The Witness Tree

By Mike Bowen

Co-author, We Found the Lost Sand Creek Site

What became known as the Witness Tree or Hugging Tree, became a feature on all of Chuck and Sheri Bowen’s Sand Creek Tours. 

Sheri Bowen with the Witness Tree in the early 2000s. See more photos below.

They started offering tours at their Lost Sand Creek Site in 2002, just four years after documenting their Sand Creek site discovery. Their discovery was notarized in 1998. You can read more about this in chapter seven of our book, We Found the Lost Sand Creek Site

The tours began in Lamar at their home/photo studio where tour guests would view many of the Sand Creek event artifacts Chuck and Sheri found on the Bowen family ranch, the Lost Sand Creek Site. At that point, they found well over 3,000 artifacts and they stopped counting after finding over 4,000. 

After viewing artifacts in the Bowens’ home, they continued forty miles north at the real site. “We spent about three hours at Sand Creek showing our guests much of the village and running battle locations. The rustling leaves and the shade of the cottonwood trees provided a great stop for lunch and visiting.” 

Not only did visitors see the locations of Sand Creek events, they also saw a lot of wildlife, including deer, antelope, coyotes, foxes, porcupines, turtles, eagles, hawks, burrowing owls, mountain plovers, and meadowlarks. 

“It became popular to see how many it would take to reach around a large cottonwood tree. Some posed hugging it, not even coming close to reaching halfway—it actually took about six people. Simply due to the diameter, a forester said it was likely a witness tree of the battle. As far back as the 1936 aerial agricultural photo maps, this big cottonwood had a large canopy.” 

Sheri first gave it the moniker, the Witness Tree, as it was the largest of the old cottonwood trees on the creek. The 1936 aerial map shows a number of cottonwood trees along the creek and they may also have been witness to Sand Creek. 

It was nearly 70 years from the 1936 map to when the forester dated the tree, and with the tree showing a large canopy in 1936, it is certainly possible it was standing during the events at Sand Creek.  

Leading up to the Irving Howbert tour in September 2007, Curt Neeley emailed the group: 

Angie Neeley with the Witness Tree/Hugging Tree.

“Note the large Cottonwood Trees along the creek, some of which were ‘witness’ to the Battle on November 29, 1864. The lady who appears to be hugging one of them is my wife, whom Chuck photo’d some years ago as she was measuring the circumference to determine the tree’s diameter. That particular tree has become a regular part of the tour, now known as ‘The Hugging Tree’ and available to all those who wish to commune in such fashion.”

This tradition of guests posing with the Hugging Tree continued throughout the tours provided at the Lost Sand Creek Site. Whether the tour was a single person or a group, it was customary to be photographed with that large cottonwood tree. The photos show how large it is. 

It sure would be interesting to know what stories it could tell, if only that tree could talk. 

Learn more about the tours, Witness Tree/Hugging Tree and the discovery of over 4,000 artifacts that help us understand what happened at Sand Creek, in our book, We Found the Lost Sand Creek Site.  

You can learn more about us, our Sand Creek discovery and book on this website.

Check out photos of artifacts here:

There are over 100 photos of photos and maps in our book, We Found the Lost Sand Creek Site

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