Sand Creek: Fact or Fiction Part 4: How Trustworthy is Soldier Testimony?

Soldier eyewitness testimony about Sand Creek is often discredited. 

According to the traditional story, the soldiers stormed through a sleeping village, killing the Indians, mostly women, children and elderly, as they came out of their tipis. So, anything testified by soldiers to the contrary, is immediately considered a lie. However, in previous blogs in this series, we’ve shown that warriors were in fact in the camp and that the soldiers didn’t attack a sleeping village or slaughter the Indians as they came out of their tipis. Soldiers and George Bent agreed on both of those points. Links to the previous blogs are listed at the bottom. 

Since the soldiers were telling the truth when they testified that warriors were in the camp or that the Indians were not in their tipis, we cannot simply discredit anything else they testified. It must be examined to see if it is true or false. 

Chuck is interviewed by Doug Whitehead with CBS 4 Denver in 2004 for a Colorado Getaways program. Chuck is showing that about two miles up the creek from the monument is where he began finding Sand Creek artifacts. He took clues from soldier accounts to find places to search with his metal detector. Chuck is holding a copy of Irving Howbert’s book, Memories of a Lifetime in the Pike’s Peak Region, which provided many land description clues, assisting with where to hunt for artifacts.

Many soldiers testified that women were not targeted at Sand Creek and it was difficult to tell a woman from a man from firing distance. In the previous blog, we examined whether soldiers stormed through a sleeping village and killed the Indians as they came out of their tipis, without any warning. George Bent wrote to historian George Hyde that Little Bear saw the soldiers from a high hill appear as a long black line on the horizon when he got up early to go get his pony. This gave the Indians a warning that soldiers were coming. Since they appeared as a long black line, they were several miles away. The Indians then scattered. When soldiers fired upon Indians, it was not up close, but on fleeing Indians. 

“It was difficult to tell a squaw from a buck fifty yards away,” Lt. Templeton said, (Memoirs of Lt. Templeton from the Pioneers Museum in Colorado Springs). 

“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 D. Coplen said, (Ballou, Adin, An Elaborate History and Genealogy of the Ballous In America, page 943). He served as Corporal of the 3rd Colorado Cavalry Company G.

For those that are not convinced the soldiers are telling the truth, yet again, George Bent agreed. 

“Soldiers could not tell the difference and would have killed the women, taken them for men,” George Bent said, (Bent to Hyde 5-24-1906).

Testimony can be debated whether it is correct or not. However, there is one thing that cannot be argued: Artifacts. The location of artifacts cannot be disputed; they cannot lie. 

With over seven miles of Sand Creek on the family ranch, getting land description clues was necessary. Soldier testimony provided clues on where to hunt for artifacts.

“After the engagement began, the Indian warriors concentrated along Sand Creek, using its high banks on both sides as a means of defense. Sand Creek at this point is about two hundred yards wide, the banks on each side of which are almost perpendicular and from six to twelve feet high,” Irving Howbert said, (Howbert, Irving, Memories of a Lifetime In the Pike’s Peak Region).

There are banks on the Bowen ranch that are 200 yards wide. That helped narrow down places to search for artifacts on the ranch with a metal detector. Howbert provided another important clue.

Chuck shows Whitehead some of the artifacts he found on his family’s ranch. He found over 4,000 Sand Creek artifacts.

“At daylight in the morning the command was forty miles away from the fort. Just as the sun came up the command reached the top of a ridge overlooking the valley of the Big Sandy, from which point a large Indian village could be seen scattered along the north bank of the stream about three miles away,” Howbert said, (El Paso County Pioneers, The El Paso County Democrat, December 1908). 

Without the assistance of land descriptions from eyewitnesses, it is unlikely Bowens would have found Sand Creek artifacts on the family ranch, which as previously stated, includes over seven miles of Sand Creek. Artifacts were not found below the bluff at the traditional site, operated by the National Park Service. Instead, thousands of artifacts were found starting about two miles up the creek from the monument at the NPS site. And as stated, the artifacts were up the creek, so they could not have washed there—the creek runs the other direction. 

This blog is merely a snapshot of how soldier testimony and accounts led to finding artifacts. We go into much more detail in our book. You can see more about our book on this website. See the about us: Also check out Our Story on the front page of the website, just scroll down.

Click the Buy the Book tab to purchase We Found the Lost Sand Creek Site. 

See part 1 here:

See part 2 here:

See part 3 here:

Check out our other blogs on here as well. Don’t forget to comment below and share this blog. 

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