At dawn gunfire jerked a slumbering village to life. Unprepared for the onslaught Cheyennes and Arapahos scrambled to escape the attack, and many avoided death. Those that didn’t would face a swift end. Small children were used for target practice. An unborn child was cut from its dead mother and scalped. The dead would be hacked to pieces. Most corpses yielded from five to seven scalps. Penises, vaginas, and breasts were cut from the dead and displayed as trophies.
The tragedy of Sand Creek exploded upon the frontier on November 29, 1864, but there is much more to the disaster than butchery, including the lead-up to, the battle of, and the aftermath. Viewpoints on the events were, and are, well-defined. At first cheered on the frontier as a major triumph over Indians who terrorized Colorado Territory, the attack soon became immersed in controversy that tarnished the victory, and by so doing tore the Territory asunder. This is the story of the total removal of a people from their homeland as seen through the eyes of the participants …
Fine-tuning of the Sand Creek book proposal for OU Press is ongoing with editor-in-chief Chuck Rankin. As stated above, it deals with the events leading up to the attack on a Cheyenne-Arapaho village on Sand Creek, Colorado Territory, in November 1864. Wynkoop, Black Kettle, John Chivington, Left Hand, George Bent, Rocky Mountain News editor William Byers, Bull Bear, John Evans, William Bent, Silas Soule, among others, will play key roles in the manuscript. This is a story that Chuck and I have been talking about and working on a story line that is acceptable to both of us for a long time. We’re close, and soon Chuck will pitch the book, … I anticipate the signing of a contract in late spring or early summer 2013. At that point in time this book will require a large amount of my time. Although a lot of the research is in-house, one research trip has already happened in 2013 and there is still at least one major trip in my future.
As with all my books, I always keep a personal and round-robin open line with writer-historians I like and respect. At least two major players in the Indian wars writing world, and two people I count as friends, will become go-to experts. I plan on cementing these relationships in April 2013. Actually this has happened, and they are onboard with the project and my request, which makes me a happy person for I certainly respect their work and enjoy hanging out with them whenever we are in the same location at the same time. This is not to walk away from my Cheyenne connections, for they will play a much larger part in the creation of this book than they did with the Wynkoop book, and their contribution to it was huge.
Although I’ll be using the blog to publicize Sand Creek and the people that lived through those frightening and yet exciting 1860s days, this will be a living page, one that I intend to update whenever prompted by a thought, a discovery, a writing breakthrough, … whatever. I will alert you when a significant changes appear on this page, for this page will retain major status updates in one location.
I want to make one point absolutely clear—I don’t write about villains. I am fairly safe in saying that the major players all thought they were in the right in everything they did. Both sides destroyed property, abducted, raped, killed, and mutilated. Both sides had their reasons. When a handful of whites on the frontier dared to speak out against what they considered the massacre of innocent people, they became outcasts. Hatred fueled by greed, conquest, fear, and racism dominated the conflict. The terror of sudden violence combined with the struggle to survive was real, making it one of the most complicated, compelling, and poignant times during that period we call the Indian wars. The goal is to show you what happened. If you don’t like what someone did, you label them a villain for I won’t. … My apologies for what follows.
Those of you that know my writing, have heard me talk, or have seen a performance in a play know damn well where I stand on humanity. For my Sand Creek book to succeed, you must know the key players to the events that led up to the November 1864 attack on Black Kettle and Left Hand’s villages and the tragic aftermath. I need to show you what happened. I know my view, and if you know me you know what it is, but as a writer and historian I must show you what happened without allowing my bias interfere with the narrative. If I do my job, you’ll be able to decide what happened and how you feel about it. If I do this, I’ve succeeded.
At times I plan on using the blog as a device to open a conversation on an incident or person wherein I need more information or understanding. The hope here is to discuss motives and actions, but under no circumstances will the blog become a repository to berate individuals or people as demonic rapists and murderers. I am not open to prejudicial views or racist prose. Let’s talk about what happened and who did what. What are the players’ fears, hopes, motivations? I hate to repeat myself here, but I am firm about the above—under no circumstances will I accept or reply to any blue prose that comes even close to a racial slur. … I will not acknowledge such posts, nor will I comment on them. There will be absolutely no conversation. My trigger finger will simply delete the offending post.
A little about how I approach the Sand Creek project
Research is ongoing, and it will continue throughout the entire research, writing, and production process of the book. Actually, it will continue after the book is published for the goal is learn and correct when what were thought to be truths don’t pan out as new or missed information provides a clearer picture of events and participants.
If you have read my blogs you know that I’m a firm believer that actions (what a person does) and not statements (what a person claims he or she did) define who they are.
… And it is a struggle to obtain the research that I require to complete a book (Sand Creek will be the hardest book that I ever write). A struggle!
