The truth behind the Sand Creek Massacre

History Colorado opens new exhibit enhanced with Native American perspective

Bruce Goldberg
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 12/19/22

“You see us, but you don’t know who we were.” These are the words of Fred Mosqueda, a Southern Arapaho language and culture coordinator who spoke at the late-November opening of the new “Sand …

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The truth behind the Sand Creek Massacre

History Colorado opens new exhibit enhanced with Native American perspective

Posted

“You see us, but you don’t know who we were.”

These are the words of Fred Mosqueda, a Southern Arapaho language and culture coordinator who spoke at the late-November opening of the new “Sand Creek Massacre: The Betrayal that Changed Cheyenne and Arapaho People Forever” exhibit at History Colorado.

“This is the beginning of (learning). It educates you about what an Arapaho or Cheyenne are,” Mosqueda added. “This is a truthful story, as close as they can put it.”

The Sand Creek Massacre

Conflicts between Native Americans and white people worsened as more people migrated West. It led to a tragic confrontation on Nov. 29, 1864, when members of the Colorado Territory militia under the leadership of U.S. Army Col. John Chivington attacked a peaceful village of Cheyenne and Arapaho people who had been promised military protection. More than 230 women, children and elders were killed. The village was located in northeast Kiowa County.

The new exhibit at History Colorado puts on display the stark truth about how the U.S. federal and state governments mistreated Arapaho, Cheyenne and other Native American tribes — breaking treaty after treaty.

“As you walk through there, and see the photos and pictures, those are truthful statements from our Cheyenne and Arapaho people,” Mosqueda said.

Listening stations allow attendees to hear oral histories from descendants of survivors of the Sand Creek Massacre. Numerous display boards about the history of the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes allow people to learn more about their way of living. Additional exhibit highlights include tipis built in Cheyenne and Arapaho styles, Native American clothing and historical documents from investigations of the massacre. Audio guides are available in four languages: Cheyenne, Arapaho, Spanish and English.

A partnership a decade in the making

Cultural appropriation “is not solely a story in Denver. It’s an international problem,” said Sam Bock, exhibit developer and historian at History Colorado. “Museums are reckoning with this long history of (taking) the cultures of native tribes, even stealing stuff from the tribes.”

History Colorado opened its original Sand Creek exhibit in 2012, but it drew criticism almost immediately. Native Americans were unhappy about not being consulted about its construction and alleged inaccuracies. Descendants of survivors of the attack demanded changes to the exhibit. The museum closed the display in June 2012 and started working with Native Americans to produce a new, enhanced exhibit. Thus, a 10-year partnership between History Colorado and the three tribal nations — the Northern Cheyenne in Lame Deer, Montana; the Northern Arapaho in Riverton, Wyoming; and Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes in Concho, Oklahoma — began.

“The Sand Creek Massacre is sacred,” said Gail Ridgely, Northern Arapaho, in a news release. “Historic remembrance, educational awareness and spiritual healing are very important for the Cheyenne and Arapaho people.”

Sand Creek Massacre, History Colorado, Denver

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