Reflecting on not-so-glorious history
For the past several months the world has been confronted with the horror of psychopaths beheading hostages. Decent men and women have decried the sub-human behavior by ISIS, the Islamic State. President Obama condemned the latest of five-to-date execution as “an act of pure evil by a terrorist group.”
150 years ago On November 29, 1864, American “soldiers’ engaged in a similar atrocity, an act of barbarism in what has become known as the Sand Creek Massacre.
Sand Creek, located in Kiowa County in southeast Colorado, was the site the commander of Ft. Lyon told the Arapaho and Cheyenne chiefs to await federal officials to finalize their peace treaty. They flew the American Stars and Stripes as directed to convey their peaceful intentions.
Early on the morning of November 29, soldiers of the Colorado Volunteers under the direction of Col. John Chivington, a fanatic ordained Methodist minister, launched an attack on the gathering of children, women, and old men. Approximately 200 of the 700 defenseless Indians died as many, including infants, were butchered and mutilated.
Shortly afterwards Col. Chivington paraded body parts of the slain through Denver’s streets. He immediately won admiration from the early Denverites. In its editorial, the Rocky Mountain News wrote, “Among the brilliant feats of arms in Indian warfare, the recent campaign of our Colorado volunteers will stand in history with few rivals, and none to exceed it in final results.”
“It is unquestioned and undenied,” the News wrote, “that the site of the Sand creek battle was the rendezvous of the thieving and marauding bands of savages.”
A number of his officers and other observers, however, were horrified and disgusted by the massacre, and reported their leader’s actions to authorities.
In his testimony to Congress on March 14, 1865, US special Indian agent and interpreter John S. Smith, in response to the question about how the women and children were slaughtered, stated the shootings were “indiscriminate.”
When asked if there were “any acts of barbarity perpetrated there that came under [his] observation, Smith said, “Yes, sir; I saw the bodies of those lying there cut all to pieces, worse mutilated than any I ever saw before; the women cut all to pieces.
“With knives; scalped; their brains knocked out; children two or three months old; all ages lying there, from sucking infants up to warriors.”
To the questions about whether he personally saw the mutilations and if he knew “by whom they were mutilated, Smith declared “Yes, sir. By U.S. troops.”
The Sand Creek Massacre is one of other episodes of such cruelty committed by Americans, both civilian and military, upon innocent and defenseless people. Another is the Ludlow Massacre which took place fifty years later in southern Colorado on April 20, 1914 at the mines of the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I).
In its series on the “American Experience, PBS chronicles, “The face-off raged for 14 hours, during which the miners’ tent colony was pelted with machine gun fire and ultimately torched by the state militia.”
In its April 21, 1914 edition, the New York Times reported, “The Ludlow camp is a mass of charred debris, and buried beneath it is a story of horror imparalleled [sic] in the history of industrial warfare.
“In the holes which had been dug for their protection against the rifles’ fire the women and children died like trapped rats when the flames swept over them. One pit, uncovered [the day after the massacre] disclosed the bodies of 10 children and two women.”
The great Socialist writer Upton Sinclair who turned the meat-packing industry upside down with his novel The Jungle declared that he would “indict” John D. Rockefeller for murder.
“I cannot believe that a man who dares to lead a service in a Christian church can be cognizant and therefore guilty of the crimes that have been committed under your authority.”
Rockefeller’s reward is that he’s now revered as a Titan of Industry in American capitalistic folklore.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and the proper time to offer gratitude for our blessings. Thanksgiving also can serve, though, as a time to reflect on not-so-glorious events in our history. By not denying those unsavory episodes, we can reclaim the moral high ground we have forfeited, including that with our 2003 Iraq invasion.
If we courageously do, we can defeat psychopaths such as the Islamic State.
Hypocrisy is not an effective strategy. It’s a lesson historical ostriches need to learn.