The Braun HIstory Library
I spent 12 days researching at the Braun History Library (Autry National Center, Los Angeles) in June 2012. The Braun used to be the Southwest Museum’s (Los Angeles) research archive but a number of years back to survive the Southwest merged with the Autry National Center. Soon the Southwest Museum will cease to exist. On August 1, 2015, the Braun shut its doors to researchers, and it will never again reopen those doors. A few years back the Autry purchased a huge building in Burbank, California (about five miles from Tujunga House). This building, somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 square feet, will soon house the entire Southwest collection of Indian artifacts and their archival collection of historic documents. The building, which is being converted to suit the Autry’s historic artifact and primary source needs, does not at this time (10aug2015) have a date when it will open to researchers (BTW, the Autry Library, which also a great research facility, will shut down in December 2015 so that its entire collection of artifacts and documentation can be moved to the new facility). At the present time, the research center is called the Autry Resources Center (ARC), but if someone comes up with a $5, $10, or $20 million donation to the Autry I’m certain that the ARC will be renamed.
I’ve been doing research at the Braun dating back to at least 1998—Apache wars and Cheyenne wars research (primary source documentation as well as historic images). I love the Braun (as well as the Southwest Museum) and am saddened that it is no longer available to do research. … At my first research visit I met Kim Walters, who I believe was then running the Braun Research Library. I don’t remember her title in the 1990s and it has changed and grown over the years, as would our relationship. In June 2014 her title at the Autry was “Ahmanson Curator of Native American History and Culture—Autry National Center.” She is now a friend for all time even though recently she parted ways with the Autry.
On 7aug2015 I received a portion of the research I requested at the Braun in June 2014 (fully half is still to come). Am I a happy camper? No. That said I didn’t bitch and moan or screech in anger. The Autry’s whatever (and I’m being kind here) prevented Liza Posas and Manola Madrid from completing my research request in a timely manner. Not their fault.
In August 2015 I posted a variation on the following elsewhere on social media:
|TO ALL THE HISTORIAN CLOWNS THAT CAME BEFORE ME|
|… And I’m only talking about a small number of people for most historians aren’t clowns and try to do their best. That said, often—way too often—a clown doesn’t do proper research and what he or she created is printed and then accepted as truth. End of subject? No! … Ben Clarke (yes that is the correct spelling of his last name and I can prove it easily 100 times over in his own hand) has come down through history as Ben Clark (and he functioned as George Armstrong Custer’s chief of scouts at the Washita Battle in 1868, which resulted in the tragic death of Cheyenne chief Black Kettle and many other Tsistsistas, as the Cheyennes call themselves). Even the great researcher Walter Camp messed up his last name. Clarke married into the Cheyenne tribe and lived with them for decades. Best yet, he was an educated man.
Even got to spend good time with Marva Felchlin, who is the director of the Autry Library (at least I think that is her title). … Since saying goodbye to her and then Manola on Friday, August 7, 2015, I’ve been leaping into the air and clicking my heels … while I categorize my new material (some of which will prove to be gold—pure gold) and pound away on my iMac’s keyboard. Facts are filled in and the word flow that I want in Sand Creek and the Tragic End of a Lifeway moves forward at a steady pace.
Yep, I was talking about prime research material that I’ve been lucky enough to discover.
John Monnett and 2014 Sand Creek research in Colorado
For the record, a good portion of this section has been pulled
from one of my blogs. Reason: Blogs come and go
(that is, readers must search to find previous postings),
but the pages on this website are static and available to anyone
who visits the Louis Kraft writer website.
John Monnett is one of the top Cheyenne wars historians writing—yesteryear or today. We had met years back, and it was most likely at a western history event. We knew and liked each other but had not become friends until both of us spoke at an Order of the Indian Wars symposium in Centennial, Colorado, in 2010. At a party afterwards we hung out and got to know each other. From then on our friendship has grown. Previously John had provided me with a great peer review of the Wynkoop manuscript (Ned Wynkoop and the Lonely Road from Sand Creek, OU Press, 2011) and later a top-notch peer review of the proposal for Sand Creek and the Tragic End of a Lifeway (OU Press). For those who don’t know what a peer review is, it is: 1) If it is a pitch for a book contract it is to get a thumbs up, and more important 2) It is to obtain constructive criticism on how to both improve the manuscript and correct errors in it. When I told John that after my wife Pailin Subanna-Kraft (a page dedicated to Pailin will soon appear on this webpage) obtained her Green Card that we would be making a research trip to Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. John didn’t hesitate, and immediately invited us to stay with him and his wonderful wife Linda.
As most of you know I write about people, but now I’m now faced with a much larger task of making more people leading players and at the same time connecting them to the supporting players while maintaining a flow in the manuscript. This task is a massive one. Who, where, when? … While at the same time showing and not telling (a key to any writing). The goal is to transition smoothly between the players and the events. Doable? I have every intention of making this happen. If I fail my publisher—read my editor and friend Chuck Rankin—will do what he can to get me back on track. If I again fail I’m certain he’ll say: “Adios amigo!” I have no intention of failing.
Actually this is the best challenge I have ever faced, and I love it.
After surviving a snow-storm on the I-70 in a car that was built for speed and handling but not for weather on September 29, 2014, John and Linda welcomed us into their Colorado home and lives.
