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Finding Sand Creek

By Jerome Green and Douglas Scott

Book Review by Bob Reece, October 2004

From November 29 through December 1, 1864, over 700 U.S. volunteer soldiers, under the command of Col. John M. Chivington, reveled in their ghoulish and merciless bloodbath scourged upon 150 dead and dying Cheyenne and Arapahos. Their leader did nothing to stop the carnage; instead he encouraged it. This was the Sand Creek Massacre.

For 135 years the location of the Sand Creek Massacre, like its one time inhabitants, hid from sight as if it were still avoiding the deadly fire from the U.S. volunteers. All efforts, both noble and immoral, failed to reveal the actual site of the village and its slaughter tributaries, until now.

Those noble efforts were attempts to preserve the site. However, where exactly was the site to preserve?  In 1998 Congress passed P.L. 105-243, the Sand Creek Massacre Site Study Act of 1998, which called for the National Park Service, the State of Colorado, and the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes to work together to locate the massacre site. Locating it was a prerequisite to the NPS guardianship. 

The efforts that finally located the massacre site are told in Jerome Greene and Douglas Scott’s new book, “Finding Sand Creek: History, Archeology, and the 1864 Massacre Site.” This highly anticipated and scholarly work is well worth the wait. Both authors hold impeccable credentials. Greene is Research Historian for the NPS in Denver and has published extensively on the Plains Indian Wars. Scott (now retired from the NPS) was Great Plains Team Leader for the NPS Midwest Archeological Center. He pioneered the use of metal detecting in the study of battlefield archeology with landmark projects at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Washita Battlefield National Historic Site, and Big Hole National Battlefield.

Greene tells the tale in a succinct, but complete listing of events leading up to, during, and after the massacre. But, “Finding Sand Creek”, like its title, is not the story of the massacre but the incredible account of finally locating Black Kettle’s village, and the Sand Pits used by the non-combatants in attempts to conceal themselves from the carbines and 12-pounder mountain howitzers.

The detective like chronicle includes the use of multi-disciplines in history, archeology, and tribal accounts, as well as the use of historical maps, aerial photography, and USGS maps.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the research is the map of the massacre site drawn by 2nd Lt. Samuel W. Bonsall of the Third U.S. Infantry at Fort Lyon. Bonsall drew his map only four years after the massacre. The authors provide the reader a most fascinating series of events around Bonsall and his map. The map was discovered in 1992. Douglas Scott shared with me the story behind the discovery of this map and its importance to the research in finding the massacre site.


“The discoverer of the Bonsall map is Scott Forsythe. His is an archivist with the Chicago Branch of the National Archives. He found it in the engineer’s reports for the Department of the Missouri that are held by that branch. It should not have been there, but it was.

When Jerry Greene recognized the significance of the map and pointed it out to the team members it allowed us to develop a research/inventory plan that focused on that area. We did not exclude any area as noted in the book, but with the information derived from the map we worked around the area, eliminating possibilities and then inventoried the "probable" area, which turned out to have the archeological evidence of the attack.  The map…allowed us to formulate a plan to work and eliminate other suspect areas in a more structured manner.”


The question most will ask is, “How can the archeological record prove that this village site was the one attacked by Chivington on November 29, 1864?” Scott and Greene provide the definitive answer to that question and the answer will surprise you.

The Sand Creek Massacre, raged upon the village of Black Kettle, transformed a peaceful village into a hell on earth and a dark black spot on Colorado history. The results from finally locating the site are significant; preservation, and the peace and healing that may follow for the Cheyenne and Arapaho. We can thank Jerome Greene, Douglas Scott, and the National Park Service for a job well done. I highly recommend this book – it is a must addition to any student’s library interested in the Plains Indian Wars, Colorado history, and Archeology.

Included in “Finding Sand Creek” are detailed analyses and lists for all the archeological data found, 13 maps (historical and current), and 30 photographs. You can order the book by clicking on the “Buy” link at the top right – your purchase helps the Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield support projects at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.


Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site -- the official site from the National Park Service. The historical site is authorized, but will not be established until the NPS acquires enough land to provide for the preservation, commemoration, and interpretation of the Sand Creek Massacre.

The Sand Creek Massacre Site Location Study -- This is the official report by the NPS. It's a large pdf (11mb)

The Sand Creek Massacre Resource Study -- This is the official resource study by the NPS. It's a large pdf (9mb)

Northern Cheyenne Sand Creek Massacre Site Project -- This is the website for the Sand Creek Office of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.

Colorado Historical Society -- Founded in 1879, the Colorado Historical Society brings the unique character of Colorado's past to more than a million people each year.

Sand Creek Papers -- view, online, original letters written by people who lived in Colorado in 1864. The website is part of the Colorado College, Tutt Libaray.

Chief Dull Knife College -- Located on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in southeastern Montana, Chief Dull Knife College offers a variety of Associate in Arts and Associate in Applied Science degrees as well as certificate programs. 

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