Why is it Believed Big Timbers was Near Lamar?

By Mike Bowen, co-author, We Found the Lost Sand Creek Site

Many have believed the location of Big Timbers to be in the Lamar area. 

George Bent said it was further up the Arkansas River about 13 or 14 miles west of Lamar. The information we get for the location comes from a letter he wrote to historian George Hyde. 

“My Friend, Big Timbers is 30 miles below Bents Old Fort, 5 miles above Bents New Fort. North side of Arkansas River large fine bottom about 3 miles long, 2 miles wide.  Very large cottonwood trees stood over this bottom.  These trees were very tall.  This was called by white man Big Timbers” (George Bent to George Hyde, 2-4-1913). 

Here is the map showing the location of Big Timbers according to Bent.

Big Timbers also had a secondary name. 

“Before Red Shin’s stand, Indians called Tall Timbers instead Big Timbers” (George Bent to George Hyde, 2-4-1913).

The actual location of Big Timbers, per George Bent, was actually in Bent County, not Prowers County. 

A plaque outside the museum north of Lamar states Big Timbers was: “An area along the Arkansas River bottoms. 45 miles Westward from a point 20 miles east of Lamar was known as ‘the Big Timbers’ during the building of the west.”

This would place it from Granada to Hasty, a length nearly forty miles. Bent said it was three miles. There were likely some tall trees in this stretch but there isn’t anything to substantiate that being the correct location of Big Timbers. There isn’t any documentation on the plaque where the information came from. 

It’s unclear where the theory about Big Timbers being near Lamar originated. 

We learned through Sand Creek research that George Bent is often misquoted or the information is simply inaccurate. One reason is that many get information about Bent and Sand Creek from the book, The Life of George Bent. It’s important to note, George Bent did not write this book. 

There are a lot of misconceptions about what George Bent wrote concerning Sand Creek. However, George Bent didn’t write any books and that book was published about 50 years after he had died. 

On the front cover of the book, it states as the title, “Life of George Bent Written From His Letters.” The book doesn’t cite any of his letters. Here is an example from page 159:

“This Sand Creek Massacre was the worst blow ever struck at any tribe in the whole plains region, and this blow fell upon friendly Indians.” No citation is given for that information. That statement isn’t in Bent’s letters, so it is unlikely he wrote that. It was likely added by the author of the book. The works cited at the end of the book does mention the “George Bent letters, William Robertson Coe Collection, Yale University Library.” However, the only reference found cited to that collection was concerning Bent’s Fort on page 61. No citations were provided from that collection in the Sand Creek chapter. The reference about Bent’s Fort did not include a date for the letter. 

It seems the editor, Savoie Lottinville, took liberties with this book. It states in the index the book was written 50 years prior to being published and was found in an attic, but the manuscript wasn’t in great shape. It further states that another manuscript was found in the Denver Public Library and used for the book. The manuscript issues bring into question its authenticity. The information from the book claiming to be from Bent’s letters do not add up to what Bent actually wrote. And since the book was published nearly five decades after Bent died, there was no way for the author to check any of the information in the book for accuracy.

The information we get from George Bent are from the letters he wrote to historians beginning over 30 years after Sand Creek. We have over 400 pages of his letters in our archives and what we cited above from page 159 in Life of George Bent is not in his letters. Many of Bent’s handwritten letters have survived and we have compared them to the typed versions we have in our archives. They were all typed accurately.

We only used eyewitness sources, eyewitness testimony, period documents, period maps and the thousands of artifacts found on the Bowen ranch for our Sand Creek research. Information not written by an eyewitness, such as The Life of George Bent, is not trustworthy. The artifacts are trustworthy—they cannot lie. They were all documented with a GPS coordinate and photograph. 

Our Sand Creek discovery is well documented in our book, We Found the Lost Sand Creek Site. Learn more about it by browsing this site. Over 4,000 period artifacts were found starting about two miles up the creek from where the monument sat at the National Park Service site on the Bowen family ranch. No period artifacts have been found below that bluff where the NPS says the events took place. Not only was the village and battle area further up the creek, the Indians fled in multiple locations up the creek, creating running battle locations. The location of where the artifacts were found tells a story much different than the traditional story that has been passed down through oral histories for well over 150 years. Most of the traditional story is based on folklore and very little is based on eyewitness accounts. 

Check out our book to see the true story the artifacts tell, a story that isn’t motivated by emotion, but by factual physical evidence. 

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