Roman Nose and the Sand Creek Massacre of Nov. 29th, 1864 (Part 1)


“…Roman Nose made his record against the whites, in defense of territory embracing the Republican and Arickaree rivers. He was killed on the latter river in 1868, in the celebrated battle with General Forsythe.

Roman Nose always rode an uncommonly fine, spirited horse, and with his war bonnet and other paraphernalia gave a wonderful exhibition. The Indians used to say that the soldiers must gaze at him rather than aim at him, as they so seldom hit him even when running the gantlet before a firing line…”

Crossposted at Progressive Historians

I drove to Roman Nose State Park as a worried young man in 1990, seeking some resolve and solace.

Roman Nose State Park

Once a winter campground of the Cheyenne tribe, this area now is a scenic retreat set on a canyon bluff that over-looks ancient mesas.

The park is named after Chief Henry Roman Nose…


…who in September 1868 led a band of Indians against 51 soldiers in the Battle of Arickaree or Beechers Island in Colorado. This battle took place over a period of 9 days and Roman Nose was thought to have been killed.

… who is not to be confused with the Roman Nose shown in the beginning (Chief Henry Roman Nose is not the primary one I would discuss with a ranger, although he mentioned him first).

I had started setting up my tent when a ranger came by to take my camping fee. He was very conversational and mentioned a procession that had occurred there. Also, he told me that there was a lodge where Chief Henry Roman Nose had done the inipi ceremony (sweat bath) as he pointed northwards. Then, the ranger mentioned Roman Nose, and for some reason that’s what caught my interest. “Who’s Roman Nose?” I asked ignorantly. “A Dog Soldier,” he said. “He’s different things to different people.” That’s all I remember him saying. A feeling of mystery came over me after he left. I finished setting up camp. The inipi that he claimed Chief Henry Roman Nose had used was on a little hill with a small stream below it running under an undersized bridge. I dipped my head in the cold stream to clear my mind and walked up the hill. The inipi was on the south side of the hill, and its frail structure looked like it’d been there for ages. If what the ranger said was true, it had been there for more than a century. Its willow structure looked feeble, and the grass in it was about a foot tall. I sat it in much that afternoon, evening, and that next morning finding the strength to face my own challenges; yet, when I left I did not understand why Roman Nose was “different things to different people.” That answer as I now know, lies much in his connection to the Sand Creek Massacre.


Congressional Testimony of Mr. John S. Smith

Question. How many Indians were there?

Answer. There were 100 families of Cheyennes, and some six or eight lodges of Arapahoes.

Question. How many persons in all, should you say?

Answer. About 500 we estimate them at five to a lodge.

Question. 500 men, women and children?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Do you know the reason for that attack on the Indians?

An equally appropriate question would have been, “Why did Roman Nose and the Hotamitanio (Dog Soldier Society) feel the need to defend their sovereignty and way of life?”

The answers to that one question rest in at least the following: the “Great Horse Creek Treaty” (1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie), volunteer soldiers, John Chivington, white encroachment with the Pike’s Peak gold rush of 1858,  the “renegotiation” of the “Great Horse Creek Treaty” at Fort Wise, the Civil War soldiers who encroached on promised land, and the murder of Lean Bear.

The first core point is that hunting rights and land claims were not surrendered in the “Great Horse Creek Treaty” (1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie).


The following are facts with regard to the 1851 TREATY OF FORT LARAMIE, known as the “Treaty of Long Meadows” to the N/DN/D/Lakota and the “Great Horse Creek Treaty” to the Cheyenne;

1. It is a sacred document, unanimously agreed upon by each camp of each band, of each of the seven signatory nations. During the three week long 1851 Treaty gathering, the sacred White Buffalo Calf Canunpa (misnomer “Peace pipe”) of the N/DN/D/Lakota, the Four Sacred Arrows of the Cheyenne, as well as the most sacred items of each of the other nations were present during the historic signing.

2. It is a unifying document among the seven allied nations to forever protect their sacred homelands.

Second of all, the Pike’s Peak gold rush of 1858 brought white encroachment by ways of pony express riders, telegraph wires, stagecoaches, and more and more military forts whose soldiers (at least in the Sand Creek Massacre) included volunteer soldiers under the command of Col. John Chivington.(1)

To illustrate, here is a poster from 1864 that portrays the recruitment of volunteer soldiers, which helped to result in the California terrorist attacks. That was the same year as the Sand Creek Massacre.





The 1849 agreement between California territorial and federal governments provided $1,000,000 for the arming and supply of persons who would seek out and destroy Native American families.

I don’t know if such posters were in or near Colorado, but John Chivington who led the “Bloody Third” scorned Indian children.


