Three Tribal Nations and History Colorado partner to share the history of the atrocity that was the Sand Creek Massacre.
On Nov. 19 a new exhibition The Sand Creek Massacre: The Betrayal that Changed Cheyenne and Arapaho People Forever, opened at the History Colorado Center in Denver. The exhibit recounts the deadliest day in Colorado history—Nov. 29, 1864—when U.S. troops brutally attacked a peaceful village of Cheyenne and Arapaho people who were promised military protection. More than 230 women, children, and elders were murdered that day.
The exhibition was made in deep consultation with representatives from the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. For the first time, History Colorado will be sharing the events of the Sand Creek Massacre based on Tribal accounts and oral histories from the descendants of those who survived the Massacre.
“It was genocide. We need to educate the people and heal our people so that something like this won’t happen again,” said Chester Whiteman (Southern Cheyenne). “I hope this exhibit will get people to understand that we’re all human.”
“The Sand Creek Massacre is sacred,” said Gail Ridgely (Northern Arapaho). “Historic remembrance, educational awareness, and spiritual healing are very important for the Cheyenne and Arapaho people.”
History Colorado will spotlight the living culture of the Cheyenne and Arapaho, two separate Tribes with distinct histories that were bound together forever after the tragedy at Sand Creek. Forced to leave Colorado after the Massacre, the Cheyenne and Arapaho people exist today as three sovereign Tribal nations in Montana, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. The exhibition is the result of a ten-year partnership process that began in 2012 between History Colorado and the three Tribal nations.
“This exhibit offers universal, timely lessons that fear, racism, greed, and stereotyping can, and do, lead to catastrophic consequences. History Colorado is committed to educating our community about this horrific event in our history,” said Dawn DiPrince, Executive Director of History Colorado and State Historic Preservation Officer. “We are grateful to our Tribal partners for their generous contributions of knowledge to the development of this important exhibit.”
The exhibition will enable visitors to experience:
- Historic and contemporary objects exploring Cheyenne culture and traditions;
- Photos and artifacts representing Arapaho people from the 1900s to today;
- Tipis constructed in Cheyenne and Arapaho styles;
- Audio guides in four languages: Cheyenne, Arapaho, Spanish, and English;
- A listening station for oral histories from Cheyenne and Arapaho descendants of survivors of the Massacre;
- A listening station for letters written by soldiers who heroically refused their orders to attack the peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho camps;
- Historical documents from congressional and military investigations that took place following the Massacre;
- The creation of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park Service (NPS), and;
- A look at the three Tribal nations today, and the ongoing efforts to commemorate, educate, and heal from the Massacre.
“This exhibition will include information about the lives of the Cheyenne and Arapaho people before the Massacre, life today, and our efforts to remember the Massacre,” explains Fred Mosqueda (Southern Arapaho). Each exhibition element was vetted and approved by Tribal representatives. Following proper protocol, this consultation ensures the display respects the memories of the victims. At the request of the Tribes, the exhibition will not include artifacts from the day or site of the Massacre.
“We’ve had difficult times in the past with History Colorado. This exhibition shows commitment and dedication,” stated Otto Braided Hair, Jr. (Northern Cheyenne).
“The Sand Creek Massacre exhibition will demonstrate that people can work humbly together to remember and begin to heal from atrocities and betrayals such as this,” said Shannon Voirol, Sand Creek Massacre project director at History Colorado.
The Sand Creek Massacre: The Betrayal that Changed Cheyenne and Arapaho People Forever was made possible by substantial grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
About the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site
The Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, located in rural southeastern Colorado, was authorized in the fall of 2000 in collaboration with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes and dedicated in April 2007. In October 2022, the amount of land at the historic site was more than doubled. The site’s authorizing legislation directs the National Park Service to manage the cultural landscape and to share the Massacre’s history with the public. The park is open Thursday through Monday, 9:00 am through 4:00 pm. Visit the website to plan your visit: www.nps.gov/sand.
“The Sand Creek Massacre evokes many feelings– loss, suffering, pain, and survival– universal emotions which link this tiny spot in southeastern Colorado to people and places far beyond Sand Creek,” says Janet Frederick, superintendent of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site. “We think History Colorado’s exhibition will give the public an introduction and the impetus to come out to Eads and experience the site firsthand.”
About History Colorado
History Colorado is a division of the Colorado Department of Higher Education and a 501(c)3 non-profit that has served more than 75,000 students and 500,000 people in Colorado each year. It is a 143-year-old institution that operates eleven museums and historic sites, a free public research center, the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, and the History Colorado State Historical Fund (SHF), which is the nation’s largest preservation program of its kind. More than 70% of SHF grants are allocated in rural areas of the state.
History Colorado’s mission is to create a better future for Colorado by inspiring wonder in our past. It serves as the state’s memory, preserving and sharing the places, stories, and material culture of Colorado through educational programs, historic preservation grants, collecting, outreach to Colorado communities, the History Colorado Center and Stephen H. Hart Research Center in Denver, and ten other museums and historic attractions statewide. History Colorado is one of only six Smithsonian Affiliates in Colorado. Visit HistoryColorado.org, or call 303-HISTORY, for more information.