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Community groups to visit Sand Creek massacre site

Morse Coffin. William Dickens. Porter M. Hinman, William Gould. Marcus Emery. Abel Cushman. Neva. Niwot.

Do you recognize any of these names? The names of people connected to the Sand Creek Massacre of November 1864 adorn our streets, historic properties, ditches, and history books.

Porter T. Hinman platted the town of Niwot with Ambrose Murray in 1875. He was a friend of Chief Niwot and reportedly never forgave his sons--Porter M. Hinman and Platte Hinman--for participating in the notorious massacre that resulted in Chief Left Hand's death in 1864.

So it is appropriate that several Niwot organizations have banded together to organize a trip to this historic site. The Niwot United Methodist Church was founded in 1870, just six years after the massacre. The church, as part of its 150th anniversary events, has organized a bus trip to the Sand Creek Massacre Historic Site on April 25. And Cottonwood Square Shopping Center, along with virtually every Niwot non-profit organization, has jumped on board to sponsor the journey, including the Niwot Historical Society, the Niwot Community Association, the Niwot Business Association, Left Hand Grange No. 9, the Niwot Cultural Arts Association and the Rotary Club of Niwot.

Chief Niwot was christened Left Hand at birth, and, unlike most Arapaho adolescents, he never changed his name. Because the Arapaho were a trading nation, he grew up in a multilingual environment. His older sister MaHom married a white trader named John Poisal, who tutored him and his younger brother Neva in English. By the time Niwot became chief in the mid-1850s, he was fluent in Arapaho, English, Cheyenne, and Lakota.

His skill as a translator would be indispensable for navigating the rapidly changing landscape of what was then the Kansas and Nebraska Territory. Left Hand first encountered settlers near his winter camp in 1858, at present day Settlers Park at the mouth of Boulder Canyon. His reaction--one of magnanimity and accommodation--would set the precedent for his future commitment to peace.

With their resources for survival jeopardized, it is little surprise that Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Sioux warriors took to raiding and killing settlers. What was difficult for settlers to realize is that chiefs had little control over this behavior. With increasingly dispersed bands, white provocation, and alcohol, it was hard for chiefs to influence young warriors against violence--whether or not they wanted to.

Into this climate of fear came two men with their own agendas--Governor John Evans and Major John Chivington. The latter, despite his inexperience, was promoted to colonel after successfully routing Confederates at the Battle of Glorieta Pass. Chivington was also an itinerant pastor for the Methodist Church in Colorado.

The Arapaho and Cheyenne were manipulated into a series of treaties and agreements that deprived them of their most vital resources. As Niwot's people died of starvation, disease, and exposure, his attempts to bring about peace became more insistent. He took an unprecedented journey east to learn how to farm; he marched onto the stage of the Apollo theater in Denver pleading for peace.

As conflict escalated, agents and translators fed Evans' false rumors of a planned uprising. And as the Civil War raged to the East, Evans' repeated pleas for troops were largely ignored. So Evans exaggerated the conflict.

Finally, it was the Hungate Massacre that got the populace and government on his side. In the aftermath of this event, the order was put out that all tribes not actively seeking governmental protection would be considered hostile and should be killed.

Troops went west. And Left Hand, with two Cheyenne bands, sought protection at Sand Creek.

The problem for Chivington and Evans was that the purported uprising didn't play out--there were no "savages" to fight. Chivington, recently losing an election to Congress, was hungry for glory and recognition. Evans, now that he had troops, couldn't bear the humiliation of admitting he didn't need them.

And so Chivington, with Evan's permission, led the Third Colorado Cavalry to Sand Creek. "Kill and scalp all, big and little... nits make lice," he said.

Among them were a contingent of 100 day recruits from Boulder--Company D. And Company D was the one that opened fire on Left Hand's band. Two sons of Porter T. Hinman, Porter M. and Platte, rode with Company D under Captain David Nichols.

"Tyrell, Cashman and myself substantially agreed in our opposition to this killing of women and children," reflected Morse Coffin of Sandstone Ranch (Longmont). But he was a minority. It is estimated that 148 unarmed Arapaho and Cheyenne people were killed; two-thirds of them were women and children. All but four members of Chief Niwot's band died as a result of their wounds, including Chief Niwot, his wife, and his children.

Niwot is often remembered for his supposed curse: "People seeing the beauty of this valley will want to stay... and their staying will be the undoing of its beauty."

We can't undo the past, but we do have the opportunity to shape the future of the place Niwot once called home.

One way to start is by joining the Saturday, April 25th trip to the site of the Sand Creek Massacre in southeast Colorado. The trip is open to anyone and costs $30 per person. A bus will depart from the Niwot Market in Cottonwood Square at 8 a.m. and return around 6 p.m. Site rangers will lead an interpretive session and tour of the site.

Reserve your space by completing the registration form on page ____ of the Courier and mailing it with a check for $30 payable to the Niwot UM Church, c/o Biff Warren, P.O. Box 610, Niwot, CO 80544, or by delivering it to the offices of Warren, Carlson & Moore, LLP in Cottonwood Square.


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