Weekend Trips for History Buffs
Battles and Massacres in Colorado
There is a rich history here that makes for some interesting and fun Colorado Weekend Trips. What’s more, many of them are free. I prefer to view these as: “Open Air Museums.” In these places, you can enrich your knowledge of earlier Colorado events while enjoying new scenery and developing a broader perspective of the State.
An enormous price was paid by many early people
Overall, I’m saddened by the horrific and destructive events that took place. However, I am interested in them because they are important pieces of history. As well, many sites are sacred. Indeed, some are memorials to those who fought, lived, gave their lives, and surrendered their lands. In all honesty, we should pay homage and remember why these things happened. Additionally, it’s important to remember the people involved. These are reverent places. It is hallowed ground. Furthermore, we must learn from what happened and how the mistakes made led to these conflicts, so we don’t repeat them.
Planning your visits
You can make these Colorado Weekend Trips and be able to see several sites in a matter of a few days or focus on one at a time depending upon your personal choice and time limits.
In general, there is no need to start chronologically. Perhaps you prefer to plan your visits by grouping them geographically. However, I will list them here according to the dates of their occurrences, first to last. I will follow with additional information later in the post for those of you wanting to know more.
The Sand Creek Massacre November 29, 1864
You should plan a visit to The Sand Creek Massacre Site on one of your Colorado Weekend Trips. This conflict took place between the Third Colorado Cavalry and the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. The massacre site is located at 55411 County Road W, in Brandon, Colorado. Specifically, the location is about 120 miles east of and halfway between Colorado Springs and Pueblo. It is located near the towns of Eads and Chivington in Kiowa County. Additionally, if you want to visit more than one important Colorado site, you could combine this visit with a trip to Bent’s Fort near La Junta, Colorado. You will find that Bents Fort has some intriguing ties to these battles. As well, you might be interested in Amache, near Lamar. There was a WRA (War Relocation Authority) camp built here to confine Japanese Americans during WWII.
Places to Camp near Sand Creek
Sundance High Plains RV Park & Cabins in Lamar, CO
(There are some places you can camp for free in an RV, not official parks, but they are free). For Example, Trading Post Restaurant in Kit Carson (camping in the parking lot) Food is good in the restaurant.
Northeastern Colorado Conflicts
The Battle of Julesburg January 7, 1865
This battle took place between the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Lakota Sioux tribes and the U.S. Army. Julesburg is in the Northeast corner of Colorado in Sedgewick County.
You won’t find many camping options near here but you could travel up to Lake McConaughy, Nebraska which is an awesome place for boating and camping. The Ogalalla Lake McConaughy KOA campground is another good option.
American Ranch Massacre January 14, 1865
This event occurred when a band of Cheyenne and Lakota Sioux raided a Ranch killing most of the men and taking some women and children captive. The American Ranch was near Sterling, Colorado in Logan County.
Sterling is about 128 miles N.E of Denver via Interstate I-76. Camping options: North Sterling State Park, Riverview RV Park
Beecher Island Massacre 17th of September, 1868
This battle took place along the Arikaree River, a few miles from Nebraska’s southwest corner near Wray, Colorado, in Yuma County. Wray is located about 150 miles northeast of Denver following US-34. “The Battle of Beecher Island” was a conflict between fifty-one scouts and frontiersmen and Northern Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Ogalala Sioux Natives.
If you want to camp, your best bet is Brush, Colorado, or Fort Morgan, Colorado. Try Silver Spur Campground in Ft Morgan, Riverside Park in Ft Morgan, or Brush Memorial Campground in Brush
The Battle of Summit Springs, occurred on July 11, 1869
This conflict happened south of Sterling, Colorado, in Washington County. It was between the Cheyenne “Dog Soldiers” and the U.S. Army. The Army’s task was to eliminate the Indians from the Republican River area in retaliation for Indian raids against settlers.
Sterling, Colorado, is about 128 miles northeast of Denver, following the I-76 route.
See American Ranch camping options above.
More detailed accounts of these battles are below…
Who were The Plains Indians?
Plains Indians were tribes of Native North Americans who lived on the Great Plains. At the height of their cultures, their primary food source was the bison (commonly known as buffalo), whose large herds roamed the Great Plains. Hunting was not only the main activity of Plains Indians for food and survival, but It was also a central part of their religion. Above all, their thinking and culture were formed from the natural environment in which they lived. In fact, the numerous tribes who lived here were supported by bison herds of 30-100 million before 1800. These indigenous people were farmers and hunter-gatherers, from autumn to spring. Also, they raised crops during the warmer months and went out onto the great plains to hunt bison, often on foot.
