How Did We Get Involved in Sand Creek?

By Mike Bowen 

When it comes to Sand Creek, we don’t have a dog in this fight. 

Chuck brands a calf at the ranch in the mid 1990s.

We don’t have any ancestors who fought at Sand Creek or testified in any of the hearings that followed in 1865. We don’t have any connection to the event, only the location. 

Our interest is to share history and the story the artifacts tell.

The only connection to Sand Creek is that Chuck Bowen grew up on that part of Sand Creek. By the early 1990s, he was leasing land on the Bowen family ranch from his parents to raise cattle. Over seven miles of Sand Creek went through the ranch. 

An independent archaeologist, Jim Kopke, contacted Chuck in 1993 about his research concerning Sand Creek and the monument that was marking the spot since 1950. Kopke informed Chuck he believed the monument was in the wrong spot and the correct spot was further up the creek from the monument on the Bowen family ranch. 

Chuck’s dad, Buster, is in the center of the corral as the group gets ready to brand cattle in the late 1970s.
Chuck captured this photo of Sand Creek in the early 1970s. He didn’t know at the time this is where the lodgepole trail crossed the creek. In the 1990s, he made an incredible discovery at this site.

Soon after, the Colorado Historical Society became involved in the project. They believed the key document to determining the correct spot was a map they claimed was created by George Bent. It is actually the George Hyde map, and it shows a bend in Sand Creek with tipis and lodges named in Black Kettle’s village. If the bend at the monument was incorrect, it needed to be a bend that looked similar, they believed. One such bend was at the upper end of the Bowen family ranch. 

“CHS archaeologists conducted a site visit in early August to develop a field schedule, make a preliminary examination of the site, and meet with local landowners. The CHS set the search date for September 1, 1993. Their plan also included metal detecting for 1860s artifacts” (We Found the Lost Sand Creek Site). 

To get a better view of the land, they flew over the area in Huey helicopters to look at bends. They stopped at that upper bend on the Bowen ranch to search the area with metal detectors. That search came up empty. (See our blog about riding in a Huey piloted by Mike Silva here: SilvaBlog)

There was still another place on the Bowen ranch that could work. However, this would require Chuck and Sheri coming up with a plan to find the right location. 

They came to the conclusion in 1995 that it made sense the Sand Creek battleground and Black Kettle’s village sites were up the creek on the Bowen family ranch. No period artifacts were found below the bluff where the event is historically said to have taken place. 

No battle artifacts, probably no battle field. 

To learn more about the plan, Jim Kopke’s involvement in the Sand Creek search, and the discovery of over 4,000 period artifacts, you can learn about it in our book. Get a copy here: WeFoundTheLostSandCreekSite

Chuck scans his metal detector across the ground as he searches for artifacts in the late 1990s.

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