The Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 took the lives of an estimated 230 Native Americans, mostly women and children. Much has been written of late about the horror, and more are comprehending the weight of the atrocity. The anniversary was Nov. 29.

Many people now know that those killed were camped, of their own volition, in a bend of the Big Sandy Creek near a United States fort where they thought they were protected. Many also know that John Evans, then governor of Colorado, was purposefully opaque in his talks with Native Americans and wouldn’t commit to requested peace. And the name Colonel John Chivington brings forth images of a monster who led nearly 700 militia members to slaughter the unsuspecting with the goal of political gain. The Sand Creek Massacre is sometimes called the Chivington Massacre. 

Boulder is not exempt. In the Carnegie Library for Local History is a roster for the Boulder militia that marched to Sand Creek in 1864. Some names on that list are surnames that still make up our town’s populace.

“You can have a war story, or a story of a massacre, but if you don’t include the names, people can read it as ‘Oh my, that’s bad,’” said Fred Mosqueda. “But if their neighbor’s name is on there, or their own name is on there, it begins to strike home and hold a little more truth.”

Fred Mosqueda is an elder with the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribes. Though he lives in Oklahoma, his ancestors, the Southern Arapaho, wintered in the Boulder Valley, where “the land took care of us. We could survive the roughest winters right here.”

In talking with Mosqueda, BRL wanted to understand, now that the story of Sand Creek is being told, what comes next? How does Mosqueda feel about Boulder? After horrors of the past are acknowledged, how do you move forward?

Due to the sensitivity of the material, BRL has kept Mosqueda’s thoughts in his own words. Some answers are edited for clarity and brevity.


Where does Boulder tie into the Sand Creek Massacre?

Well, you have to start at the beginning. For damn sure you have to start before the discovery of gold in 1859. Because the 1851 treaty [the Treaty of Fort Laramie] that we signed split the Great Plains up among all the Indians that signed that treaty. The Indians were supposed to allow the government, the army and wagon trains going across [the plains] safe passage. But there was supposed to be no [non-indians] allowed to settle in that area. 

That included Boulder. A little bit west of the Front Range, all the way up to Nebraska. That was our area, if you look at the 1851 treaty. There were supposed to be no [white] settlers there.

But when gold was discovered near Boulder, white people began settling there…

And Chief Left Hand [a southern Arapaho chief] told [the settlers] they could stay until spring. Then they were supposed to leave. Left Hand understood English, so he knew what the [1851] Fort Laramie treaty said. 

He would’ve told the settlers ‘You’re not supposed to be here.’

But gold superseded, in the [Anglos’] minds, the Fort Laramie treaty, so they started building a settlement.

John Evans is a name many have heard of when talking about the Sand Creek Massacre. Where does he come in?

Evans was appointed by Abraham Lincoln [in 1862] as the territorial governor [of Colorado]. It wasn’t a state yet.

Evans was also the Indian agent for the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. As the Indian agent, he should have been taking care of the tribes’ interests. Instead, he sat silent as settlements began to grow.

And Lincoln appointed Evans knowing his tendencies towards Native Americans?

I used to believe Abe Lincoln was a truly great man until I began to research history, and realized he was not a friend to the Indians.

You are saying Indian. Do you prefer Indian or Native American?

Native American, that’s politically correct. But I think of myself as an American Indian, so you can say it anyway you want.

Fred Mosqueda and wife Mary Fletcher. Courtesy of Fred Mosqueda 

You were saying that Evans knew there shouldn’t have been people settling in the Boulder/Denver area, but he didn’t say anything.

No he didn’t, and then in 1861 there was the Fort Wise treaty, which removed all the Indians out of the Denver area. Then the Civil War started, so that took [congressional] interest [in Native American relations] away from the Western states [as they focused on] the Eastern states.

And that left Denver without much congressional oversight…

The businessmen in Denver began to realize they had to get rid of the Indians, because [if the Native Americans realized their rights] they could come back and say ‘This is our land,’ and the white settlers would have to move. So that’s where they started the rumor of the uprising. They started to fabricate all these stories that the Indians were all joining together and were going to run all the white people out of Colorado.

In Boulder, Fort Chambers was supposedly built to help train a militia to quell the “uprising?”

There’s only one reason Fort Chambers was built: to make it seem like there really was an Indian uprising.

The marker now there [along 63rd Street near Valmont Road] that shows where Fort Chambers was at, was put there [by the City of Boulder] in the 1960s. It still says “uprising.” Now, I’ve told [the city], you can leave the marker there, because it shows your thinking in 1960. It shows that in 1960 the people of Boulder still believed all the lies that Evans and Chivington instigated so they could destroy the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribes. 

The [implication of] that marker is, Fort Chambers was built because of the Indian uprising. But “the uprising” was made up by Evans and Chivington so they could create this militia. They had to have a victory or something to make them look good politically. War heroes become political. 

