Sand Creek Starr Carbine
Photo courtesy Andrew Masich/Senator John Heinz History Center
This Starr carbine issued to Jordan J. Brown likely was used at the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864.

Sand Creek Was a Crime, and This Is the ‘Smoking Gun’

Konnie LeMay

“Sand creek was a crime, it happened 150 years ago… and this gun is kind of the smoking gun for Sand Creek,” Andrew E. Masich, president and CEO at Pittsburgh’s Senator John Heinz History Center, said of the artifact he acquired for the Sand Creek National Historic Site near Eads, Colorado. “It’s evidence of the past; it’s evidence of a crime.”

The artifact evokes the dichotomy that marks many discoveries connected to the site of the November 29, 1864, horrific massacre of nearly 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho people. This Starr .52-caliber carbine issued to Jordan J. Brown, one of the volunteer soldiers lead by the murderous Col. John Chivington, was almost certainly fired during the attack on the peaceful village.

“It’s an incredibly tangible link, and it’s a research tool, but it’s also a horrific object,” Alexa Roberts, superintendent of the historic site, said of the weapon. “We have over 400 artifacts from the massacre itself, both military and Native. Many of those are extremely compelling objects, some are difficult to look at or to handle.”

This newest artifact, announced this week by the National Park Service and funded by the NPS and the Kiowa County Economic Development Foundation, seemed destined to return to the scene of this crime.

The rifle was purchased at an annual gun show earlier this year in Baltimore by Andrew Masich, who was there with his curator from the Heinz History Center to scout potential items for the center.

“We were there looking for things related to the French and Indian Wars… when I spotted this Starr carbine in rough shape,” Masich said.

Masich, once vice president of the Colorado State Historical Society, noticed that the rifle’s serial number was within the range for carbines issued to the 1st Volunteer Colorado Cavalry of the U.S. Army, the cavalry lead by Chivington in the massacre. He looked at a list of rifles and soldiers on his iPhone and made the link to Brown and to Sand Creek. With the show closing within hours, he called Roberts in Colorado to ask if she’d like him to buy the carbine for the historic site. She agreed to the purchase.

“It’s a rare thing, to be able to match an artifact with a man who was at an historic and horrific event,” Masich said, adding that for Sand Creek, “I don’t know of another one. This was an extremely rare find.”

It turns out that the carbine had been earlier identified as issued to Brown by the gun collector who likely owned it before the seller in Baltimore. Author-collector Charles G. Worman, in his 2005 book Gunsmoke and Saddle Leather: Firearms in the Nineteenth-century American West, had a photo of the rifle identifying it as “Starr percussion carbine (#4724) issued to Sgt. J.J. Brown, 1st Colorado Cavalry. He was on active duty in November 1864 and probably participated in the Sand Creek affair.”

Historic documents also indicate more about the man who used the rifle, according to ones cited by Masich: “Jordan J. Brown was born in Indiana circa 1837 and enlisted in Central City Colorado Territory on Sept. 4, 1861, at the age of 24. Occupation: Miner. He stood 5-feet, 6-inches tall, had gray eyes, brown hair and light complexion. He was soon appointed 2nd corporal in Company H, 1st Colorado Volunteer Infantry (which later became cavalry). He was appointed sergeant in Company H in September 1862 and then first sergeant in November 1862. In December 1864, he became a Veteran Volunteer, Company C, 1st Cavalry Colorado Volunteers.”

In that, Brown exemplified many of the paid “volunteer” soldiers who were unemployed miners rather than career military personnel.

The Starr carbine will be used in research and may or may not be publicly displayed, Roberts said. An interpretive management plan is being developed for the historic site and a general management plan will likely be announced soon.

As to the carbine itself, research at the site has uncovered .52-caliber bullet casings, “almost right where Company H would have been,” Roberts said. Sgt. Brown was in Company H.

“It’s conceivable that based on a forensic analysis, it could be matched to a specific weapon,” Roberts said of the bullets. “What it helps us do is accurately place who was where on the ground.”

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Alamosaurus's picture
Submitted by Alamosaurus on
Two of the First Colorado officers, Captain Silas S. Soule and Lt. Joseph Cramer refused to take part in the massacre and later testified against Chivington in the investigation that followed. Captain Soule was murdered on a street in Denver shortly after one of the investigations, possibly under Chivington's orders. Several regular army officers--in particular, Christopher "Kit" Carson, a former Mountain Man and now an Army colonel, and General Nelson A. Miles denounced Chivington and his actions; Miles was one of the officers who had to deal with the war Chivington had started. In his memoirs Miles said that Sand Creek was the result of most of the hostilities between the Cheyennes and the U.S. government. During the investigation, Major Scott Anthony turned states evidence against Chivington--no one believed him; he was simply trying to save his own reputation (he didn't), while Governor Evans tried to sit on the fence during the investigation, but he fell off. No one believed his protestations that he only knew what he read in the newspapers about Sand Creek. Sand Creek was a deliberate setup and conspiracy by the military. Four years later Black Ketle was killed in a second attack on (what was left of) his band by Custer and the 7th cavalry; Custer had recently been in trouble with the army because of his incompetance--he had been suspended from rank and command for nearly a year--and was looking for a "great victory" to restore his reputation and standing. Unlike Chivington, he had no idea who he was attacking; he had just heard rumors that there was a camp of hostiles in the area from his boss, General Sheridan, and attacked the first encampment he came to. He reported killing 103 Cheyennes, but the actual number was probably about half that. He also took 53 Cheyennes, all women and children, prisoner (i.e. kidnapped them) and took them back to his base of operations. But it was the Indians that had the last laugh in this affair. A detachment of about 20 soldiers under Major Joel Elliot, left the village looking for more Indians to take prisoner, but the escapees from the village now re-enforced by more people from a neighboring encampment set a trap for Elliot's men, and in a foreshadowing of what would happen at the Little Big Horn 8 years later, all 20 were surrounded and killed. (Custer's losses in the attack on the village had been ;light; one officer killed; one enlisted man fatally wounded; and three officers and ten enluisted men with nonfatal wounds. Chivington's losses at Sand Creek had been heavy--24 killed and 52 wounded, but almost all of those were the result of friendly fire--his own men firing into each other as they encircled the village.)