What lead up to the Indian wars in Colorado?
Many years of conflict between the Natives, Settlers, Gold Seekers, The US Government, The Railroad, and Army resulted in the displacement of Indigenous Peoples
- 1858 – 1859: Gold is discovered near modern-day Denver, Colorado, touching off another emigrant rush to the goldfields. Meanwhile, over one hundred thousand emigrants travel across the Great Plains. Additionally, many of these gold-seekers stay and establish illegal settlements on lands belonging to the Cheyenne and Arapaho under the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty. Conversely, there is pressure on the US Government to acquire the land and remove the Indians.
- 1861 February 18: The Fort Wise Treaty is signed. This treaty drastically shrinks Cheyenne and Arapaho lands. With cause, a majority of Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs refuse to sign the new treaty. Black Kettle, White Antelope, Lean Bear, Little Wolf, Tall Bear and Left Hand of the Cheyenne, Little Raven, Storm, Shaved-Head, and Big Mouth of the Arapaho do sign the treaty. Further, there are negotiations followed by a second signing in October 1861.
Colorado becomes a territory
- February 28: The US Government forms the Colorado Territory. Consequently, a large part of the new territory encompasses land initially recognized as Cheyenne and Arapaho Territory in the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. Moreover, many Cheyenne and Arapaho continue to view this land as theirs and refuse to move onto the new Upper Arkansas Agency Reservation.
- 1862 July 1: President Lincoln signs The Pacific Railway Act, giving Congress the power to eliminate “Indian titles to all lands falling under the operation of this act.” The US government could then grant the land for railroad and telegraph rights of way. This act applied to both past and future treaties with tribes whose lands are specifically included within the act’s language.
The Indian Wars
- 1864 April-May: US Army Volunteer forces make four unprovoked attacks on Cheyenne villages in the Colorado Territory. Warriors retaliate by raiding mail and freight wagon trains, stage stations, and outlying farms. Thus begins a period of conflict and confusion known as the Indian Wars of 1864.
Sand Creek Massacre
On November 29, 1864, at dawn, the camps of Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs Black Kettle, White Antelope, and Left Hand are attacked and destroyed in the Colorado Territory. The Third Colorado Cavalry of 675 men under the command of U.S Army Colonel John Chivington was responsible. Cavalry soldiers’ murder/massacre over 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho, including about 150 women, children, and the elderly. Furthermore, the soldiers mutilate many of the bodies. Also, one Arapaho Chief and thirteen Cheyenne Council Chiefs are among the dead.
The site is located at 55411 County Road W, Brandon, CO 81036, United States
This hand is not the color of yours, but if you pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be the same color as yours. I am a man. God made us both.Standing Bear (Chief) c1829 – 1908
When a man does a piece of work which is admired by all we say that it is wonderful; but when we see the changes of day and night, the sun, the moon, and the stars in the sky, and the changing seasons upon the Earth, with their ripening fruits, anyone must realize that it is the work of someone more powerful than man.Chased-By-Bears 1843 – 1915
We cannot waste one drop of our energy. We must live and change with the world around us.Cornplanter (Chief) c.1732 – 1836
“We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.”Dakota
“Our land is everything to us… I will tell you one of the things we remember on our land. We remember that our grandfathers paid for it – with their lives.”John Wooden Leg
“One does not sell the land people walk on.”Crazy Horse, September 23, 1875
Chief of the Ogalala, Lakota, Sioux
“‘We the people’ has never meant ‘all the people.’”Charles Mark Words of Independent Presidential candidate 2020
Battle of Julesburg
After the Sand Creek Massacre on November 29, 1864, several tribes from Western Kansas and Eastern Colorado (dominated by the Cheyenne and Arapahoe) began to intensify aggressive actions against the U.S. Army. As well, they targeted white settlers moving into and through their homeland were also targeted. Understandably, this aggression resulted from the settlers taking the natives’ land. Also, they senselessly destroyed bison, the natives’ primary food source, leaving them to starve. Finally, the white Euro-settlers exposed them to disease, decreasing their numbers. Consequently, the indigenous people joined forces with other tribes to join them in a war against the invading white man.
The Battle of Julesburg, Colorado
This battle took place on January 7, 1865, near Julesburg, Colorado. The conflict was between 1,000 Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and Lakota tribes and about 60 soldiers of the U.S. army, and 40 to 50 civilians. Understandably, the Indians defeated the soldiers. As well, over the next few weeks, they plundered ranches and stagecoach stations up and down the South Platte River valley.