Beginning the next morning John became Pailin and my private tour guide and curator to the subject of the Southern Cheyennes and those oh-so key years of the mid-1860s. Our first stop was the “Chief Niwot Legend & Legacy” exhibit at the Boulder History Museum. Niwot (or Left Hand, which is his name that is most known) was a chief of the Arapahos during these key years. All I’ll tell you about Niwot is that he will be featured as much as possible in Sand Creek and the Tragic End of a Lifeway and that he received wounds during the November 29, 1864, attack on the Sand Creek village and that they led to his death. This man stood for peace and had done all he could to bring about an end to the 1864 Indian war in Colorado Territory.
Be careful with what you read online regarding Niwot, for some of
the supposed factual information you’ll see is flat-out not true.
Actually it is wise to heed this advice when researching many of the
historical figures involved in the American Indian wars online.
John introduced us to local history as related to Sand Creek, and then he and Linda took us to the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, which is in the middle of “no where” Colorado.
Unfortunately this NHS needs a lot of money to bring it up to Washita Battlefield NHS (Oklahoma) in scope, presentation, and splendor. Along with the Washita NHS and the Fort Larned NHS (Kansas), which has a strong connection to the peaceful Cheyenne-Dog Man-Lakota village that Gen. Winfield Hancock destroyed in 1867, Sand Creek Massacre NHS rounds out the three most sacred Cheyenne sites on the central and southern plains.
The Sand Creek NHS is still basically closed to the public, and that includes historians (and charlatans who create history in their image). Unfortunately the Sand Creek Massacre NHS is a project of consensus. Former murder investigator and seasonal Sand Creek NHS ranger Jeff Campbell’s dissection and reassembly of the events on that tragic November 29, 1864, day should not be ignored, and this location should not be open to a round-robin consensus of multiple-party egos and partial truths (often based upon the retelling of history that at times isn’t even bad fiction, and I’m not pointing my finger at just Cheyenne and Arapaho oral memory). That said, this is sacred ground and it deserves a visitor center/museum that matches the one at the Washita. The land is magnificent, and the bluffs that skirt the western perimeter of the property present a marvelous view of massiveness of the ground on which the attack on a peaceful Cheyenne-Arapaho village took place. There are no well-placed signs along the high ground telling the visitor what he or she is looking at to date, so one must have a good knowledge of what happened to make any sense of what is seen.
To gain an understanding of all the parties involved in the massive project of purchasing the land, creating the NHS, and then piecing together all the historical events has been a joint project with many factions involved, read Ari Kelman’s book A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek (Harvard University Press, 2013).
Although Kelman’s prose is a page-turner when dealing with the events of the last 30 or 40 years as he brings the modern-day Sand Creek story together—and it was a fight for the Cheyennes, Arapahos, U.S. government, land owners, historians, would-be historians (and some are charlatans), and the National Park Service to create this historic site—be wary of Kelman’s information related to the battle itself and the events surrounding it. Although Kelman uses, at least his notes claim he used, primary source material, there are many errors. Why? I don’t know why. Perhaps there was a poor understanding of the primary source material, or facts weren’t checked, or there was a rush to get into print before the 150th anniversary of the mass murder of people who thought that they were at peace? There is a warning here. While in modern times and dealing with the fight (and it was a fight) to create this much-needed NHS that protects this oh-so-sacred ground, Kelman’s book is a wonder. However, if writing about the participants and events of that horrific time during the 1860s be careful or you will repeat Kelman’s errors.
The November 1864 attack on the village quickly turned into a running fight as the Cheyennes and Arapahos tried to flee while the soldiers killed and hacked to pieces every living being that looked like an Indian—man, woman, or child. When you walk the bluffs above the grounds you can easily see the immensity of the village site and the open expanse on which the fight took place.
I could envision myself as Capt. Silas Soule or Lt. Joseph Cramer of the First Colorado Volunteer Cavalry as they instructed their men not to fire their weapons; I could envision myself as mixed-blood Cheyenne George Bent as he scrambled to escape the surrounding soldiers only to be wounded but still able to escape under the cover of darkness.
I can also easily see myself as mixed-blood Cheyenne Edmund Guerrier as he escaped unharmed; I can imagine myself as Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle who under the cover of darkness returned to where he thought he’d find his dead wife Medicine Woman Later only to find her alive and with her escape; and finally I could picture myself as Arapaho Chief Niwot (Left Hand) as he received the wounds that would lead to his death. … I can’t visualize myself as an officer or soldier that killed women, children, and men and then cut off their sexual body parts to display as trophies of war.
As Johnny Boggs’ quoted me in his terrific article, “Trail of Tragedy”
(True West, November 2014, page 53), “War doesn’t give soldiers
the right to murder, rape, and butcher. Not yesterday, not today,
and not ever.” You know where I stand, but as a writer and historian
I must separate myself from the story and let the participants’
actions speak for them. I must eliminate my bias from the
writing and reporting, for whatever I think and feel is not the
same as what the people thought and felt in 1864. If I
do my job properly, the readers will make their
own decisions on what happened.