Sand Creek Fact or Fiction: Part 2: Was it Only Women, Children and Elderly at Sand Creek?

It is long believed that when Colonel Chivington led the 1st and 3rd Colorado cavalries to Sand Creek, they attacked a village of women, children and some elderly. The traditional story says that the warriors were off hunting and not in the village on Nov. 29, 1864. 

It’s unclear where this theory began that warriors were not in the camp. There are many testimonies from soldiers and letters from George Bent that don’t mention this. In fact, they said that warriors were in the camp that day. 

These arrowheads were found at our Lost Sand Creek site. They were likely used by warriors. Indians made arrowheads from water barrel hoops. One I found is shown.

George Bent wrote many letters to historians over the course of over twenty years, and he went into detail about living as a Cheyenne warrior in Black Kettle’s camp at Sand Creek.  

George and his half-brother, Charley, were both warriors in Black Kettle’s village when soldiers attacked it, (Bent to Hyde 3-9-1905) (Bent to Tappan 3-15-1889). They both survived. 

George Bent and his wife Magpie about the year 1875 while George was working as an Indian agent.

Little Bear, also a warrior, camped at the west end of the village where the creek came from the north. He got up early in the morning and went across the dry creek bed to get his horse. From a high hill, he looked south toward the lodgepole trail and saw the soldiers way off in the distance as a long black line on the horizon, (Bent to Hyde 4-14-1906). It’s most likely he left the camp on his horse before the soldiers arrived. Before he left the village, he would have informed the Indians that soldiers were coming, which would have given the Indians time to get on their horse to flee. Multiple running battle locations were found in various directions above the village. Some of these running battle locations were several miles from the village. Please see our book for a more detailed account of this discovery. 

George stated in a letter that “women and children dug the rifle pits while men fought off the soldiers until the pits were ready to get into. Sand was very soft to dig into,” (Bent to Hyde 4-30-1913). 

“As to the killing of squaws and pappooses, only a few were killed, and that mainly the result of accident; the squaws fighting as desperately as the males, and in a dress and equipage scarcely distinguishable from that of the men,” John Coplen, Corporal in Company G, 3rd Colorado Cavalry, testified.

The Indians that escaped, “were men, squaws, and children,” Second Lt. Joseph Cramer testified. 

“There were…warriors, women, and children, and all ages,” James Beckwith testified. 

“The Dog Soldiers are a portion of the warriors of the Cheyenne tribe,” Major Wynkoop testified. 

“There were not any more women and children than are usually in Indian villages,” soldier David Louderback testified. 

“Were there any warriors?” the commission asked. 

“There were,” Major Scott Anthony Fort Lyon, C. T. testified.

“What number?”

“I would not be able to tell very accurately…there were in the neighborhood of a hundred men who were fighting us.” 

Morse Coffin, a soldier at Sand Creek, provides an account of Robert McFarland, with the 3rd Colorado Cavalry, who was killed by a warrior. 

But what was by common consent considered to be the tragedy of the day in which company D were concerned, took place on the open plain to the east of the creek, and at least four miles from the village, and resulted in the death of Robert McFarland, a man well and favorably known by the old settlers of Boulder and vicinity, and who was much missed by his comrades…

While proceeding thus, Phillips and McF. being near each other, discovered a buffalo robe lying in the grass, and as they approached it one of them expressed his belief that it covered an Indian. 

When within perhaps twenty or thirty feet of it, McFarland turned his horse and dismounted on the side next to it. Instantly an Indian raised from under it with a yell, and bounding and jumping about so lively that, though both fired their carbines at him, neither hit him, while he let fly the arrows from an immense bow. 

Mac dodged behind his horse, and the latter was quickly disabled by receiving a number of arrows. Mac soon received an arrow in his side, when he rushed at the Indian (who I think had approached very near in the meantime, and dealt him a blow with his gun, a Smith and Wesson) which broke the stock in splinters, but did no apparent harm to the Indian. 

Then they seem to have clinched, and Lockhart thinks the Indian jammed an arrow in Mac’s heart with his hand, which may or may not be a fact, as it not known to a certainty. Lockhart thinks the arrow in the side was not what killed him. 

Any way it appears that Mac no sooner closed with the warrior, than he fell back and made some exclamation, like “boys, I’m killed,” or “Oh God, boys I’m killed,” or similar to this, and died… (The Battle at Sand Creek by Morse Coffin)

“I am of the opinion that when the attack was made on the Indian camp the greater number of squaws and children made their escape, while the warriors remained to fight my troops,” Col. John Chivington testified. 

Indian trader John Smith, known by his contemporaries as lying John Smith, testified against Chivington that around 60 to 70 warriors were in the camp at Sand Creek. It seems likely that since Smith testified against Chivington, he provided a number of warriors lower than what were actually in the camp. 

From a majority of testimonies that were asked about how many Indians were in the camp, they said it was about 500. 

Per the last blog, which provided a snapshot of the number of Indians killed at Sand Creek, the official report to Lt. Col. Samuel Tappan from Major Wynkoop stated that 69 Indians were killed. Tappan led the commission against Chivington. The NPS has recently claimed that over 200 Indians were killed, but no source is cited. Even if that number is correct, which it likely isn’t, over half the Indians in the camp escaped. The number is likely closer to 69, which would mean over 400 of the 500 Indians escaped. 

If the camp was only women, children and elderly, the number of Indians killed would have been much higher. But as these testimonies from soldiers and letters from George Bent show, warriors were in fact in the camp and put up a fight against the soldiers. 


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