DENVER (CN) – Thousands of descendants of Arapahoe and Cheyenne Indians who the U.S. Army slaughtered at the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado never received the land and property promised them by treaty, a class action claims in Federal Court.
Lead plaintiff Homer Flute claims the United States has treaty obligations to as many as 15,000 descendants of the victims. He and three other named plaintiffs sued the United States, the Department of the Interior, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs for an accounting of what is owed to each victim’s family under the Treaty of Little Arkansas.
The Treaty, signed in 1866, came after Army Col. John Chivington mercilessly attacked hundreds of unarmed men, women and children who were encamped peacefully at Sand Creek.
The 21-page complaint portrays Chivington, a Christian pastor, as a bloodthirsty Indian-hater who defied orders so he could brutalize the helpless tribes.
After he was put in command of the First Colorado Cavalry, Chivington declared: “I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians,” according to the complaint.
It adds: “On the march, Chivington also commented on how he ‘long[ed] to be wading in gore’ at Sand Creek. Other officers under Chivington’s command talked about the scalps they would take and how they would be arranged and displayed.”
On Nov. 29, 1864, Chivington and his 800 cavalrymen came upon the encampment at Sand Creek, where Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle was flying an American flag with a white flag beneath it, “signifying that the encampment was under the United States’ protection and under a flag of truce,” the class says in the complaint.
The soldiers ignored the chief’s peaceful overtures and opened fire.
“With the United States military firing on the Sand Creek encampment, [Cheyenne] Chief White Antelope ran towards the troops and tried to convince them to cease fire. As shots rang out, the elderly Cheyenne Chief stood in the middle of the village with his arms folded, signifying that the Indians at Sand Creek did not want to fight the United States troops. Unarmed, White Antelope was shot down in the bed of the creek. The plaintiffs still have the bullet hole-ridden blanket Chief White Antelope wore when he was murdered,” the complaint states.
“As the shooting intensified, the Indians attempted to flee. Many ran up the creek bed, where the bank offered some protection from the soldiers’ bullets. Those Indians frantically began digging into the ground to make holes in which to hide. Approximately two hundred soldiers surrounded those Indians seeking to hide – mostly unarmed women and children – and slaughtered them.
“As the massacre progressed, the United States cavalry scattered in different directions, chasing down small parties of Indians trying to escape.
“The massacre was over by 3 o’clock in the afternoon of November 29, 1864.
“The exact number of dead is unknown, but eyewitnesses stated that two-thirds of the dead were women and children.”
What followed was just as bad.
“Simply murdering the Indians was not enough; next, the soldiers began looting, pillaging, and scalping plaintiffs’ ancestors’ remains.
“Indians’ fingers and ears were cut off and made into jewelry.
“According to eyewitnesses, Colonel Chivington’s soldiers cut dead Indians’ bodies open, mutilated them, cut out private parts, and clubbed and knocked the brains out of the heads of women and children.
“The body of White Antelope was completely mutilated. The soldiers scalped him and cut off his nose, ears, and testicles. His scrotum was reportedly later used as a tobacco pouch. A child, only a few months old, was thrown into the feed box of a wagon and, after being carried some distance, left on the ground to perish.
“On the evening of November 29, 1864, Colonel Chivington wrote a dispatch to General Samuel Curtis reporting that he attacked a village of nine hundred to one thousand warriors, killed between four hundred and five hundred Indians, ‘and all of this was done nobly.'”
Chivington resigned his commission on Jan. 4, 1865, and his conduct at Sand Creek was then investigated by a military commission and by Congress. No charges were brought against him, but the investigations ended what he hoped would be a political career.
In the 1866 Treaty of Little Arkansas, the United States acknowledged “gross and wanton outrages perpetrated against certain bands of Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians” and agreed to provide reparations to the surviving families of the massacre, the complaint states, quoting from the treaty.
The Treaty reserved 320 acres of land apiece for four Indian chiefs, including Black Kettle, and 160 acres for family members who had been “made a widow, or who lost a parent upon that occasion,” the complaint states, quoting the treaty. The treaty also promised “securities, animals, goods, provisions, or such other useful articles” in exchange for property that was destroyed by the Army.
But little land or property was ever offered to the families of the victims, the plaintiffs say.
“On July 26, 1866, Congress appropriated money to reimburse the ‘members of the bands of Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians who suffered at Sand Creek.’ On information and belief, the money appropriated was not sufficient to compensate those individual members of ‘certain bands,’ who were to be identified by the Secretary of the Interior under the terms specified in the Treaty.
“Of the money appropriated by Congress, only some part of it was alleged to be disbursed by the defendant DOI. None of those monies were distributed to individual Indians, as required by the Treaty of Little Arkansas, but at the direction of Special Indian Agents, those monies were instead disbursed to the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Tribes of Indians jointly with the Apache Tribe of Indians.
“The money that was not paid to the Tribal entities was not distributed to individual Indians, but was returned to surplus on August 30, 1872.
“On information and belief, no effort has been made by defendants to identify those individuals to whom reparations are owed, as required by the Treaty of Little Arkansas.
“Although appropriated by Congress for that specific purpose, none of the fund making up the reparations has been distributed to individual Indians, as required by the Treaty of Little Arkansas.
“On information and belief, some of the lands within the reparation fund were given to some individuals in the State of Colorado, in accordance with Article V of the Treaty of Little Arkansas. Aside from the transfer of those lands – which may or may not have occurred – no other effort was made to transfer lands to individual Indians, as required by the Treaty of Little Arkansas. No accounting of any disbursements of lands within the reparation fund has ever been conducted.”
Class representatives Homer Flute, Robert Simpson Jr., Thompson Flute Jr. and Dorothy Wood demand an accounting of reparations owed and identification of those “to whom reparations are still due and owing.” They also want an explanation for the non-payments.
“If the accounting and audit demonstrates that the defendants failed to abide by defendants’ duties established in the Treaty of Little Arkansas, or any other relevant provision of federal law mandating trust duties to the class, the plaintiffs demand that the defendants be ordered to reform and make whole plaintiffs’ and class members’ trust funds, including all money, goods and property owed to plaintiffs and their ancestors pursuant to the Treaty of Little Arkansas, which defendants managed or controlled,” the complaint states.
The class cites numerous breaches of federal trust responsibility, failure to account and violations of the Administrative Procedure Act.
They are represented by David Askman with Hunsucker Goodstein in Denver.
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