3rd Colorado Cavalry Regiment
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|3rd Regiment Colorado Cavalry|
|Active||August 20, 1864 – December 31, 1864|
|Disbanded||December 31, 1864|
|Colonel John M. Chivington (as District commander)|
The Third Colorado Cavalry was formed in the mid-1860s when increased traffic on the United States emigrant trails and settler encroachment resulted in numerous attacks against them by the Cheyenne and Arapaho. The Hungate massacre and the display in Denver of mutilated victims raised political pressure for the government to protect its people. Governor John Evans sought and gained authorization from the War Department in Washington to found the Third. More a militia than a military unit, the "Bloodless Third" was composed of "100-daysers," that is, volunteers who signed on for 100 days to fight against the Indians. (Its nickname came from its lack of battle experience.)
At the Camp Weld Council of September 28, 1864, Evans and Chivington met with five chiefs, including Black Kettle of the Cheyenne and White Antelope of the Arapaho. They had been brought to Denver to parlay for peace under military escort by Major Edward W. Wynkoop, commander of Fort Lyon. The chiefs agreed to peacefully settle their people on the reservation on Big Sandy Creek about 40 miles northwest of Fort Lyon. The reservation was created under the Fort Wise Treaty of 1860. With Wynkoop's assuring their safety, the chiefs settled their bands in a large village at the curve of Sand Creek. Some Indians set up lodges closer to Fort Lyon.
On November 5, Major Wynkoop was removed from command and replaced by an ally of Chivington, Major Scott Anthony. He ordered all Indians camped around the fort to the reservation. On November 26, Wynkoop departed for reassignment to Fort Riley, Kansas.
Two days later, Chivington arrived at Fort Lyon, having traveled in great secrecy with 700 Third Colorado Cavalry. Encouraged by Governor Evans and spurred by his own ambitions, Chivington felt pressure to use the "Bloodless Third" before the volunteers' terms expired. He sealed off the fort. Officers loyal to Wynkoop were held at gunpoint. That night, reinforced by artillery from the fort and 125 troops of the First Cavalry, Chivington set off for the Cheyenne-Arapaho village at Sand Creek.
The Sand Creek Massacre
Arriving at dawn on November 29, 1864, the volunteer militia attacked. Although Black Kettle had flown an American flag on his tipi to signal peace (as directed by Wynkoop), the volunteers killed indiscriminately. Historians have not agreed on the number killed, but they often cite 150, mostly women and children, as the warriors had gone out on a hunt. The militia mutilated some of the corpses, taking body parts as souvenirs.
Now called the "Bloody Third," the regiment returned to Denver in December. It mustered out on December 31, 1864. For months the men displayed the body parts as trophies in Denver saloons. Although Chivington and his forces were lauded by many at the time for a heroic "battle," critics complained about the military conduct of the men.
In his autobiographical Memories of a Lifetime in the Pike's Peak Region, Irving Howbert, an 18-year-old cavalryman who was later one of the founders of Colorado Springs, defended Chivington, having argued instead that the Indian women and children were not attacked, but a few who did not leave the camp were killed once the fighting began. He claimed that the number of warriors in the village was about equal to the force of the Colorado cavalry. Chivington, claimed Howbert, was retaliating for Indian attacks on wagon trains and settlements in Colorado and for the torture and the killings of citizens during the preceding three years. Howbert said the evidence of the previous Indian attacks on the settlers was shown by their confiscation of "more than a dozen scalps of white people, some of them from the heads of women and children."
Howbert claimed that the account of the battle to the United States Congress made by Lieutenant Col. Samuel F. Tappan was inaccurate. He accused Tappan of giving a false view of the battle because Tappan and Chivington had been military rivals.
The US Congress investigated the attack. The hearings were widely covered, leading to national shock and outrage about the brutality of the attack and the betrayal of promises made to the Cheyenne and Arapaho. Because the Native Americans believed the Cheyenne had been targeted by the US, major Sioux and Arapaho bands allied with them from 1865 on to attack the Vehos (whites) and try to drive emigrant settlers out of their lands.
- Hoig, Stan, The Sand Creek Massacre (Univ of Oklahoma Press, 1961).
- Hyde, George E. The Life of George Bent, Written from his Letters. Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1968.
- 38th Congress, Second Section, Massacre of Cheyenne Indians Washington, DC, 1865. (transcript of the investigation).
- Wynkoop, Edward. The Tall Chief: Autobiography of Edward W. Wynkoop. Ed. by Christopher Gerboth. Colorado Historical Society, 1993.