“Tell the truth”: Shedding new light on the Sand Creek Massacre with an exhibit 10 years in the making

Kevin Simpson
The Colorado Sun
Members of the public attend the new Sand Creek Massacre exhibit at History Colorado on Nov. 19.
Olivia Sun/The Colorado Sun via Report for America

Waylon Rogers emerged from the exhibit at the History Colorado Center in Denver with his 18-month-old daughter, Ailani, squirming playfully in his arms. A tribal leader for the Northern Cheyenne, he had just finished touring the museum maze that tells the complex story of the Sand Creek Massacre — for the first time, in the words of the people still deeply scarred by the 1864 military slaughter of more than 230 mostly elders, women and children.

He heard familiar refrains in the text on the walls, in the videos and oral histories and historical documents that comprise the new display. Over the past 10 years Rogers has worked to coax often painful but important accounts from descendants of massacre survivors. At the exhibit’s Nov. 19 opening, he felt encouraged that those stories finally will reach a wide new audience spanning generations.

“We have something that represents us,” said Rogers, who made the eight-hour drive from his home in Ashland, Montana, to celebrate the opening. “I helped to coordinate a lot of people to actually start contributing to what’s in these rooms. There’s a lot of people that know a lot of things. But to get them to open up is a completely different story.”

The story of the Sand Creek Massacre has always recounted a dark chapter in Colorado’s history, but one largely filtered through institutional accounts. Even while acknowledging the government’s betrayal of the Cheyenne and Arapaho people and the atrocities visited upon them, those versions nonetheless omitted the generational impact — the effects of the loss of leaders and tribal lands over many years — of the Nov. 29, 1864, massacre.


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