The great white man's war was not a good time for the indigenous peoples of North America.
While in the east of the continent the Union and the Confederate fought total civil war from 1861 to 1865, the promised deliveries of food and money to the west stalled.
At the same time, the north opened wide areas with the Homestead Act of 1862, so that the settlement of Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho and Montana continued.
Above all, the rumors of gold discoveries in Colorado fueled a gold rush from the end of the 1850s that drove even more people to the West than the one that had made California the promised land ten years earlier.
This invasion fundamentally changed the plains and the way of life for their people.
Their passion culminated in a horrific massacre: On November 29, militia slaughtered 180 Cheyennes and Arapahos, mostly women and children, in the Sand Creek Reservation.
A dismayed investigative commission of the US Congress found it hardly understandable that people could commit or endure such acts of cruelty and barbarism.
In September 1864, Major Edward W. Wynkoop (front left) tried to save the peace.
Next to him Silas Soule, behind him White Antelope (left) and Black Kettle (2nd from left)
Source: Wikipedia / Public Domain
The US administration under President Abraham Lincoln was not entirely to blame for this.
In 1861, they wrested a treaty from the Cheyenne that drastically reduced the "tribal area" they had been granted ten years earlier.
It is said that Black Kettle, White Antilope and other peace chiefs failed to have the paper translated by an interpreter.
However, many tribes were unwilling to retreat to the modest reservation in the Colorado Territory, especially as the dramatic decline in bison populations as a result of ruthless whites hunting took their livelihoods away.
In addition to hunger, there were diseases brought in by gold prospectors and settlers.
Although significant resources were tied up by the Civil War, Republican Governor John Evans pushed railroad construction through the Great Planes.
The aim was to bring Colorado into the Union as a slave-free state (which was also achieved in 1876).
From this perspective, the Indians were just disturbing relics of a bygone era.
The contractually guaranteed deliveries of food and other goods came through only irregularly and in some cases were completely canceled during the civil war.
When young warriors in particular began to compensate for the failures with raids, the situation escalated.
During a raid on a farm, the man, his wife and their two young daughters were cruelly murdered by Arapaho warriors.
The laying out of their bodies in Denver brought the white folk soul to a boil.
In August, Governor Evans issued a proclamation authorizing every citizen of Colorado to hunt down "enemy Indians" and kill them as "enemies of the country".
That "peaceful Indians" should be spared quickly fell under the table.
Colonel John M. Chivington (1821-1894), preacher and passionate Indian hater
Source: Wikipedia / Public Domain
A certain John M. Chivington, who had achieved some prominence as a Methodist preacher and anti-slavery opponent, saw his chance for a political career and set up a volunteer regiment.
The 600 men - gold prospectors, soldiers of fortune, cowboys - were avid readers of the “Rocky Mountain News”, which called for a crusade against the “scalping butchers.
For 100 days these "Indian fighters" were supposed to join the US cavalry for pay.
Their commander in Fort Lyon, Major Edward Wynkoop, however, continued to follow the line from Washington to seek to make a living with the Indians, if they were peaceful.
Grudgingly, Evans gave in to Wynkoop and assigned Black Kettle and his men, who had also been joined by some Arapaho, the bank of Sand Creek as a bed.
Poster with the call to volunteer as Indian fighters for 100 days
Source: Getty Images
But at the beginning of November, Wynkoop was recalled.
When Evans went on a business trip to Washington, Chivington saw his hour come.
He swore to his people that it was only right and fair to "use every means under God's heaven to kill Indians," and went to the river on the morning of November 29th.
A division of regular cavalry joined them with 100 men.
While most of the warriors were out hunting, the protection of the camp had been entrusted to a large US flag given to Black Kettle by government negotiators.
A white flag fluttered beneath it.
That didn't stop Chivington from giving the order to attack.
"Every means is right to kill Indians": Depiction of the Robert Lindneux massacre
Source: De Agostini via Getty Images
White antelope was one of the first victims.
The whites cut off his nose and ears and scalped him.
In order to get better at his valuable rings, they cut off his fingers, writes Thomas Jeier in his book "The First Americans".
A six-year-old woman asking for peace with a white flag was shot dead.
Chivington's men cut the unborn child out of the womb of a young woman and threw it away.
Disgusted, Captain Silas Soule, who commanded the US cavalry, refused to cooperate - he was supposed to be an important witness for the committee of inquiry.
"I saw the brains knocked out of the skulls of young children by men who thought they were civilized," he later said.
In his 1970 film “Blue Soldier” (German: “The Lullaby of Manslaughter”), the American director Ralph Nelson tried to capture horror in pictures.
Women were raped and scalped
The genetics were removed from the dying and dead.
George Bent, son of a fur trader and a Cheyenne, reported that some of Chivingston's men made tobacco pouches from the skin of severed breasts.
Others are said to have stretched vaginas over their saddle knobs.
Some women have been raped or scalped while alive.
The bloodlust lasted until sunset.
Chivington then proudly stated that he had killed 400 to 500 Indians.
Fortunately, that was an exaggeration.
Possibly the alcohol that got his men in the mood saved some lives.
The official count came to 105 dead women and children and 28 men.
Since 2007 a memorial in Colorado commemorates the Sand Creek massacre
Source: Universal Images Group via Getty
While the perpetrators were celebrated as heroes in Colorado, the reports with which Soule and other eyewitnesses countered the representations of the "Rocky Mountain News" and other local newspapers caused increasing outrage and horror on the east coast.
An army judge described the action as "cowardly and cold-blooded slaughter, sufficient to cover the perpetrators with indelible shame and the face of every American with shame and indignation".
Chivington defended himself before the committee of inquiry that he had found fresh white scalps in the Indian village.
His retirement from the army prevented him from disciplinary proceedings, but had to bury all hopes of a political career.
Governor Evans resigned.
Captain Soulas was murdered by a participant in the massacre.
In one final rebellion, Cheyenne and Arapaho set out on the warpath and were even able to overpower a cavalry unit.
Despite all the damning words, the person primarily responsible for the genocidal act was never charged.
"Killing dozens of peaceful Indians was not morally justified, but in the understanding of the time it was not a crime in the legal sense," wrote the Swiss historian Aram Mattioli ("Lost Worlds").
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