Rising from Sand Creek

Posted: December 10, 2004
by: Brenda Norrell / Indian Country Today

Documentary to tell Cheyenne and Arapaho story

DENVER - When the military slaughtered Cheyenne and Arapaho women and children at Sand Creek,
they shattered the lives of future generations, the descendants of the few children that survived the
massacre 140 years ago.

Don Vasicek, board member of the American Indian Genocide Museum, is producing a new
documentary, ''Sand Creek Massacre, A Lesson from American History'', that he hopes will allow
Cheyenne and Arapaho to dissolve some of the pain.

''They carry their own grieving from Sand Creek. Telling their own stories is their release; they need to
talk about it. They need to know that others will hear and learn of their grief.''

The story of the Massacre of Sand Creek is being told from oral history, the descendants of the 5 and
6-year-olds, the little ones who survived.

''This story will be their truth,'' Vasicek said.

Today, the racism and oppression that led to the slaughter at Sand Creek is retained in the language of
the history books.

''Many white people believe that it was a brilliant military strategy,'' Vasicek said of the massacre. ''Then
there are the historians and the educators who are always making sure it is accurate.''

The problem, however, remains that 99 percent of the written history of the genocide of American
Indians was recorded by white people and written from their perspective.

Until now.

''The Cheyenne and Arapaho are writing their book, telling their story,'' Vasicek said, adding that the
time to record these stories is now.

''Once the descendants die, the stories die with them.'' History, too, will die with these descendants if it
is not recorded.

''American Indian people are the fabric of American history,'' Vasicek said. Preserving that fabric will
determine how much American history the people will know.

Vasicek, graduate of the Hollywood Film Institute and founder of Olympus films, is shooting a 20-minute
version of the film for classroom use. The Sand Creek Massacre film project includes a book, classroom
materials, interactive media, study guide and lesson plan.

The 20-minute video provides a range of first-hand information never before recorded. It includes the
tracking of a Cheyenne chief's great grandfather who survived the Sand Creek Massacre, the Battle of
Washita, Palo Duro and confinement in a Florida prison for three years.

With Indian actors such as Wes Studi expressing interest in working on the upcoming full-length
documentary, Vasicek said, ''There is going to be as little interference from white people as possible. I
don't want that interference.''

The American Indian Genocide Museum is now collecting documents, written proof that the grief
Cheyenne and Arapaho experience today, is based on facts.

''These are an indictment of what took place. The museum is a way of bringing these atrocities out,''
Vasicek said. ''It is my way of taking on the system.''

Speaking of this country's first people, he said, ''We are their people and they are our people, we need
to get together.'' The challenge, he said, is carrying this message to Indian youths and to white people
so the pain can be shared and dissolved.

So far, funding has been an obstacle. The funding has come out of Vasicek's own pocket. But, he has a
six and one-half minute demonstration video, ''The Sand Creek Massacre'', a mini version of the film
that he is proud of.

And he has no regrets that the film project has not attracted wealthy investors who might want to control
it. Then, he said, the risk would be ''changing the integrity of the story.''

The sponsor of the Sand Creek Massacre film project is one of integrity, the American Indian Genocide
Museum, now being created in Houston, chaired by Paiute elder Steve Melendez.

Among the documents that Vasicek and the American Indian Genocide Museum are exposing are the
letters of Captain Silas S. Soule and Lt. Joseph Cramer.

The Massacre of Sand Creek occurred on Nov. 29, 1864, when about 700 Colorado 1st and 3rd
Regiment troops and troops from New Mexico, slaughtered more than 150 men, women and children in
southeastern Colorado Territory.

Lt. Captain Silas S. Soule wrote a letter dated Dec. 19, 1864 from Ft. Lyon, to Major Ed Wynkoop, his
commanding officer.

Soule wrote what he witnessed at Sand Creek: ''... hundreds of women and children were coming
towards us and getting on their knees for mercy.''

In a letter dated, Dec. 19, 1863, Fort Lyon, Lt. Joseph Cramer wrote to Major Ed Wynkoop, his
commanding officer, a letter about what he witnessed at Sand Creek.

Cramer wrote: ''... Dear Major, This is the first opportunity I have had of writing you since the great
Indian Massacre, and for a start, I will acknowledge I am ashamed to own I was in it with my Co.

''Col. Chivington came here with the gallant third, known as Chivington Brigade, like a thief in the dark
... marched all night up Sand, to the big bend in Sand ... and came to Black Kettle's village of 103
lodges, containing not over 500 all told, 350 of which were women and children ... We lost 40 men
wounded, and 10 killed. Not over 250 Indians mostly women and children, and I think not over 200
killed, and not over 75 bucks ...''

The letter continued: ''... Black Kettle said when he saw us coming, that he was glad, for it was Major
Wynkoop coming to make peace. Left Hand stood with his hands folded across his breast, until he was
shot saying, 'Soldiers no hurt me - soldiers my friends.'''

The letters surfaced about 130 years after the Sand Creek Massacre, in the 1990s. Florence Blunt was
going through two stored trunks of a family member, a rancher, who was in the habit of taking supplies
to Fort Lyon before and after the Sand Creek Massacre. She found Captain Silas S. Soule's and Lt.
Joseph Cramer's letters. Blunt's daughter, Linda Rebek of Evergreen retains possession of the letters.

Article Copyrighted by Indian Country Today