After that [massacre] was over in 1864, [Fort Chambers] was allowed to go back to dust. It wasn’t kept, because its purpose was done.

Men from Boulder assembled and trained at Fort Chambers before participating in the Sand Creek Massacre. Because of this, the City of Boulder has tried to address the site for its links to horrors. What do you think of those efforts?

The thing that upsets me about Boulder is they brought non-traditional people up [to Fort Chambers]. And they keep writing about it, that [one of the non-traditional people] sang a memorial song there. That is so wrong.

That’s like honoring the militia that died. That place should not have nothing, and I’ve told Boulder that. They should not have sang that there. They should not have sang nothing there. We don’t want to honor that.

I told [Boulder] they should put something around that marker that told what the true history was, that there was no uprising.

Per the city’s website, Boulder is aware that the Fort Chambers site and its marker “are a direct, local connection to the Sand Creek Massacre. The city is engaged in discussion for how to navigate management of the marker, the site, and the history as a whole.

What is the next step to healing, once history is accepted, once people know what happened?

Behind the scenes, I have met John Evans’ great-granddaughters. I’ve even met people in Colorado that are staunch supporters of Evans and Chivington. The only thing we have to argue about is great-grandfathers. When we sit down as people, we get along. If we leave that [past] away, we really don’t have anything to argue about. 

Even the remembrance that we did [in October 2022 at the Dairy Arts Center], the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribe members that were there stood with Ms. Goodwin while she read her poem about her great-grandfather [John Evans]. We told her, ‘We want to support you, who you are. It’s not you who we hate. It’s not you who made these decisions.’ 

Today, I think the grandchildren, or the great-grandchildren of Colorado, are not the ones we hate. You guys [the press] give us loaded questions so we talk about the hate. But there’s no hard feelings. 

If the press just tells stories of hate, what other stories do you want told?

The story of Sand Creek is the main story, that was an atrocity. In the press, that’s the story right now. But there’s a lot more going on in the history of Colorado than just Sand Creek. There’s a lot of bad and there’s a lot of good. 

I always wonder, if [white settlers] hated us, if they ran us out and didn’t want nothing to do with us, why do we have [the Town of] Niwot? Why do we have Lefthand Canyon? Why do we have Arapahoe Avenue? Was there something good in us that they wanted to honor? There must’ve been.

The original [white] immigrants that were [in Boulder], the tribes had to take care of them, else they never would’ve made it.

It seems what’s needed is acknowledgment of what happened without rekindling a divide between people of different backgrounds. How can we have a cohesive community while acknowledging we come from separate pasts?

Yeah, that’s great. You said that very well.

How do you see that translating today?

Boulder and Colorado, they are starting to listen to the truth. They want us to tell the true stories of what happened in Colorado history, which is a good thing, because then we’re able to tell our side of history.

All along the Front Range, there’s a lot of good things going on for the tribes. I think in the coming years, you may see us Arapaho and Cheyenne there again on the Front Range as a people. I believe we’ll be part of the landscape again one day, not just by the names of the streets and trails and mountains.

How do you and other tribal members feel now when you return to Boulder? 

We look at this land, and this land is still beautiful, because of the open spaces that are there. We can still go and walk that land, and we can see the beauty of what used to be. 

I’ll tell you a story. I was taken to the rail line that Evans built, by Valmont Butte. And you know how those creeks, Boulder Creek and South Boulder Creek, join together? I was standing there and I said to the people I was with, I said, ‘Right here, this is the place [my people] would camp.’ 

And there was a man working [nearby], and he came over and said, ‘I heard you talking.’ He said, ‘You know, I can come out here sometimes in the evenings and I can hear the drums and I can hear them singing.’ 

So to me, to walk that land and see where they would camp, to see all the medicines that are there growing wild, it makes [Boulder] still feel like home.

Tim Drugan

Tim Drugan covers wildfires, water and other climate change-related issues for Boulder Reporting Lab with a focus on explanatory and solutions journalism. He also is the lead writer of BRL Today, our morning newsletter. Tim grew up in New Hampshire and graduated from UNH with a degree in English/Journalism.

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1 Comment

  1. There is no question that the Sand Creek massacre was a war crime and a national disgrace. But we don’t have to rewrite history to recognize our shame. There was in fact an “Indian War,” as well documented by this wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colorado_War

    “In the spring and summer of 1864, the Sioux, Comanches, Kiowas, Cheyennes, and Arapahos were engaged in active hostilities which led to the murder of numerous civilians, the destruction of livestock and crops, supplies to the region being cut off, and the Colorado settlers in danger of starvation or murder at the hands of the plains tribes”

    Specifically, the Hungate massacre freaked out the Americans living in Colorado at the time: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungate_massacre
    The BRL should be more careful with Boulder history than to print the false assertions of Mosqueda that there was no “uprising.” Complication is not justification.

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