Owner stalls Sand Creek historic site
CHIVINGTON, Colo. ? A rancher whose land holds numerous cultural and historic sites related to the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 has put the site up for public sale.
More than 1,400 acres of William Dawson's land is key to the proposed Sand Creek National Historic Site, yet it could come under private ownership and be used for whatever the new owner decides, Dawson said.
On Nov. 29, 1864 the Methodist minister and militia volunteer Colonel John M. Chivington ordered the 3rd Regiment of the Colorado Volunteers to attack the Cheyenne and Arapaho encampment along the Sandy Creek.
The massacre took more than three hours and spread over 12,000 acres. In the end more than 200 women, children and elders who attempted to escape were hunted down and murdered. It became known as one of the most horrendous assaults on American Indians in history.
Dawson said he preferred to have the land go to the Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, so that it could become part of the historic site. But his negotiations with the National Park Service have not been memorable, he said.
"It doesn't concern me who buys the land. I would hope, and I'm working towards in the end the land would go back to the Cheyenne, because I think that's where it belongs. I would hope some philanthropic group would buy the land and donate it," Dawson said.
He dropped a hint to the news media that the land could be used as a hunting club. To that thought, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., said there had been enough killing on the site.
Dawson claims that the National Park Service paid more than $1 million dollars for the Washita National Historic Site in Kansas and that his land is worth the same, $1,000 per acre.
The National Park Service offered $332,000 for the property, which amounts to about $226 per acre. Dawson wants $1.5 million for the property, five times the offered price and more than five times the average per-acre land value in Kiowa County.
The Kiowa County assessor's office put a value on ranch land of between $100 and $130 and more if there is water. The Sand Creek runs through Dawson's property. The assessor's valuation is based on tax evaluation, but the selling price of ranch land in the area is between $200 and $300 per acre, according to real estate figures.
Dawson said he has a three-bedroom house, barns and steel corrals on the property. He said he runs cattle on the property, but declined to say how many. He also would not comment on any queries or offers he has had since he publicized the sale of the property.
He claims the federal government has not negotiated in good faith. He argues that land in other states was purchased by the Park Service for $1,000 per acre. The Park Service did not confirm that purchase price. He said Sen. Campbell could go back to Congress and make changes to the offer. It was Sen. Campbell's bill that created the Sand Creek Historic Site.
Dawson claims the Park Service turned him over to the Internal Revenue Service for investigation. An audit turned up nothing unusual, he said. Park Service spokespeople denied the charge.
"Right now the negotiations are at a standstill," Dawson said.
That's not how the Park Service looks at it nor do any of the tribes involved. The government agency is limited to offer only what the appraised value of the property permits, said Rick Frost, former project manager for the Sand Creek Historic Site. Work to put a project together like this takes time, and the Park Service will pursue the project and see it to completion, Frost said.
He said work is still underway to purchase all of the land that will make up the Sand Creek Site. But he admitted the Dawson site was key to the entire project. Frost said if some group or person would buy the land for Dawson's asking price they could then sell it to the Park Service at a loss.
"It is important to have a place like Sand Creek. We very much want to make this happen. It is an education for the entire country," Frost said.
The Sand Creek Massacre Descendents committee has not been involved with any of the actual negotiations over money or land acquisition, but in an upcoming meeting with all the tribes involved, the Park Service and some land owners may seek to get the tribes more involved.
"What went on in terms of discussions with the Park Service and Dawson is not known to the tribes. We get information second-hand," said Steve Brady, president of the Descendants association. "What we would like to do is have land set aside as a perpetual memorial, whether that will happen, I don't know for certain. We have a meeting scheduled between the tribes, NPS and state of Colorado. Hopefully we will get more information. The site acquisition is very important to the tribes."
Brady added that remains coming from the World Trade Center Site are removed and treated with great respect, but remains of ancestors from Sand Creek are still lying on shelves in museums.
Sen. Campbell's legislation, signed into law two years ago, stated that the 1,465-acre Dawson Site was central to the entire 12,000-acre project. Members of the Northern Cheyenne Sand Creek Descendants organization also claim that sites on the Dawson property are crucial to the site.
"The Sand Creek massacre was one of the most disgraceful moments of American history," Campbell said when he introduced the legislation.
Dawson said he turns in many trespassers each year, people looking for campsites. He said members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes are welcome to come on the property and conduct ceremonies and pray, but non-tribal members are not welcome.
Dawson and the Park Service are continually working with the Cheyenne and Arapaho authorities and both sides claim it is important for the tribes that this site becomes part of the historic structure of the country.
Brady said the tribes have had good cooperation with Dawson and the Park Service
"We are hoping the site will be completed. It is of profound significance. Also there remain unfulfilled treaty obligations. In Article 6 of the 1865 Cheyenne/Arapaho treaty, Congress promised reparations. Those remain unpaid. It was not addressed during 1998 bill negotiations; the Senators were just reminded of the obligation," Brady said.