For reference, Julesburg in the Northeast corner of Colorado was a prominent way station on the Overland Trail. Interestingly, “The Julesburg Battle” is unusual because the main source of information came from the Native side. Ironically, most of what we know came from George Bent, a half Cheyenne/half white warrior. George Bent was the mixed-race son of William Bent, the co-founder of Bent’s Fort trading post, and Owl Woman, a Cheyenne Chief’s daughter. He participated in the battle and later told the story to anthropologist George Bird Grinnell, author of “Fighting Cheyennes.” His account of the Colorado Cheyenne wars is considered a premier historical resource about the battle. The other anthropologist he shared the details with was George E. Hyde.
The need for Fort Sedgwick was tied to defending the town of Julesburg. After discovering gold in California in 1849, a trail was established along the South Platte River and became a wagon road then a stage route. At Lodge Pole Creek’s confluence with the South Platte River, the trail used a good ford called Upper California Crossing.
What you should know If you go to this site on a Colorado Weekend Trip
Only an empty site exists at Fort Sedgwick. It is located north of Interstate 76 and halfway between the interstate and the town of Ovid, Colorado, on County Road 27.8. However, you might want to visit the Museum of Fort Sedgwick at 114 E First St. Julesburg, CO 80737.
American Ranch Massacre
On January 14, 1865, a party of Cheyenne and Lakota Sioux warriors attacked a ranch near Sterling, Colorado, about 13 miles up the South Platte River. They killed all the male settlers and took 3 captives.
First, two ranch hands were crossing the South Platte when approximately 100 natives on horseback appeared. Subsequently, one of the ranch hands was killed. What is more, the other was shot in the ankle and forced to defend a part of the river’s sand bluffs.
Meanwhile, Bill Morris, his wife Sarah, two young boys, and five cowboys were at the ranch. The Cheyenne and Lakota attacked and quickly set the ranch buildings on fire, forcing the ranchers away from cover. Unfortunately, most were murdered. Sarah Morris was about to be killed when a warrior named White White (his actual name) saved her to keep for himself. Additionally, the two young boys were also taken hostage, but one was killed while in captivity.
During the event, the injured ranch hand watched the massacre from across the river, but he was unable to do anything because of his wound.
The natives continue their raids
After this, the Indians moved on and continued raiding. And so, Hall, the surviving ranch hand, had to walk twelve miles down the river to Wisconsin Ranch, which was also attacked. Though wounded twice in the foot and across his chest, Hall managed to survive the journey. Eventually, he relayed his account of the event to the United States Army. They arrived at Wisconsin Ranch soon after. In the end, the soldiers found nine bodies, six whites, and three natives at the American Ranch.
Battle of Beecher Island
On September 17th, 1868, “The Battle of Beecher Island” occurred. It was the most challenging battle between the white men and the Plains Indians. Beecher Island is a sandbar located along the lower course of the Arikaree River, a tributary of the North fork of the Republican River. Furthermore, it’s located a few miles from Nebraska’s southwest corner, close to Wray, Colorado. Additionally, It is on the Denver line of Burlington road.
Fifty-one scouts and frontiersmen commanded by Major George “Sandy” Forsyth stood off the large, combined forces of the Northern Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and Oglala Sioux from a small sandbar in the river. Furthermore, they were protected by quickly dug rifle pits and hid behind dead horses, Forsyth and his men held out for nine days on the sandbar. In the end, six scouts were killed, and fifteen, including Forsyth, were injured, while the Indian loss was many times more.
Beecher Island Battleground Memorial Association
The Association purchased 240 acres where the battle happened. This is a semi-arid region with native grasses, sagebrush, scrub plants, and trees along the river. They maintain a monument, the “Beecher Island Battleground Memorial” site, listed on National Register of Historic Places #NPS–76000569 as “Beecher Island Battleground Memorial” site. It is also on Colorado State Register Property
Battle of Summit Springs
The Battle of Summit Springs, occurred on July 11, 1869.
Brigadier General Christopher C. Augur was the commander of the Department of the Platte. He ordered Colonel Eugene A. Carr to clear the Indians from the Republican River country. The US forces were to retaliate for a series of raids in north-central Kansas by Chief Tall Bull’s band of Cheyenne “Dog Soldiers”. Also, they were to rescue two white prisoners, Maria Weichell Susanna Alderdice.
