Skip to main content

Sand Creek memorial run ignites emotions; Cheyenne/Arapaho runners confront city of Denver

DENVER -- More than three dozen Cheyenne and Arapaho runners carrying
ceremonial eagle staffs burst into the colossal Colorado Convention Center
in downtown Denver, wove their way down carpeted hallways, and finally
formed a Grand Entry procession that riveted the attention of more than
1,000 educators assembled at the National Indian Education Association

The runners, many of whom were teenagers, wide-eyed and sinewy in their
running gear, suddenly became solemn as an Arapaho drum group rendered
several tribal songs for this special occasion. Cheyenne and Arapaho elders
blessed the runners, then turned to address the large assembly with stories
of American atrocity at Sand Creek, where, in 1864, 800 Colorado vigilantes
attacked a peaceful Indian village of mostly women, children and elders.

With their young men out hunting, about 170 defenseless villagers were
annihilated on a cold November morning.

At first sight of the soldiers circling around the encampment, Southern
Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle raised the American flag and a white flag above
his tipi. It made no difference.

Col. John Chivington's raiders fired 2,000 pounds of howitzer and rifle
ammunition upon the helpless Indians; then, in a crazed fury, they moved in
with sabers and knives to hack the wounded and dying to bits.

Stunned Indian educators from more than 150 tribes wiped tears from their
faces as they listened to the stories of savagery and of modern-day
attempts of the Southern and Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes to raise
Americans' consciousness about this horrific event with legislative
recognition, annual spiritual healing runs and education awareness.

This year's Sand Creek Massacre Memorial Run began with prayers and
blessings 48 hours earlier on Oct. 5 at the killing site, about 200 miles
to the southeast. Runners pushed their away along rural roads and
semi-modern highways on their way to the NIEA Convention.

Many of the tribal runners had done this before -- on Nov. 29 of previous
years, when it was raining, snowing and windy. Billy Mills, Olympic gold
medalist and founder of Running Strong for American Indian Youth, was with
them, as he has been for so many tribal communities.

"Body parts and scalps, cut up by the soldiers, were paraded past cheering
crowds in the streets of Denver," noted Steve Brady, vice chairman of the
Northern Cheyenne Tribe in Lame Deer, Mont.

According to Brady, some of those remains still reside in museums -- one of
which is in Denver, just blocks from the convention center. He was one of
several spokesmen for the descendants of the massacre.

"Officers at Fort Lyon told Chivington that the Sand Creek village was at
peace, they were on their reservation where they belonged; but it didn't
matter," said Brady, who at times paused to steady himself.

"My great-grandparents woke up to the sounds of gunfire," he stated, "and
horses stampeding through camp.

"He roped a horse with his lariat and put his wife on a horse, even though
he was wounded in the elbow," added Brady, again pausing. "Then he sang his
death song -- 'Only the stones will live forever...' -- which we still sing

Brady explained that Black Kettle -- his great-grandfather -- went miles
upstream in search of his wife, who was pregnant with their first child.

"Black Kettle, who had put on his peace medals for the soldiers to see,
left his wife -- who was drenched in blood -- as he assumed she was dead,"
said Brady, again clearing his throat before he moved on.

"Killings went on all day ... then the cavalry moved in and the butchering
commenced," he continued.

Chivington later took to the Denver stage, where he charmed audiences with
his stories of the massacre and displayed 100 Indian scalps, including the
pubic hair of women.

The Cheyenne and Arapaho headmen later brought their hunters back to the
village to look for survivors and gather the horses. Brady's
great-grandfather told his son that the entire village was decimated, with
piles of burned bodies and burned buffalo robes. Camp dogs were feeding on
the bodies.

Black Kettle found his pregnant wife, who didn't miscarry. Their first son,
the uncle of Brady's father, was named Whistling Elk.

"This has had a profound impact on my life and my family," he said, "and we
try to do our best to perpetuate the memory of our ancestors."

"Going to school, we were all told a different point of view of this,"
stated Tina Hurtado, the great-great-granddaughter of Black Kettle.
Hurtado, a Southern Cheyenne, came to the NIEA convention to experience
this moment.

"When we were young, we heard the truth about this -- Sand Creek, Washita,
and Little Big Horn -- from our grandparents," she said.

Lee Pedro, Arapaho from Oklahoma, told the assembly that recently (as in
seven years ago), the Cheyenne and Arapaho decided it was time to bring
closure, to bring back the bones to give them a respectful burial they

He continued, "You can still feel it -- the mournful bad feelings -- and we
pray that it gets better."

The three tribes have lobbied Congress for legislation to assist the
National Park Service and the state of Colorado in the development of the
Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site near Chivington, Colo. Two
thousand and five hundred of the 12,500 acres Congress authorized for the
site have now been purchased. The site is not yet open to the public, as
the remaining property is still under private ownership.

"The spirits of the deceased are still there," stated Carol White Skunk,
Southern Cheyenne from Weatherford, Okla. "There's a very spiritual feeling

Colley Willow and Shayne Armajo, Northern Arapaho and recent graduates from
St. Stephens High School on the Wind River Reservation, participated in the
trek from Sand Creek to Denver and are veterans of previous memorial runs.
The two were stars on the basketball team that won the Wyoming state
championship in 2004.

"It is a special place for us," said Willow, "and it looks exactly like
[the paintings]."

Until the national historic site opens, the descendants provide
teacher-training workshops to improve awareness and truth about the tragic
event with attention to American circumstances that led to the massacre.

"A teacher here walked out of our curriculum workshop," said Brady,
"because she thought this shouldn't be taught to students." But the
descendants are determined. The memory of Sand Creek lives on in their
hearts and in their minds.

The descendants can be contacted at