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Sand Creek historic landmark a reality

WASHINGTON - President Clinton has signed into law a bill which establishes the site of the "Sand Creek Massacre" as a national historic landmark.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., to permanently memorialize the site of the 1864 massacre of peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians near Eads, Colo., by members of the local militia.

At a hearing on the bill, Campbell, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, revealed the discovery of two letters written by soldiers at the massacre thought to have been lost to history. The letters detailed the preparations for the massacre and the actions of those involved.

"This bill has more emotional consequences than any I have worked on,"

Campbell said. "Like many of the bill supporters, I had ancestors who were killed that day in 1864. Senators and staff were visibly moved at last month's Senate hearing when recently discovered letters from soldiers who were at the massacre were read. Some of the elders have told me when they visit the site, they say they can hear the children crying."

At dawn Nov. 29, 1864, more than 700 men from the Colorado militia, led by Col. John Chivington, a known Indian-hater with political ambitions, attacked a camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho under peace chiefs Black Kettle and White Antelope.

When the attackers were spotted by some of the women in the camp, Black Kettle said that there was no danger since they had already met with the governor of Colorado and established peaceful relations. He posted a large American flag and a white flag on a lodge pole in front of his tipi where his wife and White Antelope stood. The soldiers opened fired on the camp.

Some of the Cheyenne and Arapaho managed to make away with a few horses while the rest fled on foot. Some ran into the sandy hills, where most were hunted down and killed. The main group ran up the dry stream bed and hid in pits they quickly dug in the banks. The soldiers followed, shooting into the pits. Some of the warriors managed to fight back, killing nine and wounding 38.

White Antelope refused to run and stood in front of his lodge, singing his death song: "Nothing lives long except the earth and the mountains."

Black Kettle and his wife followed the others up the stream bed where she was shot. It was reported that one soldier killed and scalped three women and five children who had surrendered, while a little girl was shot down as she emerged from a sand pit with a white flag on a stick. Mothers with babies in their arms were killed together.

"We, of course, took no prisoners," wrote one soldier.

The massacre stretched for nearly five miles. The soldiers then turned back to the camp, stopping on the way to mutilate the bodies, plunder the tipis and divide up the horse herd. While the soldiers were applauded as heros upon their return to Denver, carrying more than 100 scalps, there were investigations, yet no charges were brought against the assailants.

It was said that Col. Chivington could not be court-martialed because he had left the service, but neither he nor Governor Evans ever attained their political ambitions in Colorado.

The "Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site Establishment Act of 2000" authorizes the National Park Service to negotiate for property within the boundary from willing sellers only and protects private property owners.

The legislation was developed with the cooperation of the local Kiowa County Commission, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Northern Arapaho Tribe, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, the state of Colorado and many private property owners. Rep. Bob Schaffer, R-Colo., sponsored a companion measure in the House of Representatives.

Campbell said the bill was developed after an 18-month suitability study of the area by the National Park Service with the assistance of tribal representatives, descendent groups and local officials.

The legislation recognizes an area of approximately 12,480 acres along Sand Creek in Kiowa County, Colo., as the boundary of the historic site. Several landowners have indicated willingness to make property located within the boundary available for the landmark.

"This event is one of the most shameful in our nation's history, especially since a legal loophole allowed these evil deeds to go unpunished," Campbell said. "For the innocents who were butchered, the time has come for us to face our past rather than hide it. This site will stand as a reminder that racial intolerance is a part of America's past."