The Methodist preacher turned Civil War hero is still raw after spending years fighting Confederate flag-waving soldiers and treaty-waving Indians. He’s tasted blood, and now he’s on the warpath. With hundreds of unsuspecting American Indians just around the corner, he’s found his perfect opportunity.
He stands to address his men, knowing full well that the Arapaho and Southern Cheyenne pose no threat.
“Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians!” he says. “I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians.”
And then, for emphasis: “Kill and scalp all, big and little.”
He does just that. It’s a violent affair from the start.
As the chaos begins, the American Indians raise American and white flags — symbols of peace. But Chivington ignores the plea, instead raising his arm for attack.
Cannon and rifle fire rain down upon the village. Indians scatter. The hysterical militiamen charge, chasing down men, women, and children, killing them cruelly and without mercy.
The unrelenting attack lasts most of the day. The militia uses more than 1 ton of ammunition.
But once the shooting ends, the bloodshed doesn’t cease. Chivington wants victory, not prisoners. So, as the smoke clears, his militia slaughters the wounded. They scalp the dead, mutilating women, children, and infants. They cut off the women’s breasts and cut out their vaginas. They stripped the skin off the children’s backs to cure as leather. They cut off the men’s and boy’s scrotum’s to use as tobacco pouches and to wear as trophies around their necks. They ransack the village, taking supplies and livestock. Whatever is left, they destroy and burn.
In all, Chivington’s men scalp, rape, and murder hundreds of Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho people. Meanwhile, the militia loses fewer than 10 men, mostly due to friendly fire and sloppiness.
According to Congressional testimony in 1865 by John S. Smith, an American interpreter present at the time of the attack, the carnage was ghastly.
“I saw the bodies of those lying there cut all to pieces, worse mutilated than any I ever saw before; the women cut all to pieces … . With knives; scalped; their brains knocked out; children two or three months old; all ages lying there, from sucking infants up to warriors … .
By whom were they mutilated? By the United States troops who called ourselves Christians.”
Over the following weeks, Chivington and his men were lauded in the Denver press by the editor of the Rocky Mountain News, William Byers, who wrote in December, “Among the brilliant feats of arms in Indian warfare, the recent campaign of our Colorado volunteers will stand in history with few rivals,” and that they had carried out a “thousand incidents of individual daring” and “once again covered themselves with glory.” Chivington led the victory parade of the now named Bloody Third Regiment into Denver to a hero’s welcome.
Indian agent Sam Colley, outraged by the massacre at Sand Creek, wrote to U.S. Senator James R. Doolittle of Wisconsin, who was a member of the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the (Civil) War. Colley informed Doolittle that the Indians who had been attacked were peaceful and under the protection of his Indian agency and Fort Lyon. News of the massacre continued to spread and on January 10, 1865, the U.S. House of Representatives directed the Committee on the Conduct of the War to hold hearings to try to establish what took place at Sand Creek.
On March 13 1865, the Committee on the Conduct of the War began congressional hearings in Washington D.C. regarding the events which had occurred at Sand Creek. Indian agent John Smith gave his eye witness testimony as to the atrocities he had witnessed carried out by Chivington’s men. Smith told how he had witnessed around 100 Indians, men, women and children, surrounded by soldiers who fired on them indiscriminately. Smith testified that he witnessed Indians killed from “sucking infants up to warriors…women cut all to pieces, worse mutilated” than he had ever seen before, with “their brains knocked out.”