The Misplaced Massacre

This is an extremely well produced and detailed work on the Sand Creek Massacre and the process of the National Historic site that opened on April 28, 2007. I have to start out by saying Ari Kelman did a fantastic job in constructing this work. Not only are Kelman’s methods of research well rounded and respectable; his structure, tone and assembly of this book does something most historical works do not. He makes a detailed history, memory and historical site preservation story understandable. Not just enjoyable for scholars with a historical background but just as accessible for anyone interested.

The Sand Creek Massacre took place in the southeastern plains of Colorado in 1864. From the date of the event onward it was riddled with conflicting facts, points of view and figures. Kelman describes these points of view equally and in great detail, beginning with three people directly involved in the event, John Chivington, George Bent, and Silas Soule. Each recorded his own interpretation of the events leading up to and including the massacre, and these competing versions have been partially responsible for creating  longstanding disagreement about what happened how it should be remembered. At the heart of the disagreement are arguments about terminology and context:  was this a massacre or a battle? Was it part of the larger Civil War or the Indian Wars? These and other questions have plagued the memory of Sand Creek with endless controversy. Conflicting collective and individual beliefs made the process of studying, finding, interpreting and opening a National Park site there extremely difficult. The conflict between history and memory made the process both practical and emotional for all involved.

As a class, we are mainly concerned with understanding the roles public historians served during the process the Sand Creek Site interpretation and preservation. The National Park Service undertook a multidisciplinary method of conducting research. The whole project needed political and tribal support. When people like Senator Ben Campbell showed interest, the project took off. Having a tie to the native community, local Colorado communities, as well as political power to get legislation involved, was essential. Campbell and others in the book serve as all examples of how the people involved in this project needed to include the Tribes in the process. Because they had long protected the memory of the massacre as part of tribal and genealogical research, they were reluctant to simply give up control of the story to others who have a different calculation of legitimacy or authority.

The first task was to locate the site of the massacre, and the National Park Service assembled a team to do that. The historians involved looked at very specific questions: What historical evidence was there about the location and shape of Sand Creek at the time of the massacre? What period maps could give information of that location? What is the proximity and path Chivington’s troops took to get to the tribes? Where did the troops camp after the event? Essentially they wanted to know “where, exactly, the violence had unfolded”[1] Of course their process meant that they assumed formal written documents were more valuable and accurate than oral history or other forms of evidence. One historian on the project had prior experiences which made him accepting of “participant testimony” as a way to reconcile conflicts in the sources. National Park Service  staff were held to the highest standards of academic research procedure. Having a staff of historians, aerial photographers, battlefield archeologist, anthropologists and geo-morphologists working at the highest scholarly level and working together is important.[2] I would say throughout this book a success would be the team working together. Having a diverse staff all working towards a common goal such was the case here made the results more reputable and richer.

The two primary public historians that were mentioned were Wegmans-French and Whitacre. Both are experienced in the field. They were given the task of examining the connection between history and place. Also they had to consider what historic preservation would do to the community and landscape. This was a pretty massive task especially when dealing with such a strongly debated place. When Kelman introduced both he spoke of them and their work with passion and pride.[3] Labeling just those two as public historians I do not think is accurate. Many other historians and NPS employees were doing things that can be considered public history work as well. For example, Alexa Roberts and Barbara Sutter were in charge of working along side the descendants. Alexa Roberts has her PhD in Anthropology but throughout this project she was in charge of oral histories. In doing so she was navigating the issues with trust and the sacred memories of the tribal people. Having to get people who were historically misused and abused by the Federal Government to let you into their sacred memories is something public historians deal with. David Halaas was also involved by conducting public history work. Halaas’ involvement with an earlier Sand Creek study became familiar with the tribes and very connected to the massacre. He, throughout the process, would be called upon as a historical voice of authority and trusted intermediary with construction of the site.

Navigating conflicting ideas, emotional and sacred spaces, and making community members happy in this process was something no one could do perfectly. Whether the massacre is told “correctly” or not is not answerable from the book. If anything it just shows how diverse the ways this can or should be seen. I think not taking the word of just the power hungry General Chivington and the account of his men as truth, but digging deeper was NPS biggest success. Using the victims and their descendant’s stories shows just how much parks and historical services have grown. Overall, one quote I think sums up the Sand Creek Massacre NPS site and its formation. “Memorializing the massacre never meant for NPS what it did for the descendants. Again, this was not because the NPS personnel did not act in good faith; they almost always did. Rather, the politics of memory separated them from the tribal respective.”[4] Could public historians have done any more than they did? Did the NPS make the story too much of an American narrative instead of primarily an Indian one? Very informative book that not only answers questions, but also makes the reader wonder if there is anything more or better to be done with such a contested landscape.




Kelman, Ari. A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek. N.p.: Harvard University Press, 2013. Print.

[1] Ari Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek. N.p.: Harvard University Press, 2013. Print, 88.

[2] Ari Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek. N.p.: Harvard University Press, 2013. Print, 72.

