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History Colorado opens new exhibit that examines the Sand Creek Massacre

Cheyenne and Arapaho Village at the site of early Denver, 1858.tif
History Colorado museum
Artwork of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Village site in early Denver, 1858. The two tribes suffered mass casualties on November 29, 1864 when the US Army attacked a camp of mostly women, children, and elders on Big Sandy Creek in southeastern Colorado. The attack has been called the deadliest day in Colorado history.

History Colorado has a new exhibit about the Sand Creek Massacre, where the military murdered over 230 Native Americans in 1864. The 158th anniversary of that tragic event occurred earlier this month.

KUNC's Mike Lyle spoke with Sam Bock, lead developer of the exhibit and a Historian at History Colorado.

This is not the first time History Colorado created an exhibit about the Sand Creek Massacre. It opened one ten years ago that failed. This time, the museum reached out to Native American elders for their guidance and support. What was their reaction to being part of the process?

We've been really grateful that the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. We opened this exhibit first to the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. They said it represents the stories as they were told in the communities that have been handed down from elders for generations.

How long was the process in getting this part of the exhibit open?

We've been working on this in earnest since 2014, but activity picked up in 2020 when we convened our group, our exhibit develop designers and curators and then went on to get some federal funding that allowed us to travel to these tribal communities and hear the stories of the elders and really work in-depth with them.

What key components can visitors expect to see as they explore through this new version of the exhibit?

The exhibit really revolves around the Cheyenne and Arapahoe people. It was important to our representatives. They told us many times that the Sand Creek Massacre does not define them, and they wanted this exhibition to examine their cultures before the massacre and what their lives are like today. A lot of Cheyenne and Arapahoe people still live here, and those were some of the things that we wanted to highlight in this exhibit.

What do you hope visitors take away from seeing an exhibit that presents such powerful and sensitive material?

The Sand Creek Massacre is one of the most important events in Colorado history. It does raise some questions about our state and how it became part of the United States. So I hope visitors come away with a better understanding of how Colorado came to be also have a better understanding of its original inhabitants.

Email: michael.lyle@kunc.org