(CO) Grateful descendants visit site of massacre
Grateful descendants visit site of massacre
Thanks to new law, land will now be protected
By Anthony A. Mestas
The Pueblo Chieftain
EADS - As Joe Big Medicine spoke Thursday about his Indian tribe, the dark
sunglasses he wore reflected the brushy landscape where several of his
ancestors had been killed in a brutal attack against innocent women and
Big Medicine and three other Southern Cheyenne Indians slowly walked to the
top of a hill overlooking the site of the Sand Creek Massacre, each flush
with happiness knowing that the hallowed ground will now be protected.
But at the same time, the gnawing reality of the senseless slaughter that
occurred in 1864 remained in their souls.
In the early morning of Nov. 29, 1864, Col. John M. Chivington led
approximately 700 members of the Colorado militia in a surprise attack on
the camp, killing about 150 people - mainly women, children and the elderly.
The visiting Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians said they experienced both pain
and pleasure while touring the site.
"I feel a sense of sorrow every time I visit this site. I think of
everything that happened here, but now there is hope because this land will
be protected forever and the memory of our ancestors will carry on," said
Big Medicine, a member of the Southern Cheyenne Tribe of Oklahoma.
"A lot of people were killed here, but the fact that we are standing here
today is proof that there were survivors - this is a big deal for all of
us," he added in a soft voice.
Big Medicine was accompanied by Steve Brady and Otto Braided Hair of the
Northern Cheyenne Tribe and William Pedro of the Southern Arapaho Tribe.
Brady, who traveled from Lame Deer, Mont., said that it felt good to be back
at the site.
"I am a fourth-generation descendant of the Sand Creek Massacre. My
great-grandmother and great-grandfather were here during the attack, and
they survived it. It's a special place for us, and I am happy that
legislation to make this an historic site has passed," Brady said.
Last week, President Bush signed the legislation creating the Sand Creek
Massacre National Historic Site. The bill had been approved last month by
the U.S. House and Senate. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Allard,
R-Colo., and Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., transfers title to 1,465 acres
of land from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes to the Park Service.
Musgrave visited the site on Colorado's eastern plains, 170 miles southeast
of Denver, for the first time Thursday.
"I have a real heart for history even when it is something that is so
incredibly painful and shameful, but we need to acknowledge what happened
here. It's a very incredible thing to stand up here on this hill and
overlook all of this," Musgrave said.
"This is the first bill that I have sponsored that has been signed into law,
and I am very grateful to have carried on what others have done before me.
It's a great feeling to know that you could be in Congress and do something
like this," she added.
Retired Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Colorado Republican and Northern
Cheyenne chief, made it one of his top priorities to establish the memorial.
Brady, who testified for the legislation before the Senate every time it
came up, credited Campbell for his effort.
"We really want to thank former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell for all the
work he has done. He got this project up and running, and I am happy that
Allard and Musgrave have carried on with his vision," Brady said.
Descendants of the Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians killed at the site already
are making big plans.
Big Medicine said that he and others plan to return some of their ancestors'
remains to the site. He said the tribes know of the remains of seven people
killed there and have taken possession of three.
The remaining four will soon be collected. Big Medicine said the remains
will be stored at Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site outside La Junta in
The remains will be there until a site is selected to place them at Sand
"We will have a blessing ceremony at the Colorado Historical Society in
Denver before we transfer the remains to Bent's Fort, and then we will have
another ceremony at the massacre site when the transfer is complete," he
Big Medicine said the Sand Creek Massacre Committee chose to store the
remains of their ancestors at Bent's Fort because it is the nearest National
Historic Site. The committee will use a $15,000 National Park Service grant
to transfer the remains.
Big Medicine and other committee members will personally deliver the remains
to Bent's Fort. Currently, the remains are at the University of Nebraska and
the University of Oklahoma.
Big Medicine said there is a lot of work left to be done at the site before
it is open to the public, including construction of an interim visitor
center, parking space and fixing the mile-long, winding access road.
National Park officials say that once the site is established, some 40,000
people will visit the site each year.
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