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The Passing of the Plains Indians

The technology of weapons, industrial machinery, the railroad, concepts of private property, and the capitalist economic system all served to further isolate the Indians both geographically and economically. By 1864, the Native territory had been shrunk and was on a path to the coming reservation system that would be the death knell for the Indian culture and way of life. The violence that began at Sand Creek in 1864 culminated in the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre and signaled the passing of the great North American Indian civilizations.

While the violence against the Native Americans did not begin at Sand Creek in 1864, it was the most egregious violation of human rights that had been perpetrated on the Indians to that date. In the early morning hours of November 29, 1864, US soldiers from the Colorado Territory militia and cavalry brutally attacked a Cheyenne settlement that was occupied by some 700 unarmed inhabitants, mostly women, and children (Andrist 91). The Indians had been isolated on a small tract of land to make their territory available to the Gold Rush. Estimates vary on the number killed but may have been as high as 500 fatalities. This was a peaceful village that had been led to believe that they were under the protection of the Army. In the summer of 1864 John Evans, Governor of Colorado, issued a proclamation of safety for all Plains Indians that demonstrated their peaceful intentions by placing themselves in the custody of the Army (Keenan 104). The Indians were told to fly an American flag as a show of their loyalty as a means of protection. However, the American flag and a subsequent white flag both went unheeded as the troops attacked.

The commanding officer at Sand Creek, Colonel Chivington, ordered the attack and was personally responsible for the degree of brutality exhibited. Prior to the onslaught Colonel Chivington "believed it to be right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians that would kill women and children and damn any man that was in sympathy&nbsp.with Indians".

The Passing of the Plains Indians