Saturday, November 29, 2014

Native History: Ways to Remember Sand Creek on the 150th Anniversary

Some would prefer to sweep away memories of the massacre, but forgetting the dead is not the traditional—or honorable—way.

Otto Braided Hair was about 12 years old the first time he heard about the Sand Creek Massacre, his great grandfather, Braided Hair, and how he, his wife and unborn child survived the horrific massacre at Sand Creek on November 29, 1864.

“It hit in my gut. I couldn’t breath. I couldn’t believe it.”

As a youngster on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana, he had to leave the room where his grandfather was reciting details of the attack. “How could people do such terrible things to other people?” the youngster wondered. “Why did this happen?”
These were unanswerable questions, even for elders.

As he grew older and could handle more of this history, his family’s history, the hurt just got worse.

“I heard it from my grandparents and my elders. I respected them. And to think that those were elders down there, and someone would do such a thing to old people… It was a deliberate attack on the leadership of the Cheyenne Nation—nearly all of the Cheyenne Chiefs Council of 44 were present at Sand Creek. On that day, a third of our leaders were killed and to this day the Chiefs have been unable to fully re-establish leadership, it is one reason why Cheyenne still suffer today, they not only killed our Chiefs, the keepers of our way of life, they silenced generations of wisdom and knowledge.”

“They” were the soldiers of the First Colorado and Third Colorado regiments who rode to Sand Creek, an encampment of mainly Cheyenne and Arapaho people directed there to wait for word on peace negotiations by the very military establishment now bent on slaughtering them. For eight hours on November 29, the nearly 700 soldiers would shoot, hack with swords and mutilate bodies for “souvenirs” from the mostly women, children and elderly people murdered there. Some soldiers refused to attack and testified later about the horrors.

Of the 500 to 600 people camped at Sand Creek, nearly 200 were killed; about 18 soldiers died. Those who survived felt compelled to guard the memories of the murdered and to pass the story down through the generations.

Now, it is Otto Braided Hair’s responsibility to pass on his family’s memories, to tell of the barbarity—and the acts for bravery that helped some survive—in honor and remembrance of those who died. Though he is just one of many descendants of Sand Creek survivors.


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