[3] Ari Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek. N.p.: Harvard University Press, 2013. Print, 84.

[4] Ari Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek. N.p.: Harvard University Press, 2013. Print, 85.

Edited from Source: The Misplaced Massacre by Jordan Ritchie

A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek by Ari Kelman

A Misplaced Massacre written by Ari Kelman is a beautiful and complicated narrative about narrative that attempts to reconcile at least two histories, the American and the Native American. In the opening chapter, Kelman recounts the story of the Sand Creek Massacre, even though this story is not a central core of the book. The bulk of the book is dedicated to analyzing the process of interpreting the massacre. Almost immediately Kelman informs the readers that political battle between the Native Americans and current government authorities still exists. The re-creation and participation during a Sand Creek memorial service was extremely painful healing process for the Native people because “they are exclusively a people of memory.” (5). To me, I think it is crucial that Kelman stresses on the feeling of the Native Americans emphasizing the fact that although that they worried about innovation, this memorial would help them preserve their cultural practices. But most importantly, this site can tell a story of the massacre from a Native perspective. As such, the site served their interests rather than federal.

He proceeds to recall the violence describing three major characters, John Chivington, Silas Soule, and George Bent.  John Chivington, committed abolitionist, “an enthusiastic perpetrator,” racist who accused the Cheynnes and Arapahos being guilty of countless crimes against his white men and recent settlers. As Kelman writes, Chivington stripped the individuality of the Indians and stated that, “they were of the same tribes with those who had murdered many persons and destroyed much valuable property on the Platte and Arkansas rivers during the previous spring, summer and fall.” (14) Kelman highlights the fact that Chivington was a immutable racist who believed that Indians were all alike: liars, kidnappers, rapists.” (15) A gold seeker, Silas Soule, was a Captain who refused to participate in killings. Quickly enough, he realized the tragedy and suggested that the battle was not a triumph, as Chivington described. George Bent was a son of William bent and Owl Woman, who promised to fight in order to regain their land. Unfortunately, he was captured by Union soldiers and releases only after he swearing to serve the United States’ interests. Although he was badly wounded in the massacre, he survived and wrote a book-length memoir which was only published in 1968.

For Kelman, this story demonstrates that the Civil war was not only a fight to end slavery but also a war for expansion. As such, he tells us that the gathering at the opening ceremony served as a reminder of the abjured Chivington’s Sand Creek story which finally demonstrates that Native Americans and whites found a “way to live in peace without conflict.”(18). Kelman’s story of “battle “and “massacre” tries to tells us that the horrifying events of 1864 could provide a window into the bloody link between the Civil War and the treatment of Indians during the Indians wars. Interestingly, Kelman intends to explain to the general public how history gets made by focusing on the struggle over commemorating the history rather than focusing on the massacre. In fact, politicians of the twentieth century decided to detach themselves from the racialized rhetoric’s that motivated Chivington’s opinion. These politicians called for reconciliation. One of the politicians was a Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell who perfectly knew the story of Soule’s struggles and later, he considered him one of the heroes of the gruesome massacre. Campbell also blamed soldiers suggesting that the killings “had been perpetrated not by federal troops but by ragtag members of the Colorado militia.” (30). It is almost clear that he calls for reconciliation rather than remembrance.

It is important to note, at least what I understood, that the author’s methodology is the content of the story, which makes the book incredibly rich including both, a story and a window into historiography. His sources are interviews and he relies on them heavily, especially the speeches done by the speakers at the opening of the memorial. In fact, it is unusual for him to perform an oral history since he is an academic historian. However, Kelman informs us that the history is missing the descendants of Sand creek’s victims, who knew where the killings happened. This set up the major conflict in creating this memorial: The native tribes were called for help and the federal representatives involved scholars from university to search for the location. Just as we see that the fault lines are clear, Kelman introduces us to Bill Dawson whose vision was that the Sand Creek was a battle ground not a place for out-town visitors to come and pay their respects to the victims of the massacre. Luckily, his perception had slowly changed and curiosity grew toward some folks who would come sit observing the site. But despite the fact that he defended the soldiers under Chivington’s command and insisted that the site was “a battle, ugly perhaps, but nevertheless righteous,” he eventually decided to learn more. Dawson read books and made close ties with Indian people, after which, he came to a conclusion that the massacre did happen.

By looking at the issues that connect and divide academic historians, armchair historians, Cheyenne and Arapahoe descendants, and the federal representatives, the author reveals the impact of the past and the present. Metaphorically speaking, he claims that the massacre had been “misplaced” because of the interpretations of different characters. Kelman traces the steps, obstacles, failures, and small success of the process of creating the Sand Creek Massacre National historical site.  Equally importantly, the demonstrates the process of historical investigation concluding that, “this story is 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.” (279)

The questions that I came up while reading the book: why did Kelman neglect the competing accounts of the victims and survivors? Is Kelman suggesting that we all eventually decide whether accept or not to accept the history presented to us by different people?

I could not find the Republican Party’s response to the creating of the memorial.


