Feature

Where the Truth Lies

August 2001

HISTORIANS?LONG?AGO?ESTA-blished these grim facts about the Sand Creek Massacre, the cruelest and most one-sided engagement in America’s war against the Plains Indians. But a mystery that has vexed historians for almost a century remains: where did it happen?

That is still an open question, despite loud and proud declarations to the contrary by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and the National Park Service. Nighthorse Campbell wrote legislation last fall establishing the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, a 12,800-acre preserve in Kiowa County, about 40 miles north of Lamar and 180 miles southeast of Denver. The bill capped an intensive search for the massacre site, led by the National Park Service. The search uncovered hard evidence of the assault – 400 artifacts, including everything from spent ammunition to camping gear, horse tack, and military clothing. The artifacts, still lying where they fell 135 years ago, included housewares matching the type the Cheyenne Indians received from the government a few months before the massacre; bullets fired from the make and caliber of weapons Chivington’s troops were carrying; and telltale fragments of shells discharged from the mountain howitzer, an unwieldy cannon deployed only once on Colorado soil – at Sand Creek on November 29, 1864.