Pawnee Scouts under Major Frank North led his command to Tall Bull’s village. Colonel Carr of the U.S. Army deployed his forces to hit the unsuspecting camp from three sides at once. He had 244 men of the 5th United States Regiment of Cavalry, 50 Pawnee Scouts, and Buffalo Bill Cody acting as a scout. Cody later famously re-enacted this battle in his Wild West Show.
Details of the Battle
Tall Bull, a Southern Cheyenne Chief, was killed during the engagement. The battle happened south of Sterling, Colorado, in Washington County near the Logan/Washington county line.
Frank Joshua North (1840-1885) was an American interpreter, United States Army officer, and politician. He is most well known for organizing and leading the Pawnee Scouts from 1865 to 1877. His brother Luther H. North also led the Scouts.
Captain Luther North of the Pawnee Scout Battalion related this incident in the book Man of the Plains: p. 114
About a half-mile from and off to one side from our line, a Cheyenne boy was herding horses. He was about fifteen years old and we were very close to him before he saw us. He jumped on his horse and gathered up his herd and drove them into the village ahead of our men, who were shooting at him. He was mounted on a very good horse and could easily have gotten away if he had left his herd, but he took them all in ahead of him, then at the edge of the village he turned and joined a band of warriors that were trying to hold us back, while the women and children were getting away, and there he died like a warrior. No braver man ever existed than that 15-year-old boy.
If you visit The Battle of Summit Springs site
There is a 1933 memorial marker at the site, paid for by the Sterling Lions Club. Also, nearby another monument placed in 1970 asks for peace and harmony among all people. An additional monument to Susanna Alderdice (kidnapped along with Maria Weichell on May 30, 1869, near Salina, Kansas) is also located here.
On a further note, the kidnappings and murders of numerous white settlers in the Salina area prompted Carr’s campaign against Tall Bull. Tall Bull killed Alderdice as the battle began. Weichel was wounded but survived. Also, on the ground near the monuments are markers showing Tall Bull’s tipi and another with directions to the canyon’s mouth where he died.
The end to the Colorado Cheyenne Wars
The success, if one can call it that, of the Summit Springs raid is mainly attributed to the 50 Pawnee scouts who hated the Cheyenne. They systematically slaughtered the men, women, and children of Tall Bull’s camp. Finally, this battle ended the series of massacres of both whites and Native Americans that had gone on for five years in what is known as the Colorado Cheyenne Wars.
Cheyenne Dog Soldiers
Note: Summit Springs is on Private Property
The Meeker Massacre & The Milk Creek Battle
From the Colorado State Web Portal:
The Meeker Massacre conflict occurred when the Utes attacked an Indian agency on September 29, 1879. They killed the Indian agent, Nathan Meeker, and his 10 male employees. Also, they took some women and children, including Meeker’s wife and daughter. They used them as hostages to secure their own safety as they fled. And held them for 23 days.
In the 1870s, during the economic depression following the Civil War, white miners and settlers in covered wagons, horseback, and foot were traveling west in large numbers. Encouraged by the Homestead Act and drawn by mineral wealth hopes, they followed the long trails to gold in the Colorado mountains. By now, the Union Pacific Railroad was completed, and other people began moving via rail to the Front Range of the Rockies.
Gold and Silver Fever
Miners rushed west over the high passes and created over 100 legendary mining towns in Colorado. Some that have survived and continue to prosper include Breckenridge, Leadville, Aspen, Black Hawk, Silverton, Telluride, Ouray, Cripple Creek, Crested Butte, Salida, and Durango. Many others are now Ghost Towns. Unfortunately, mining operations negatively impacted Ute territory. Many were prosperous, and this fueled even more arrivals to the gold and silver camps. The Ute Indians considered the whole Colorado region their home. They had inhabited it for generations. What is more, they resented their diminishing hunting ground, and the white men resented and distrusted the Indian.
Colorado becomes a State
Colorado Statehood came in 1876. Thus its nickname of the “Centennial State.” Newspapers of the day callously demanded removing Utes off of land that could be mined, farmed, or ranched. Shockingly, the attitude of many Coloradans at the time was, “The only good Ute is a dead Ute.”
The founding of The White River Agency in 1873 was for the relocation of several bands of Ute Indians who had agreed in a treaty to settle on a reservation there. Five years later, Frederick Walker Pitkin, campaigning on “The Utes Must Go!” was elected Governor of Colorado. Both Pitkin and other local politicians and settlers made exaggerated claims against the Ute tribe, as they wanted to gain the rich land occupied by them under a treaty made in 1867.
