peacefully camped on Sand Creek. Many surrounding Whites liked and worked with these people. William Bent (of Bent’s Fort) had two sons living here.

Col. John Chivington took about 700 volunteer soldiers out to destroy these people who were not fighters. He planned it with the sole intent of killing people. Nearly 200 Natives were killed; two thirds of them were women and children. Then the men also raped and mutilated women including cutting a baby from its mother’s womb. A couple of unit leaders were so sickened by what was being done that the officers refused to let their men fire, refused to let them partake in this mass murder.

The ranger told us how to drive up to the banks of the creek. There were memorials and more history signs. Visitors were asked not to walk beyond some posts out of respect to the killing grounds spirits. Descendants of these victims still return to this spot to mourn their ancestors. I stood there as the wind whipped my hair in my face and felt such sadness for the suffering of the mothers that day. Unfortunately, I thought of how the world has not changed much as rape, killing, and mass murder still run rampant in our world…new tribes of people but same old story.

The eight miles back to the highway, DH and I talked of how sadly moving the site was. We met another car going in. There had been three cars in about an hour and a half. A few people do trickle into this National Historic Site either to pay respects or to reach for understanding of ugly history. When we hit the paved road once more, we inched our way eastward pass Goodland, Dodge City, and on to Pratt. The next day it was visiting our son in Wichita and then on to family in Neosho County, and finally home again. We brought home some homegrown pinto beans, cracked blue corn, books, pictures, a tiny bit of New Mexico chili powder, and memories that will warm our winter days that are gathering force to come our way much too soon for me. 


Lisa Claro said...

The story of that massacre is horrific, Claudia. It is good that it is remembered, that the people who suffered there are not forgotten.

Linda O'Connell said...

Claudia this had to be emotional, to actually stand on that ground. Thanks for the history lesson and photos. I felt like I was in that wind.

Elephant's Child said...

Too familiar.
As a species I am frequently ashamed. For our past, and for our present. A race of slow learners it seems.

Susan said...

That was a very tragic place to visit but it's good you did. I felt deep compassion for all the people killed. Imagine the mayhem, useless and stupid and totally unnecessary.

What happened to make men want to kill innocent women and children? Talk about man's inhumanity toward man!

I would feel overwhelmingly sad, Claudia, standing there at the barren land, with wind whipping in my hair.

It would make a poignant story and you could describe it to the core. Why don't you write one? Susan

Marylin Warner said...

The Sand Creek Battle Ground is sad, sacred ground. When I first visited it I was in college, and the professor read an essay about the events and numbers and bloody details that I've never forgotten. Supposedly, the end of November there will appear little bits of red color--Indian Paint Brush blossoms--that will blossom out of season in tribute. I've never seen that, but I like to imagine it.
Powerful post, Claudia.

Lynn said...

Wow. And all your photos are beautiful.