Causes of the Sand Creek Fight

In the year 1861, the Cheyennes and Arapahoes made a treaty with the settlers at Bent’s Fort.

Tempting the Indians with vain promises, mystifying them with presents and deluding them into believing they would be benefited, if under the rule of the government, which, undoubtedly, they would, had they submitted to the authority and abided by the laws — in this way the people at Bent’s Fort succeeded in getting them to sign away their land east of the mountains.

The Indians had no more than signed away their heritage, than they regretted it, and began negotiations with the other tribes and bands to form a plot to expel the white settlers from the country. This conspiracy just suited the other tribes, as they were all bloodthirsty and wanted a chance to go on the warpath. They began to prepare for an uprising that would last indefinitely, until the white man or the Indian perished.

The bucks and squaws as well, began to gather all the necessities of warfare. They would sneak around and rob the settlers of small articles; sometimes they would hold up the stage coaches, kill the passengers and take their belongings; other times they would massacre families and steal their supplies, firearms and ammunition, until at last they had abundant supplies and large collections of weapons. In other words, they were prepared for a prolonged contest, and waiting for the most opportune time to strike the blow.

In 1862 Governor Evans began to grow suspicious, as he noticed what the Indians were stealing mostly, and anticipated trouble with them. So in his message to the legislature, he put these conditions before them:
“That they were surrounded by a large band of Indians, though seemingly friendly, who might revolt at any time.
“That in case they did, the settlers were in nowise able to defend themselves.
“That they could not expect aid from the general government, as it had sent all of its troops to take part in the rebellion, while the regiments raised in Colorado had been sent into New Mexico to head off the Texans from invading through New Mexico up into Colorado. Therefore, if their anticipations were realized, the only resource was to raise a regiment of volunteer’s right here at home.”

Three months later Acting Governor Elbert received reports of Indian raids along the mail route; horses, provisions and arms were stolen.

In March, 1863, there were extensive depredations throughout the country, especially near the mouth of the Cache la Poudre (cache the powder in, so named by some early French trappers, who, upon leaving the country, buried their powder in the stream). No lives were taken, but vast amounts of provisions, arms, etc., disappeared.

It can be plainly seen that during the last two years, the Indian conspirators were carrying out the obligations of their plot. The people were beginning to realize that trouble was near at hand.

On one occasion a report went into Denver that the Indians were advancing and would burn the town. This threw the people into a panic; they dropped their work and ran in every direction, leaving their homes to find protection in the stronger built buildings. Some were too frightened to run, but hid under boxes in the street. Two soldiers who were not affected by the report, were walking along and talking about their rifles. One of them said, “Let’s see how yours works; shoot at that box.” But the box suddenly rose up and a voice said, “Don’t shoot, I am under here.” Looking more closely they saw Billy Keath peeping out from underneath. It was a false alarm, caused by some Mexican cattle herders, who were singing while herding on night watch. Shotridge, a tollgate keeper, who heard them, just supposed that they were Indians and hurried into Denver with the false alarm.

Owing to the extreme danger hovering over them, Governor Evans gave orders for all able bodied men to leave their work every evening at six o’clock and drill. Henry Teller was put in charge of these men to organize and put them in order for service. Contemplating an attack at Fort Lupton, Captain Browne, with a company he had raised, was sent there to protect that post.

To encourage the men to volunteer their services, Governor Evans issued a proclamation, allowing them to keep what trophies they captured from the Indians, but since there were some peaceful Indians, they had strict orders to molest none except the hostile.

The Cheyennes and Arapahoes were still playing friendly with the officers and soldiers at Fort Lyons. This was only a blind, as they intended to deceive the settlers until they could obtain more supplies and ammunition and give their ponies a chance to fatten and get into better condition. Therefore, they would go into the fort and beg from the officers and trade with the soldiers, and impress upon their minds the friendly feeling that existed between the Indians and the settlers, but on the other hand they were aiding the other bands in preparing for a general massacre of the settlers.

Governor Evans saw the need of more troops and began to appeal to the government for aid. Edwin Stanton, secretary of war, sent back the following answer: “Fight it out among yourselves; we are too busy with more weighty affairs to give you any attention or assistance.”

Evans then sent letters, asking for help, to all the superior officers in the military line. Receiving no aid from any direction, he was forced to fall back on his own resources. Chivington was doing all in his power, but his forces were too weak and he was unable to protect the outlying settlements, while Major Downing was just holding his own at Cedar Canon.

Evans at last appealed for troops that could be spared out of New Mexico, but none could be sent to his aid; so, pushed to desperation, he asked the secretary of war for permission to raise a hundred day regiment of volunteers, which was finally granted him.

In September, 1864, a few Cheyenne Indians were taken before Major Wynkoop, commander of Fort Lyons. They carried a letter asking for peace, providing that peace be made to the Kiowas, Comanches, Arapahoes, Apaches, Sioux and the Cheyennes. After considering the matter and comparing it with the acts of the Indians, the officers concluded that they were negotiating for peace, without the intention of making it. They were just using this plan as a sham to either kill time or throw the white people off their guard, while the Indians proceeded with their preparations.

Some of the Pioneers of Colorado

Source: True History of some of the Pioneers of Colorado, by Miss Luella Shaw, Press of Carson Harper Co, Denver, Colorado, 1909

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top