Silas Soule

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Silas Soule
Captain Silas S. Soule (cropped).jpg
Silas Soule c. 1864
Birth nameSilas Stillman Soule
Born(1838-07-26)July 26, 1838
Bath, Maine, United States
DiedApril 23, 1865(1865-04-23) (aged 26)
Denver, Colorado Territory, United States (murder by gunshot wound)
Place of burial
Allegiance United States
Service/branchU.S. Army (Union Army)
Years of service1861–1865
RankUnion army cpt rank insignia.jpg Captain
Union Army LTC rank insignia.png Brevet Major
Unit1st Colorado Infantry
1st Colorado Cavalry
Commands heldCompany D, 1st Colorado Cavalry
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War

Indian Wars

Hersa A. Coberly
(m. 1865)
Other workProvost marshal, Denver, Colorado Territory (1865)

Silas Stillman Soule (/ˈsoʊl/ [sole])[1] (July 26, 1838 – April 23, 1865) was an American abolitionist, Kansas Territory Jayhawker, whose family aligned themselves with John Brown and Walt Whitman. Later, during the American Civil War, he joined the Colorado volunteers, rising to the rank of captain in the Union Army. Soule was in command of Company D, 1st Colorado Cavalry, which was present at Sand Creek on November 29, 1864, when he refused an order to join the Sand Creek massacre. During the subsequent inquiry, Soule testified against the massacre's commanding officer, John Chivington. Soon afterwards Soule was murdered, possibly in retaliation; dying at 26, Soule is honored as having led a heroic life of "moral courage" at great personal risk to himself.[2]

Early life[edit]

Descended from Mayflower passenger George Soule[2], Silas Soule was born into a family of abolitionists in Bath, Maine. He was raised in Maine and Massachusetts and, in 1854, his family became part of the newly formed New England Emigrant Aid Company, an organization whose goal was to help settle the Kansas Territory and bring it into the Union as a free state. His father and brother arrived in Kansas, near Lawrence (of which the Soule family was one of the founding families), in November 1854. The teenage Silas, his mother and two sisters came the following summer.

Shortly after the family's arrival at Coal Creek, a few miles south of Lawrence near present-day Vinland, Amasa Soule, Silas's father, established his household as a stop on the Underground Railroad. At the young age of 17, Silas was escorting slaves, escapees from Missouri, north to freedom. His sister, Anne Julia Soule Prentiss, told of her family's early experience in Maine, Massachusetts and Kansas in a 1929 interview: "Our house was on the 'Underground Railway'. John Brown was often there... My brother, Silas, and Brown were close friends. Silas went out on many a foray with him. I recall well when Brown came to our cabin one night with thirteen slaves, men, women and children. He had run them away from Missouri. Brown left them with us. Father would always take in all the Negroes he could. Silas took the whole thirteen from our home eight miles to Mr. Grover's stone barn..."[3]

"Bleeding Kansas"[edit]

The "Immortal Ten", John Doy rescue party, 1859. Twenty-year-old Silas Soule is the second man from the right.

During these pre-war years, pro-slavery forces from Missouri and abolitionist forces from Kansas were engaged in open warfare. The fight was whether Kansas would be admitted to the Union as a slave or as a free state. This conflict, often called "Bleeding Kansas", enhanced Soule's reputation as a brave and resourceful fighter.

In July 1859, Soule was part of an action on the Missouri border. Twenty pro-slavery men had crossed into Kansas to look for escaped slaves. They ambushed a party led by Dr. John Doy, a physician in Lawrence, escorting 13 former slaves (eight men, three women and two children) toward safety in Iowa. The men from Missouri arrested Dr. Doy and sold the former slaves. Doy was soon tried and convicted in Missouri for abducting slaves and sentenced to five years in the local penitentiary. Soule and a group of other men from Lawrence decided to free Doy. Soule was sent into the jailhouse in St. Joseph where Doy was being held. Soule convinced the jailkeeper that he had a message from Doy's wife. The note, in fact, read "Tonight, at twelve o'clock." Later that night, they overpowered the jailer, freed Doy, and led him across the Missouri back to Kansas.[4] When they reached Lawrence, they had their photo taken. This photo of "The Immortal Ten," now held by the Kansas State Historical Society, is widely circulated.

