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Indian Fights in Colorado

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Indian Fights in Colorado
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Author(s): Irving Howbert
Date Published: 2011/09
Page Count: 148
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-722-7
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-721-0

The bloody Plains Indian War—by one who fought

This book was originally misleadingly titled The Indians of the Pikes Peak Region, which may have led the uninitiated to believe it is a work of ethnology. The author, Irving Howbert gives a short description of the country and its fauna around Pikes Peak, Colorado (named after the famous explorer Zebulon Pike) and also a brief insight into the indigenous Indian tribes that occupied the region—which was the home of the Utes who were bitter foes of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes, the warriors of which would make forays into Ute country to wage their traditional warfare. However, the principal subject matter of Howbert’s text is focussed on the Indian Wars of the 1860s from the perspective of a pioneer, settler, Indian fighter and volunteer in the Third Colorado Cavalry who took part in them. Howbert’s membership of the Third Colorado put him in position to take part in one of the most notorious and controversial episodes in American frontier history, the Battle of Sand Creek, which if only to underline the point is also known as the Massacre of Sand Creek. On November 29th, 1864 a 700 strong force of Colorado and New Mexico troops, under Colonel John Chivington, destroyed the village of Black Kettle of the Northern Cheyenne killing many of the inhabitants. Perhaps predictably Howbert’s account reads like a pitched battle not a one sided affair of unprovoked slaughter and it is clear he does not share the often accepted appraisal of the event. Controversy about the affair was already widespread before the publication of his book and Howbert examines it in some detail. The book concludes with an account of the Indian War of 1868.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

I was on the battlefield within fifteen minutes after the fight began, and during the day, with a part of our company, I went along the south side of Sand Creek from the scene of one engagement to another, until I had covered the full length of the battlefield on that side of the creek. We then crossed over to the north side and followed up the creek as far as the engagement had extended. On our return to camp, we went over the entire length of the scene of the fighting on the north side of the creek, thus covering almost the entire battlefield, as after the first half-hour in the morning there was but little fighting except near the banks of the creek.<br>
During that time I saw much of the battle, but not once did I see any one shoot at a squaw or a child, nor did I see any one take a scalp, although it is true that scalps were taken, for as I returned to camp I saw a number of dead Indians whose scalps had been taken, and among them a few squaws. They had probably been scalped by some of the reckless persons referred to, or possibly by some of the many men in the regiment whose relatives or friends had been killed and brutally mutilated by the savages during the preceding summer. I am not apologizing for the acts of these people, but every fair-minded person must admit that there may have been extenuating circumstances connected with the offense, and no one unfamiliar with the horrors of savage warfare can appreciate the feelings of those who have suffered from their attacks. I did not see a dead or wounded child, and it is inconceivable that any were killed during the fight except accidentally. The incident of the child who wished me to take it up as I was returning to the camp indicates the sympathetic attitude of our men towards the innocent non-combatants.<br>
I think the proof I have presented shows conclusively that every one of the charges made by the enemies of Colonel Chivington was untrue; that, on the contrary, the Indians attacked at Sand Creek were, and had been during the previous summer, viciously hostile to the whites; that they were not under the protection of the military authorities at Fort Lyon, and that the battle was not a wanton massacre.<br>
The adverse criticism of this whole affair was but one of the many acts of injustice experienced by the frontier settlers. From the formation of the government, up to the time when the Indians were finally placed upon reservations, the frontier settlements, in addition to defending themselves from the savages, always had to contend with the sentimental feeling in favour of the Indians that prevailed in the east. The people of the east had apparently forgotten the atrocities perpetrated on their ancestors by the savages, and, resting secure in the safety of their own homes, they could not realize the privations and dangers that those who were opening up the regions of the west had to endure. And to add to the difficulties of the situation, the Indian Department was usually dominated by sentimental people who apparently never had any conception of a proper and humane method of dealing with the Indians.<br>
The government continued to recognize each one of the tribes as a separate nation, and entered into treaties with them, as though they had the standing of an independent and responsible power. Broken down and often corrupt men were appointed as agents to represent the government. The salaries received by the agents were so small that no one could afford to take the position unless he intended to increase his remuneration by corrupt methods. As a part of this machinery for dealing with the Indians, disreputable white men were employed as interpreters, who, often by reason of some crime committed in the states, had for safety’s sake exiled themselves among the Indians, had married squaws, and, virtually, had become Indians in habits and sympathy. The result was that when the government made treaties with the Indians, accompanied by an issue of annuities, it frequently happened that the agent and the interpreter would apply a considerable portion of such annuities to their own use. The Indians, knowing this, would become angry and take vengeance upon the white settler.<br>
No effort seems to have been made to study the nature and character of the Indian, nor the inherited traits that governed him in his dealings with others. The nomadic Indian of the central and western part of the United States was, in most matters, merely a child. His sole occupation from youth to old age was following the chase and fighting his enemies. Almost the sole topic of conversation in their tents and around their campfires was the details of their hunting expeditions and of their battles; and from his earliest days, every Indian boy was taught that his one hope of glory and the making of a reputation depended upon his ability to kill other human beings. Every tribe had its hereditary enemies with whom it was in a state of continuous warfare.<br>
During the summer-time, it was one continuous round of war-parties going out to attack their enemies, and parties returning, bringing with them the scalps of those they had killed, together with squaws and children they had captured, and frequently with large herds of horses they had stolen. If the raids were against the whites, they would return with all sorts of plunder taken from wagon-trains and ranch houses, and oftentimes with captive white women and children. It must be understood that no white man who understood the character of the Indian would ever permit himself to be taken a prisoner, for that meant torture of the most horrible character. For that reason, white men, engaged in battle with the Indians, seldom failed to reserve one last shot in their revolvers, with which to end their lives if capture was imminent, and in many instances men have shot their wives and children rather than allow them to fall into the hands of the Indians. The fate of the women captured by the Indians is indescribable.
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