Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal members commemorate Sand Creek ancestors


DENVER - Those 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 family turkey.

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, Cheyenne/Arapaho.

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 homeland.”

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.