Forced policies were placed on the Native Americans
The same year that Pitkin was made governor, Nathan C. Meeker, founder of Greeley, Colorado, was appointed as Indian agent for the White River Agency. Meeker, who lacked experience with Native Americans, tried to extend many policies on the Utes. He was forcing a new religion on them. He insisted that they become farmers and raise stock. He told them that their children had to attend school and finally they were to get rid of their horses.
Meeker was a follower of Charles Fourier and was a strong advocate of cooperative farming. In 1870, he helped form an agricultural colony in Colorado; by appointing him as Indian Agent, Pitkin hoped that he would pass on his knowledge of farming to the Utes.
Conflicts between the Utes and Meeker continue
Meeker’s wanting to push these policies upon the Utes made them angry. Furthermore, they resented the settlers’ encroachment on their reservation and the poor management of the Indian Bureau. In September 1879, Meeker claimed a subchief had assaulted him during a petty quarrel. Thus, the government sent approximately 150-200 soldiers, led by Major Thomas T. Thornburgh, from Fort Steele, Wyoming, to settle the affair. On 29th September 1879, Chief Douglas and a group of warriors killed Meeker and seven other agency members. Meeker’s wife, daughter, and another girl were held as captives for 23 days. This became known as the Meeker Massacre.
Shawsheen (sister to Chief Ouray) lived on the White River Agency land. She burst into the council and told the Utes it would be best to free the women and children who had been taken captive. They were soon released to the soldiers. Both Mrs. Meeker and Josephine said that Shawsheen was kind to them and saved their lives.
The Milk Creek Conflict
On September 29, 1879, the Utes attacked Major Thomas Thornburgh and his troops. This occurred at the crest of a ridge just after they crossed Milk Creek onto the reservation on their way to White River Agency. A single gunshot sparked the battle. Major Thornburg was killed along with nine of his men while the soldiers fought their way back to the circling mule wagons near Milk River (Creek). They hurriedly dug trenches and were pinned down. The Indians killed the soldiers’ horses to keep them from getting away, and the soldiers piled the dead horses between themselves and the Indians’ bullets. It was a harrowing battle for the men and Captain Dodge and few buffalo soldiers who arrived, days later, on their way to the White River Agency.
Near the end of September 1879, word reached Red Cliff’s new settlement that the Utes were on the “warpath.” A rumor made the rounds that a band of Indians had been seen coming up the Eagle River. Supposedly, Jack Shedden arrived from the valley below with word that Utes had killed a French rancher and sacked and burned his ranch. Hurriedly, the town’s men constructed a small fort of stone high on a quartzite projection near the junction of Turkey Creek and the Eagle River.
In the end, the Utes were evicted from Colorado and placed on a reservation in Utah.
This was the last Native American uprising in the United States
The Ludlow Massacre
This attack was against striking coal miners and their families. The attackers were the Colorado National Guard and Colorado Fuel, and Iron Company Guards at Ludlow, Colorado on April 20, 1914. It resulted in the deaths of 25 people, including 11 women and children.
Initially, about 10,000 miners under the direction of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) had been on strike since September 13, 1913. They were protesting low pay and abysmal working conditions in Colorado’s coalfields. Later, striking miners were evicted from the company towns by managers of industrialist John D. Rockefeller’s Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, and constructed tent colonies elsewhere. The largest of these housed about 1,200 strikers in Ludlow near Trinidad, Colorado. These miners were a mixture of ethnicities, including a large number of Greeks and Italians.
As the strikers ran out of ammunition, they retreated from the camp into the surrounding countryside. Women and children, hiding from the bullets that bombarded the camp, huddled in cellars that had been dug underneath their tents. Later in the evening, the National Guard troops soaked the tents in kerosene and set them on fire. In one cellar, 11 children and 2 women were found burned and suffocated. All In all, 25 people were killed during the Ludlow Massacre, 3 of whom were National Guard troops.
Retaliating the massacre, miners attacked anti-union town officials, strike-breakers, and the mines, taking control of an area about 50 miles long and 5 miles wide. As many as 50 people died during the reaction to the Ludlow Massacre.
President Woodrow Wilson Steps in
Fearing a further escalation of violence, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sent in federal troops to restore order. Unlike the National Guard, the federal troops were impartial and kept strikebreakers out of the coal mines. The strike ended on December 10, 1914. While the workers got few tangible benefits from their strike, the UMWA gained 4,000 new members.