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Colorado Lawmakers Poised To Replace Capitol's Civil War Monument With Sand Creek Massacre Memorial

Courtesy/State of Colorado and One Earth Future
A miniature model shows what a bronze statue will look like as part of a new Sand Creek Massacre memorial at the Colorado state Capitol.

A statue honoring victims of Colorado's Sand Creek Massacre is likely to soon replace a Civil War monument on the west end of the state Capitol that was toppled during protests last summer.

Descendants of the massacre see the steps of the Capitol as an ideal spot for the Sand Creek memorial because historians say it was where soldiers displayed victims’ bodies during a victory parade through Denver in 1864.

Ryan Ortiz, of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, says putting a new memorial there will promote healing.

“It’s not very often in history, do we have a chance to atone for our ancestors’ mistakes, and this is an opportunity that's presented in front of us to do that and to foster the education and understanding and the healing,” he told lawmakers last week.

The memorial at the site would include a bronze statue of an unnamed Cheyenne or Arapaho woman reaching towards the north, the direction tribes retreated to during the massacre. The statue will also be holding an empty cradleboard, which the tribes say represent mourning and loss.

It is being designed by Cheyenne and Arapaho artist Harvey Pratt, a descendant of a Sand Creek Massacre survivor.

Pratt told lawmakers last week the trauma of the event has been passed down through generations.

“I grew up being told by my grandparents, ‘Keep your shoes by the bed, you might have to get up and run,’” he said. “I didn’t understand that as a little boy. Why would I have to get up and run? They would tell me these stories about how they would be attacked and had to get up and run barefoot in the snow, things like that. So I've always had a feeling for what happened at Sand Creek because of my family history.”

Pratt told lawmakers he prays the memorial, which has been in the planning process since 2016, will be completed.

“We’ve been waiting for a long time,” he said.

State Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, leads a committee that has given initial approval to the monument replacing the toppled Civil War monument.

Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage
A monument honoring Colorado soldiers who fought in the Civil War was toppled and removed from the Capitol grounds last summer.

“I would say with the context of what we went through this past summer, that when we are at a moment of social reckoning and we have as a state our own sins to atone, it seemed the proper thing to do to extend that spot to the tribes,” she said. “We’re also dealing with Indigenous people to our state who have suffered numerous broken promises.”

But the monument plan has generated some controversy. Opponents say the toppled monument honoring union soldiers in the Civil War should be restored.

It depicted a Civil War cavalryman, dismounted with rifle in hand, and honored Colorado soldiers who fought and died in the Civil War. The monument was designed by Captain Jack Howland, a member of the First Colorado Cavalry.

It's now displayed at a Denver museum. Lawmakers are likely to vote on replacing it with the Sand Creek monument some time this month.

Scott Franz is an Investigative Reporter with KUNC.
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