His skills at prison escapes came into use once again when John Brown was captured after his raid on Harper's Ferry where Brown was tried, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. In November 1859, Soule visited the incarcerated Brown and offered to plan a jailbreak and help him flee from Virginia to hide out up north either in New York state or Canada. However, Brown told Soule that he had already decided to become a martyr for the abolitionist cause and willingly allowed himself to be hanged, hoping his death would help bring on a war between North and South, frustrating Soule's planned rescue attempt. Thomas Wentworth Higginson put together a rescue attempt of two of Brown's men, Albert Hazlett and Aaron Stevens, during which Soule posed as a drunken Irishman and got himself arrested for brawling. Put into the Charles Town jail for the night, he charmed the jailer into letting him out of his cell for a short while in which Soule contacted the two men as well as John Brown once again with a second offer to help all three of them escape that night. Brown, Hazlett and Stevens all refused to be sprung from the jail. Afterwards upon his release from the Charles Town jail, Soule traveled to Boston, where he often met with various abolitionists and also befriended the poet Walt Whitman.[2]

Life in Colorado and the Civil War[edit]

Captain Silas Soule (front row, right) with Major Edward W. Wynkoop during a peace meeting with the Cheyenne chiefs on September 28, 1864

In May 1860, Soule, along with his brother William L.G., and his cousin, Sam Glass, went to the gold fields in Colorado.[5] He dug for gold and worked in a blacksmith shop.

In 1861, after the breakout of the Civil War, Soule enlisted in Company K, 1st Colorado Infantry (the 1st Regiment of Colorado Volunteers) and took part in the victorious New Mexico Campaign of 1862, including the key Battle of Glorieta Pass. He made his way up the ranks, and in November 1864 was assigned the command of Company D, 1st Colorado Cavalry Regiment.

The Sand Creek Massacre[edit]

On November 29, 1864, at Sand Creek, in then, the southeastern corner of Territorial Colorado, Colonel John Chivington ordered the Third Colorado Cavalry to attack Black Kettle's encampment of Cheyenne. However, Soule and his company of the 1st Colorado Calavry, could not follow the orders given to them to enter the creek bed, because the Third Colorado Cavalry was shooting in several directions into the encampment, according to Soule's testimony before a U.S. military commission, convened in February 1865, to investigate what became known as the Sand Creek Massacre, one of the most notorious acts of mass murder in U.S. history.

The U.S. Congress also created a committee to investigate the Sand Creek Massacre due to a nationwide outrage of the incident. Soule's and others' verbal and written testimonies about the Sand Creek Massacre led to Chivington’s resignation, Colorado’s Second Territorial Governor John Evans’ dismissal and the U.S. Congress refusing the U.S. Army's request for thousands of men for a general war against the Plains Indians.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Soule was a friendly, intelligent, and good-natured young man, full of practical jokes, tall tales, and a "great favorite with the men of his own military company"[7]. He could, however, express a "devilish sense of humor", being able to "slither under the thickest skin of pro-slavery or Union supporter alike, with his sharp tongue, cynical nature and charming wit", and "wise beyond his years and able to separate the wheat from the chaff on matters of politics."[7]

In a tongue-in-cheek, July 1864, letter to his sister Annie, Soule wrote:

"You and Mother write for me to be a Christian and not to be too wild, etc., but the Army don’t improve a fellow much in that respect and you know I never was much of a Christian, and am naturally wild, but I have seen so much of the world and are not much changed. I think there is not much danger of my spoiling – our Col. Is a Methodist Preacher and whenever he sees me drinking, gambling, stealing, or murdering he says, he will write to Mother or my sister Annie, so I have to go straight."[7]

