Descendants of Sand Creek Massacre Determined To Get Justice

Aug 9, 2013

The Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 is one of the darkest hours in the history between the US Government and Native American Tribes. To add insult to injury, certain reparations were promised in the Treaty of Little Arkansas, but never happened. So the descendants are taking their grievances to court.

Sand Creek Battle Ground Monument
Credit jb1Ookie /

David Askman is the counsel for the Sand Creek Massacre Descendants Trust.

“Essentially there were peaceful bands of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians who were camped near Fort Lyon in eastern Colorado in 1864 under an agreement of truce, under a treaty of peace,” Askman said.

“They were required, in order to receive rations from the United States, to turn their weapons in at the Fort, so they were unarmed. On that November morning in 1864 the United States Cavalry that was led by Col. John Chivington at daybreak attacked with a full arsenal of over 700 men, this defenseless encampment. The military used mountain howitzers and a variety of types of artillery and all of the weaponry that the Cavalry had to massacre over a 180 Native Americans, predominantly women and children. The details of that and the treatment of the dead afterward are simply gruesome.”

The aftermath and consequences of Sand Creek was unusual in that Chivington and his men were not hailed as heroes, as the soldiers at Wounded Knee were. The Treaty of Little Arkansas of 1867 provided for reparations to individuals who were identified as part of that treaty.

“Dollar amounts were calculated based on that treaty and the actual individuals were identified as well as a fund of money for others that were affected,” Askman said.

“The treaty provided both for monetary reparations as well as grants of land. That treaty was entered into between or by the United States government, so the promises and the obligations are those of the government.”

Some may question why now, after all this time, to bring a legal action.

“That's a really good question because obviously you're dealing with a very ancient claim and a treaty that was ratified over a 140 years ago, but the answer is quite simple,” Askman said.

“The descendants and various groups of descendants have been trying over the last century plus to get some kind of compensation, some kind of reparations and some kind of recognition of the obligations of the federal government. They've done so at every level of government,” Askman said.

“They've attempted to make inroads with their legislative delegations, they've attempted to talk to the executive branch, they've gone to the Indian Claims Commission and basically the buck has been passed at every stage. So as much as litigation is not something which was desired it’s been forced on us and we see this as the avenue that is most likely to succeed in getting the government to fulfill its obligations.”