The atrocities of the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado left an indelible mark on White Buffalo Woman until the day she died.
The 19th-century Cheyenne Indian woman was a member of a peaceful village of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians that was attacked in November 1864 at the order of Col. John Chivington, a Methodist minister-turned-soldier.
Henrietta “Henri” Mann, of Weatherford, White Buffalo Woman’s great-granddaughter, said her great-grandmother never forgot the horror of the slaughter on the Colorado plains.
“She wore her moccasins to bed for fear she would have to flee another massacre,” Mann said.
The Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Methodist Church recently hosted a pilgrimage to the Sand Creek Massacre site in Eads, Colo.
Mann, 80, was one of the descendants of the massacre’s survivors who participated in the pilgrimage. The Rev. David Wilson, superintendent of the United Methodist Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, also participated.
The National Park Service now maintains the Sand Creek site.
Mann, 80, founder and president of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribal College at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, said she had previously made the trek to the site of the massacre.
Yet she said she felt more saddened than ever this time.
“It was a particularly poignant time for me to realize that so much had taken place,” Mann said.
“I think each one of us had to find a comfort, a peace, and accept the fact that America has some very dark pages in its history.”
The recent pilgrimage was the brainchild of the Rev. Elaine Stanovsky, bishop of the Mountain Sky Area of the United Methodist Church in Colorado.
With much care and planning, Stanovsky helped coordinate the pilgrimage, which brought together 650 Rocky Mountain United Methodist Conference members and guests, including descendants of the massacre’s survivors and American Indian United Methodist church leaders. Thirteen busloads of people made the journey to the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site as part of the effort.
“The pilgrimage was one step on a long journey of learning about our history and building healing relationships with Native Americans,” Stanovsky said.
She told those gathered for the observance said it was a fitting way for the United Methodists to mark the 150th anniversary of the massacre.
Stories of horror
Mann said in addition to White Buffalo Woman, another of her great-grandmothers, called Vister, also survived the attack. Vister escaped the slaughter on horseback with her brother.
Mann said Vister was shot in the calf as she fled.
“She was one of the fortunate ones who had a horse to escape the massacre. Unfortunately, 200 people didn’t,” Mann said.
Mann said she has heard horror stories of the atrocities that occurred at Sand Creek. Among them:
A little boy was used as “target practice” by the soldiers and eventually was shot and killled.
Fingers of the dead were cut off so soldiers could get the Indians’ rings.
Pregnant women were cut open, and the babies were removed.
Soldiers threw a 3-month-old baby into a wagon as they departed, then threw the child out somewhere along the journey back to their camp.
The genitalia of slaughtered Indian men were used by soldiers to make tobacco pouches.
‘How do you forget’
“How do you forget that? You have to reach deep inside, because these are wounds that have been open,” Mann said.
She said she was honored to be one of the descendants who spoke at a gathering the evening before the pilgrimage.
Mann said she understands that the descendants and the Methodists each have a legacy regarding the massacre. It’s up to both groups to work together so future generations may see their newly forged relationships as hopeful signs of progress.
“Not many people have invited us to the table, and the Methodists have. We need to engage in building a future that is respectful to all the children of the world.” she said.
History unites groups
The pilgrimage was in keeping with Act of Repentance observances and activities that resulted from a decision made by the United Methodists’ General Assembly, the denomination’s governing body. The assembly decided in 2012 that Methodist conferences around the country would be required to have Acts of Repentance for healing relationships with American Indians and indigenous people around the nation and the world.
Chivington was an ordained minister who was the leader of a Methodist mission to the Rocky Mountain district of the denomination’s Kansas Conference. He abandoned his ministry for the military, but United Methodist historians said he was an elder when he led troops to attack the village of Cheyenne Indians in 1864. It’s estimated that between 165 and 200 of the villagers, mostly women, children and elderly, were killed in the attack.
The village had been designated to be relocated to another place under the protection of the U.S. government.
According to United Methodist historians, Chivington was denounced by the U.S. Congress for the massacre, but he never left the ordained ministry, and he was never disciplined by the church.
‘Heirs to the legacy’
Stanovsky said the pilgrimage took into account the Methodist denomination’s part in the tragic story but also its efforts to reach out to American Indians to heal the wounds.
“We commemorate the Sand Creek Massacre because it is here in our territory and we are heirs to the legacy of those Methodists who were so central to the story,” Stanovsky said.
“At the same time, we know, and we will hear again, how this event is only one of a long pattern of similar events that occurred in many places over many years to shape our nation and other nations and that left deep scars in the human family.”