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A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek
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A Misplaced Massacre
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The Indian War of Eugene Fitch Ware. Cow Boys and Cattle Men. Jacqueline M. Rose Marie Beebe. David Weston Marshall. Still, other Cheyenne and Arapahoe leaders demanded justice and sought to use the renewed interest in Sand Creek to raise issues of sovereignty and self-determination. Like George Bent, they believed that descendants of the massacre itself should determine how the event was remembered. Regardless of the debate happening between politicians and Native communities, those who wished to memorialize or commemorate Sand Creek faced two daunting obstacles.
First, Colorado ranchers owned the land upon which the event occurred. And, second, several of those landholders claimed that the massacre took place at different locations. Driven by a congressional resolution authorizing a study of the Sand Creek site with the hopes of creating a national park , National Park Service personnel, historians, and tribal members debated the location of the massacre. Study leaders employed both ground-penetrating radar and oral histories from the tribes themselves.
Ultimately, science seemingly disproved tribal stories, by placing the horrific scenes and villages outside of the locations marked and venerated by Cheyenne spiritual men. But in the wake of years of contested and emotional memories, science took a back seat to reason. Local landowners contested these stories too, believing the old adage of realtors everywhere, "location, location, location.
Regardless, any effort to mark a place for the Sand Creek Massacre seemed fraught with political, economic, and emotional challenges. This is what is best about Kelman's delicate treatment of the events. As a participant-observer, he knows best not to judge historical actors within his work, particularly those with whom he worked alongside during the research for the book. Instead, he carefully untangles the knotted cords of memory that motivated his subjects and fueled their impassioned responses to perceived enemies and partners.
In the process, Kelman exposes the complex chain of events that brought non-Native allies to the aid of Cheyenne and Arapahoe communities in the twentieth century, often for less than altruistic reasons.
A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek by Ari Kelman
He reveals the competing Native voices and opinions of numerous Native communities that all claimed links to memories that were bound to the land around Sand Creek. And, he chronicles the role of government agents entrusted to balance those competing voices and interests. By teasing apart the issues that connect and divide these different groups of people, Kelman reveals the collision of the past and the present.
He also provides insights into the very process of historical investigation. Kelman ultimately concludes, "This story of memorializing Sand Creek suggests that history and memory are malleable, that even the land, despite its implied promise of permanence, can change, and that the people of the United States are so various that they should not be expected to share a single tale of a common past" p.
These lessons will become and actually already are important as Americans come to reconcile a violent past with a willingness to explore continental histories that diverge from progressive narratives of settler domination. Despite what Winston Churchill once proclaimed--"History is written by the victors"--we all eventually decide whether or not to accept the story presented to us of the past. Citation: James Buss.