On April 1, 1865, Soule married Thersa A. "Hersa" Coberly (1846–1879); the marriage lasted twenty-two days before his murder.[8] His widow remarried, and with her second husband Alfred Lea, became the parents of adventurer, author and geopolitical strategist Homer Lea.[2]


On April 23, 1865, two months after testifying before a U.S. military commission investigating the Sand Creek Massacre and three weeks after getting married, Soule was on duty as provost marshal of the Colorado Territory in Denver, when he went to investigate guns being fired around 10:30 p.m. With his pistol out, Soule went around a corner in what is now downtown Denver, and faced Charles Squier, one of his two assassins. Soule fired the first shot and wounded Squier's left arm, but Squier fired a bullet that entered Soule's right cheek and then his brain. Soule was dead before help could arrive. Squier dropped his pistol and ran before he could be arrested by the authorities. Soule's assassination occurred two weeks after the end of the Civil War.

One of Soule’s assassins fled the scene, but Squier was eventually caught and brought back to Denver for a court-martial. However, the officer who captured Squier was found dead in a Denver hotel with what was presumed to be a staged drug overdose, and Squier escaped to New York, where his father lived. Once there he held various jobs, and tried to rejoin the Army, but was rejected. Squier then fled to Central America trying to avoid the law. His legs were crushed in a railroad accident and he later died from gangrene in 1869. Despite his crime, he was buried in New York with honors.[7]


Soule's funeral on April 26, 1865, was attended by a large crowd, with military and civil dignitaries. A journalist described the funeral as "the finest ever seen in this country."[2]

In 1867, Soule was posthumously elevated to the rank of brevetted Major, in recognition of his meritorious service.[9]

Soule was first buried at Denver City Cemetery (now the location of Cheesman Park).[2] A six-foot high memorial stone was erected above his grave. The cemetery closed and burials were transferred in the early 1890s to Riverside Cemetery in Denver. His large memorial stone was not moved with his remains, and he now has a soldier's gravestone in the Grand Army of the Republic section of Riverside Cemetery. His widow is also buried in a different section at Riverside Cemetery.[2]

From 1998 to 2018 a Spiritual Healing Run/Walk was held in November to honor those killed at Sand Creek. It began at the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in southeastern Colorado and concluded on the west steps of the Colorado State Capitol. Starting in 2010, a memorial ceremony was also held at Soule's grave site and at a Denver high-rise building where a memorial plaque honoring Soule was installed near the location of his murder.


Soule's name has been proposed as a replacement name for several locations in Colorado. One proposal is a U.S. Board on Geographic Names application to rename Mount Evans to Mount Soule, along with five other applications (one was rescinded), are pending until a vote is held by the USBGN.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Silas Soule: Witness at the Sand Creek Massacre". unknown. Archived from the original on October 28, 2021. Retrieved October 13, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Tom Bensing, Silas Soule: A Short, Eventful Life of Moral Courage, Dog Ear Press, 2012.
  3. ^ "She Looks Back Seventy-five Years to the Founding of Lawrence", The Kansas City Star, January 13, 1929, section C.
  4. ^ The Thrilling Narrative of Dr. John Doy, of Kansas or, Slavery As It Is, Inside and Out. Thayer and Eldridge, Boston, 1860. Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka.
  5. ^ Letter of May 9, 1860, written at Coal Creek, Kansas, to Thayre, Eldridge and Hinton. Kansas State Historical Society.
  6. ^ "Silas Stillman Soule (1838-1865)". The Latin Library. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved November 29, 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d "Silas S. Soule". Archived from the original on 2016-08-22. Retrieved 2017-04-09.
  8. ^ "The Life of Silas Soule". National Park Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. Archived from the original on 16 July 2017. Retrieved 14 July 2017.
  9. ^ "Silas Soule". Retrieved January 30, 2023.

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