On November 29, 1864, a contingent of Colorado Cavalry volunteers, under the command of Major John Chivington (a Methodist minister), attacked an encampment of Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians at Sand Creek in eastern Colorado near Eads.
The Cavalry destroyed the village, and murdered about 200 people, most of whom were women and children. The tribes had been promised the location was safe. (Click here for more information about the 150th anniversary of this event.)
In light of Major Chivington's clergy credentials, the anniversary is especially poignant for United Methodists who have, of course, utterly rejected the actions of Chivington, and, in light of the upcoming 150th anniversary of this horrible episode, have actively encouraged dialog and reconciliation is active ways.
This year’s United Methodist Rocky Mountain Annual (regional) Conference gathering became a two-day teach-in on the Sand Creek Massacre. It was a Methodist clergyman-turned-soldier, Col. John Chivington, who on Nov. 29, 1864 ordered the cavalry charge that slaughtered an unsuspecting, peaceful village of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians.
Mountain Sky Area Bishop Elaine Stanovsky’s push for a major effort at understanding and healing climaxed on Friday, June 20. That’s when 13 buses carried some 650 Rocky Mountain Conference members and guests, including descendants of the massacre’s survivors, three hours into eastern Colorado, to the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.
“Today is a little bit beyond belief for me,” Stanovsky said to the group at a conference dinner that night, back in Pueblo, Co. “I knew I had to bring you to the site. But I didn’t know if you’d come. And you came!”
Indeed, the throng nearly outnumbered Chivington’s cavalry and constituted the largest single day of visitation at the Sand Creek site — one of the newest and most out-of-the way in the National Park Service — since its 2007 dedication.
Al Addison, an Arapaho whose great-great grandfather survived the massacre, has visited the site more than 60 times, but doing so in a crowd of United Methodists touched him.
“I can tell the church has compassion,” he said.
Our bishop, Jim Gonia, reflects on the Sand Creek Massacre in a recent blogpost. He said:
As people of faith, it is a moment for us to stop and reflect not only on the implications of this particular event for the witness of the Christian church but also on the broader story of the displacement of the Native peoples of this continent by white settlers. While Col. Chivington’s particular actions were condemned as early as 1865 by the United States federal government, the psychological and spiritual wounds of the massacre persist to this day, especially for Native peoples.
In the church we talk about kairos moments, Spirit-led moments when circumstances come together in such a way that we can hear God speak anew and live with fresh commitment to the way of Jesus in the world. It is my hope and prayer that our holy attention to the Sand Creek Massacre may become for us such a kairos moment, leading us to renewed relationship with all our Native sisters and brothers.
Image: Sand Creek massacre, Howling Wolf