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Sand Creek Massacre, 151 Years Later: Hearing, Healing the Echoes of the Past

The 17th Annual Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run/Walk begins Nov. 26 to honor those lost. It ends three days and 200-miles later in Denver.
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Echoes of the innocents massacred 151 years ago reverberate near Sand Creek and along the tortured route where parts of their mutilated bodies were paraded back into what is now Denver, Colorado.

This Thursday, November 26, for the 17th year, their descendants and others will gather to perform ceremonies and to traverse that route, holding thoughts of remembrance and of healing and hopes that this year more of those echoes will find the peace to move on.

Descendant elder Otto Braided Hair and his 23-year-old grandson Kaden Walksnice will feel these echoes as they lead events at the Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run/Walk. The two will travel eight hours from the Northern Cheyenne lands at Lame Deer, Montana, to the site where about 200 Arapahoe and Cheyenne people were massacred in an unprovoked attack on their peaceful camp by 675 U.S. calvarymen on November 29, 1864. Arapaho Chief Left Hand and Cheyenne Chiefs White Antelope and Yellow Wolf were among those who were killed there. For several decades, Braided Hair has been involved in development of the Sand Creek Historic Site near Eades, Colorado.

RELATED: How Best to Use the Sand Creek Massacre Site?

The run was started to allow descendants in the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana, the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming, and the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma to strive toward balance. That first year in 1999, more than 150 came from the distant reservations.

Courtesy Kaden Walksnice

Otto Braided Hair speaks at a past Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run with his grandson Kaden Walksnice holding the Eagle Staff behind him.

“In the first 4 years, it was just tribe and then after that, we opened it up to the public,” Braided Hair said. “The purpose is healing—spiritual healing, emotional healing—healing doesn’t have boundaries, doesn’t discriminate… I was taught, all prayer is good.”

The gathering draws people from around the United States and Canada for three days of events, traveling from the massacre site to the capitol building in Denver. It starts with remembrances at the Sand Creek site and proceeds to Denver, where two stops honor U.S. soldiers—Silas Soule and Joseph Cramer—who refused to join the massacre and debunked the myth of it as a “battle,” as promoted by perpetrator Col. John Chivington. One stop is at the cemetery where the men are buried and the other at the spot where Soule was murdered several months later.

Wikipedia

Capt. Silas Soule refused to attack the people at Sand Creek, and actually tried to stop the massacre.

RELATED: Native History: Ways to Remember Sand Creek on the 150th Anniversary

Eight years ago, Braided Hair’s then 15-year-old grandson Kaden Walksnice joined the run and this year he is one of the organizers.

“I didn’t know anything about the history of the massacre and what went on until Otto asked me if I wanted to go on the run… I’m still learning; we’re still learning the very fine details of what happened.

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“For me, the area is still kind of cleansing itself, it’s still trying to heal.” In 2014, Walksnice was hired as an intern to work at the historic site. It was the first opportunity to spend extended time there and he felt those echoes of the past.

“It was kind of tough emotionally, spiritually,” he said of his summer there. “Some days were nice and fine and normal; other days it was hard to be there.”

One slow day in the historic site office, he felt the need to walk down through the dry creek bed and “just broke down crying right there.” Along that creek in 1864, hundreds of mostly women and children fled, tried to hide from the bloody onslaught.

He feels even more deeply now the value of the annual ceremonies and run commemorating the massacre. “Culturally, there’s still that main purpose, why we do that, the healing.”

Along with his grandfather, another influence on the Sand Creek history for him has been Lee Lone Bear, who originally organized the Spiritual Healing Run and who created the Eagle Staff leading the runners. “He taught me all about praying, the prayer song.”

The year after Lone Bear passed on, Walksnice was part of a group of Northern Cheyenne taking the lead on a seven-mile portion of the run.

“I wanted to get out first and run. Once I got that Eagle Staff, I just started singing that song that he taught me. I thought about the history of how far we came with the healing run… I was singing that song and the next thing I knew, all of a sudden, it was the end of our portion.”

Seven miles disappeared in prayer and song.

Courtesy Sand Creek National Historic Site

Past participants in the Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run/Walk that starts Thursday to honor the victims of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre and to help heal the scars that continue from it.

The number of participants has fluctuated greatly over the years, from a few dozen to nearly 200, from small children to elders, Braided Hair said. Registration is encouraged, along with pledges to remain respectful, but some people show up to join for small portions of the run. “If they feel like attending, they’ll just attend… to show their respects.”

Braided Hair appreciates the way the Spiritual Healing Run gathers the diaspora of the Cheyenne and Arapaho people to the lands again.

“It’s a very good way, because it connects them back to their homeland and to the history, the stories and the songs and the traditions… of being Cheyenne and Arapaho. They get to hear the language and they get to be reminded of who they are, where they come from.”

The full run from the Sand Creek Historic Site to Denver is about 200 miles with groups and individuals running sections of it—for event details, visit NPS.gov.