On this date, a 700-man volunteer force from the First and Third Colorado Regiments attacked a village of friendly Cheyenne and Arapaho encamped in southeastern Colorado Territory, killing and mutilating an estimated 70–163 Indians, about two-thirds of whom were women and children. They were under the command of Colonel John Chivington, a Methodist preacher. The soldiers had no provocation for the attack, and furthermore, they disregarded both the American flag flying over the encampment and the white flag that was run up shortly after the soldiers commenced firing.
The Army had previously promised this band of Cheyenne and Arapahoe protection, and it was U.S. Army officials who had given the Cheyenne chief, Black Kettle, the American flag.
According to Congressional testimony on the incident, before Chivington and his men left the area, they plundered the tipis and took the horses. When the smoke cleared, they came back and killed many of the wounded. They also scalped many of the dead, regardless of whether they were women, children or infants. Chivington and his men adorned themselves with scalps and other body parts, including human fetuses and male and female genitalia. They also publicly displayed these battle trophies in Denver’s Apollo Theater and area saloons.
In his riveting book Blood and Thunder about the conquest of the West by whites, Hampton Sides writes that Kit Carson was outraged about the attack, decrying:
Jis to think of that dog Chivington and his dirty hounds, up thar at Sand Creek. His men shot down squaws, and blew the brains out of little innocent children. You call sich soldiers Christians, do ye? And Indians savages? What der yer ‘spose our Heavenly Father, who made both them and us, thinks of these things? I tell you what, I don’t like a hostile red skin any more than you do. And when they are hostile, I’ve fought ’em, hard as any man. But I never yet drew a bead on a squaw or papoose, and I despise the man who would.”
Reportedly, Chivington gloated after the massacre, “I have eclipsed Kit Carson.” Indeed.