Outside, among the hills. There, down in the valleys. Up in our standing brothers, the trees. Sometimes horrible events are recorded onto the landscape of where they occurred. One can sense the story they tell us from years or centuries before. Places like the mining settlement of Ludlow, Colorado; the battlegrounds of Gettysburg, the dry-then-frozen hills of Wounded Knee, the camps hidden in Nazi-occupied Poland, (including Auschwitz); the villages lost in France, the beaches of Okinawa in Japan, the equatorial highlands of Rwanda, the tropical killing fields of Cambodia, or even Donner Pass in the mountains of Utah–all have born witness and speak to us still. The ghosts that inhabit these places and others like them still vibrate with the evils committed there…the outcome of battles, mass executions, genocides, murders, massacres and exterminations–violent death on a massive scale producing hauntings in equal parts.
One part of this dark past is the site of the Sand Creek Massacre. Its a relatively flat piece of the high arid desert of southeast Colorado in the American outback.
November 29th is the 150th Anniversary of that event. In 1864, the territorial Governor and his minions sought to eliminate the “threat” of Arapahoe and Cheyenne native Americans living on the these dry plains. Using propaganda techniques practiced by some of today’s religious extremists, they planned and succeeded in exterminating these tribes from those lands not just to insure the “safety” of their own settlers, but to do it in the name of their religion.
Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! … I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians. … Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.
Col. John Milton Chivington [quote from Dee Brown,”War Comes to the Cheyenne”-Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee]
Colonel Chivington was also a leading minister of his church. Invoking the name of God, he and his troops were directly responsible for the massacre that killed and mutilated almost 200 Indians, about two-thirds of whom were women and children. We don’t need to detail the atrocities here, as they are well-documented elsewhere. They were some of the worst ever recorded in the annals of human history.
The perpetrators of crimes against humanity often justify their actions in terms of their spiritual superiority, but their real motivation may simply be to steal land and acquire political and economic power.
Almost a century and a half later a woman named Karen visited this place, but not to conquer, impose her religion, or steal land. There was no one left to kill, enslave, or take from, as the original inhabitants were long gone, at least in the mortal sense. Instead she came to pay her respects to what she knew about the tragedy that happened there. Karen was not your typical visitor. She is clairvoyant–a “seer” of the past and present. She is one of those fortunate souls who can see what most others cannot, including the ghosts of the dead, the spirits of departed loved ones, and replays of events that have long since played.
She felt drawn to the site, and walked out onto the battlefield about 100 yards from the viewing area. This was before the site managers put up a fence with signs telling visitors not to go there. As she walked, she thought she heard voices. Singing? She continued on, and the sound morphed into the clatter of distant horses coming closer and closer. Sitting down in the dirt, she caught out of the corner of her eye the silhouettes of men on horses in the fog of dust kicked up by their steeds. They rode toward her and the flat field ahead, appearing not to notice her.
She felt compelled to look in the direction the riders were speeding toward, where she perceived the vague outlines of Indian tepees. There were people both standing around and rushing in and out of their buffalo-hide lodges. Some looked right through her and fixed on the riders coming out of the haze. The adrenalin started to rise in Karen’s body, and a sudden jolt of fear seized her when she realized what was about to happen. She knew the riders were intent on doing harm to the inhabitants of the settlement, with no hesitation and no offering of the chance to surrender.
A group of small children were lingering by the edge of the settlement as their panic-stricken mothers tried to round them up to hide them. They knew what was coming. The horse soldiers rode in, grabbing the little ones by their arms and lifting them up without even slowing down. They proceeded to slam the poor children against rocks, one by one. Not one of them survived.
Karen hid her face in her hands, unable to watch the spectacle any longer. As she sat there unnoticed, the sounds stopped and all was unearthly quiet. She looked up and again saw the field as empty as when she first saw it. The event was over, and she slowly got up and returned to the viewing area.
Years later, Karen recollected…
Very hard n rough experience, but I will go back.
Grandmother (earth) n grandfather (sky) still hurt from it.
On November 22nd, a group from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois held a ceremony on the shore of Lake Michigan to pay tribute to the victims of the Sand Creek Massacre. My friend Rich was there. I’ll let his words describe the event…
Hoka Hey! from the head heyoka!
As you may know, John Evans was the founder of Evanston, Illinois. He was also the co-founder of Northwestern University, the founder of the University of Denver, and the territorial governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs of Colorado. He was a Methodist like his friend, Colonel/Pastor John Chivington.
Current Native American students at NU have made the university appoint a task force to find ways to atone for their founder’s part in the massacre. So today one of the events had native speakers with a tribute to the victims. For the first time I really understood the native concept of time…that things that happened in the past are very close. Things that happened 150 years ago happened yesterday. The Red Line drummers from the American Indian Center sang several songs and we hiked out to the shoreline and built a giant bonfire while a priest read an account of the massacre. The atrocities were unspeakable.
The amazing thing was that he started reading as they lit the fire, and as it took off the flames were 20 feet high! I had positioned myself upwind and 15 or 20 feet away, and the heat was intense. The fire perfectly mirrored the spoken account of the massacre, and as the speaker was finishing, it magically died down as he was relating the last few killings and the aftermath. This fire had wood stacked up 4 feet high and at least 10 feet wide. I couldn’t believe what I saw. There was absolutely no way this synchronicity could have been planned.
The entire experience was so emotional it was incredible. Everyone was crying or holding back tears. The Eagle Staff bearer thanked the Great Spirit for making it rain to hide our tears. The Northwestern students made 200 pair of moccasins to line the walk across campus to the fire ring on the landfill near the shore. I kept the child’s pair and left the adult pair I had as a tribute. Amy West put her pair in the glowing coals as part of her prayer.
You are absolutely right about the past being still with us. I find it remarkable that almost all aboriginal people know, understand and deal with this. Western science is just starting to scratch at the edges of where the physical meets the metaphysical.
Oh well, I have had moments of power from the Great Spirit during my lifetime, and we (you and I) will do the best we can as we begin to review the remaining days we have on Mother Earth.
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