COL. JOHN CHIVINGTON: Ex-Methodist Minister, Heroic Indian Fighter, 1864

“Nits make lice,”
he was fond of saying, and of course, since Indians were lice, their children were nits. Clearly, Chivington was a man ahead of his time: it would be almost a century later before another man would think of describing the extermination of a people “the same thing as delousing”: Heinrich Himmler. [LN477]

Clearly, Roman Nose had a more than sufficient reason to defend his people.

Matters continued becoming worse for the Cheyenne and Arapaho as the white encroachment increased dramatically with the Pike’s Peak gold rush of 1858, despite the land being promised them in the “Great Horse Creek Treaty” (1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie). The Territory of Colorado was then “declared” a decade after that treaty and politicians wanted to “renegotiate” the “Great Horse Creek Treaty” at Fort Wise. It was far from a compromise, it was closer to theft.



The said chiefs and delegates
of said Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes of Indians do hereby cede and relinquish to the United States all lands now owned, possessed, or claimed by them, wherever situated, except a tract to be reserved for the use of said tribes located within the following described boundaries, to wit:…”

Some “negotiation…” 38 of the 44 Cheyenne chiefs did not sign it.

Dee Brown. “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.” p. 69:

“…When the Cheyennes pointed out that only six of their forty-four chiefs were present, the United States officials replied that the others could sign it later…”(1)

Adding still more misery, were facts that hunting was scarce on this land tract, nor was it suited well to farming. Also, the white encroachment from the Pike’s Peak gold rush escalated, while Civil War soldiers roamed onto their grounds. Then,

Chivington, the butcher of Sand Creek, began his campaign of extermination and genocide.


In the spring of 1864, while the Civil War raged in the east, Chivington launched a campaign of violence against the Cheyenne and their allies, his troops attacking any and all Indians and razing their villages. The Cheyennes, joined by neighboring Arapahos, Sioux, Comanches, and Kiowas in both Colorado and Kansas, went on the defensive warpath.

Personal Conclusions

I recall how the inipi that Chief Henry Roman Nose was said to have sweat in by the ranger in 1990 was gone in 2003, but that little stream and bridge were still right below the hill where it once was. Also, I remember what he said, “Roman Nose was different things to different people.”

To finally answer why he was “different things to different people” in my view now… He was a hero to the Cheyenne and Arapaho because of all their lives he saved; but, he was a villain to the likes of Chivington, because of all their lives he saved. Roman Nose did not bring more death to his people by defensively fighting, because the “villains” were going to attempt exterminating all of them regardless.

*Next, will be “Black Kettle and the Sand Creek Massacre of Nov. 29th, 1864 (Part 2), followed by “The Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.”


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  1. really happened. I appreciate all the work you put into each essay.

  2. in America should be using this in their classroom discussions.

    My brother told me of a local legend in Steamboat Springs Colorado.  They said that when the white men entered the valley the locals set the valley on fire and retreated north.  Since then not a single tree has grown in the area that was burned.

    I’m not sure if it is true but it does tell you something about the mindset of white settlers in that area, generations later.

  3. Keep counting coup with the truth.  Excellent work.

    Blessings!  Peace!

  4. The Legend of the Blue Dressed Lady

    Okay, I’m tejano, which means old school Texan Spaniards. There is a legend that was passed on threw the ages since colonial times about a Lady with a Blue Dress and the Karankawa Tribe.

    The Karankawa were all along the coast of Texas when the Spaniards arrived, and we got along great when it was just fishing and fur trading. It wasn’t until the missionaries of the Catholic Church arrived that things got interesting.

    It was then we found out about their prophecy. Seems long, long ago a Lady appeared to the various bands of Karankawas and who wore a blue european-style dress and was as pale as the Spaniards. She told that that one day people from the east would arrive on boats and to be friendly to them all. She even showed them a cross they would bring, but gave them one grave warning.

    So when the missionaries arrived, and the Karankawas saw the cross, they told us all about the Blue Lady. The missionaries were very happy, thinking they were gonna have easy converts. That was, until they offered them blankets.

    That was the grave warning of the Blue Lady, if the pale ones of the East come with a cross and offer you blankets, kill all the cross bearers. And they did, they even burned down the Spanish mission (the ruins of which are still in Brazoria.)

    They would go on to kill any missionaries they saw, while leaving the traders and settlers alone. They were very picky abut this.

    Then in 1830, right before the war between Mexico and Texas, the Karankawas disappeared. Literally, disappeared.

    Their huts still had fires and there were different activites going on that had been abandoned when the traders made their daily trip to their camps.

    They were just gone, no blood on the sand.

    And in fact, the footprints in the sand all gathered in one place at the various camps, and all just stopped.

    Like they had walked into the beyond.

    There’s your story.

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