Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
This image shows the Southern Plains Indian delegation in the White House Conservatory on March 27, 1863 during the Civil War. The interpreter William Simpson Smith and the agent Samuel G. Colley are standing at the left of the group; the white woman standing at the far right is often identified as Mary Todd Lincoln. The Indians in the front row are, from left: War Bonnet, Standing in the Water, and Lean Bear of the Cheyennes, and Yellow Wolf of the Kiowas. Yellow Wolf is wearing the Thomas Jefferson peace medal that aroused such interest. The identities of the Indians of the second row are unknown. Within 18 months from the date of this sitting, all four men in the front row were dead. Yellow Wolf died of pneumonia a few days after the picture was taken; War Bonnet and Standing in the Water died in the Sand Creek Massacre; and Lean Bear was killed by troops from Colorado Territory who mistook him for a hostile.

Native History: Proclamation Sets Course Toward Sand Creek Massacre

Konnie LeMay

This Date in Native History: On June 27, 1864, John Evans, governor of the Colorado Territory in Denver, issued a proclamation “To the Friendly Indians of the Plains,” a step that initiated a series of movements among the Native peoples that would bring 600 to 700 Arapaho and Cheyenne people for a peaceful encampment near the bend in the Sand Creek River.

This would become the setting of one of the most heinous atrocities in U.S. history—the Sand Creek Massacre—the murder and mutilation of 160 to 200 women, children and elders by civilian and military troops on November 29, 1864.

In the June proclamation, Evans warned the “friendly Indians” about not associating with those of their tribes who have “gone to war with white people.” He encouraged those friendly to the whites to identify themselves by congregating in specific approved locations, sometimes for further instructions and relocation: Kiowa and Comanche people to Fort Larned in Kansas; the Arapaho and Cheyenne along the upper Platte River to Camp Collins (today’s Fort Collins) on the Cache-la-Pondre River; the Lakota people to Laramie, Wyoming and the Arapaho and Cheyenne people living on the Arkansas River were directed to go to Maj. S.G. Colley, the U.S. Indian agent at Fort Lyon. All were told they would be given provisions and safety.

Less than two months later, Evans would issue another proclamation—this one authorizing the citizens of the Colorado Territory to “kill and destroy as many enemies of the country, wherever they may be found, all such hostile Indians” and to take the Native property as reward. He followed up with creation of a 100-day civilian regiment, under command of Civil War veteran Col. John Chivington, to “pursue, kill, and destroy all hostile Indians that infest the plains.”

While the June 27 proclamation set into motion that year’s events leading to the November massacre, the true setting of course occurred more than a decade earlier. Almost immediately after the signing in 1851 of the Fort Laramie Treaty, which reserved for the Arapaho and Cheyenne the legal right to the wedge of land between the South Platte and Arkansas rivers, encroachments by white prospectors and then settlers began.

Already weakened by dwindling buffalo herds and lack of other food sources, and battling imported diseases such as cholera and small pox, the Plains people of the region were cheated with smaller than agreed upon U.S. annuity payments negotiated by the tribal chiefs to help the transition from the broader hunting ranges.

Discovery of gold along the Platte River in 1858 launched a rush of white prospectors and an entourage of those catering to them—all in violation of the treaty, which was not enforced by the U.S. government. This year also saw planting of the settlement that became Denver, named for James William Denver, governor of the Kansas Territory and one of the businessmen who funded the founding of the city. Denver was started within the Cheyenne and Arapaho’s territory despite the 1851 treaty being reaffirmed by the U.S. Congress in the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.

For a time, Native communities continued to hold ground as settlers moved in around them, but in 1860 some women and children from an Arapaho village were raped by white men from a neighboring town while the village men were away hunting. No charges were made, but Chief Left Hand relocated his people, according to Carol Turner in her book, Forgotten Heroes and Villains of Sand Creek.


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