Source: Ari Kelman. A Misplaced Massacre Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013.


Slightly Edited from Source: A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek by Ari Kelman by Sudaba Lezgiyeva

The National Park Service and the Role of the National Park

Early national parks seem to have been formed based on the idea “the greatest good for the greatest number” (Mackintosh 20). Western railroad lines also lobbied for national parks as tourist areas that the rail lines could then profit from. That is not to say all business interests were pro-national parks and there was some resistance from parties who would have rather allowed the land to be settled and developed. A bit of an offshoot from the national parks were the national forests where the resources were meant to be managed for future use instead of preserved for posterity. This did not directly satisfy those interested in the economic capability lost by designating areas National Parks, but it does show that they attempted to address their concerns. It also can lead to conflict between National Forests and National Parks that are sometimes made directly out of land that was a National Forest. However,  National Parks were not completely of limits, much to the chagrin of preservationists, as shown by San Francisco building a dam in the Hetch Hetchy valley in Yosemite National park (Macintosh 20). This building in a national park did galvanize preservationists and contributed to the Department of the Interior forming the National Park Service in order to manage the system of national parks. The building of the dam was another conflict between economic interests, the public and conservationists. The National Park Service then devoted itself to making the parks attraction for the public by including camping grounds, hiking paths, hotels, horse riding, winter sports, fishing and other outdoor activities for the public enjoyment. The NPS also set about formalizing the rules for creating a National Park so that all the parks could be help up to the same standards. This eventually led to the NPS taking over the various national battlefields that had been run by the War Department and the military, giving shape to the NPS as we know it now.

The next shift in the National Park Service and the parks it oversaw was Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC did more than just create jobs for a struggling populace; the CCC took people from the inner city and put them to work in National Parks around the country. Many of the CCC camps actually “damaged” the National Park that they were in by changing the landscape around them. While, this is not immediately what one thinks of when talking about conservation it can be argued that these changes were better in the long term. The changes included making roads for addressing forest fires, hiking trails, campgrounds, visitor center etc. (Maher 436-437). The CCC also planted trees to replace those they knocked down, and while the CCC was active 800 new state parks were created (Maher 437).  Overall the work of the CCC increased the accessibility and public value of National and State Parks. The creation of so many new parks and the addition of roads, trials, etc. made Nation Parks available to many more Americans. They provided an outdoor space for families and individuals to visit in order to get away from urban centers and cities; a place to take the kids for an afternoon or weekend and camp out or appreciate nature through the many hiking trails. These green spaces gave urban America a gateway into another version of America where the landscape is largely unchanged from when people first found it, and was a break from the difficulties of the Great Depression and World War II. Ultimately the National Parks allowed for more Americans to have a clean safe space to enjoy nature and get away from their everyday urban lives and troubles.

I think we can all agree that the idea of a National Park has value, and are generally agreeable to the creation of the National Park Service/System and preservation of parts of our country. But as public historians how can we contribute to or mediate the conflict between business/economic interests, preservation, history and the public? Is there a way to make every group happy, or more likely a way to equally upset everyone? Should Public Historian even get involved? Once created should a National Park be off limits to changes and completely preserved, or should reasonable changes for longevity and public value be allowed? What parameters would you use to evaluate an area under consideration for becoming a National Park?  Is the value of National Parks the same today as when the National Park Service was created? Is there something the NPS could do better to serve the public or enhance the value of the parks they oversee?


Mackintosh, Barry. The National Parks: Shaping the System. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1991.

Maher, Neil M. “A New Deal Body Politic: Landscape, Labor, and the Civilian Conservation Corps.” Environmental History 7.3 (2002): 435-61. JSTOR. Web. 02 Oct. 2016.

Source: The National Park Service and the Role of the National Park by Daniel Scotten

National Parks: Shaping the System Through Re-Creation


When the National Park System began in 1916, it hoped to reserve outstanding areas of nature to protect them from future damage (Mackintosh 2005). As the National Park Service (NPS) created a system, it also shaped knowledge about landscape and “conservation.”  The NPS made “beneficial” changes to national parks and monuments to attract others to a seemingly natural location. President Woodrow Wilson may have signed its beginnings with these hopes in mind.  Some changes included additions to landmarks like visitor concessions and landscape remodeling, while other suggested new definitions to the meaning of landmarks as well as new insights to public history.

Over a decade later, director Robert Fletcher helped launch the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) (Maher 2002).  The CCC was created for two main reasons: to improve the US national parks and to promote jobs for unemployed men during the Great Depression. As part of the Emergency Relief Act, President Roosevelt’s administration created the CCC with the hopes that men would return to a status that was lost even before the Depression. Intentionally or not, the men put to work showed significant health improvements as well as body enhancement. Their monthly paycheck encouraged them and promote Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, a bonus for his campaign. The camps held segregated areas to separate men of color and an entirely different camp was reserved for Native Americans on Indian reserves. The CCC, which claimed to not allow discrimination, may have actually practiced it.  Their conservation techniques involved wiping out natural sources in order to replace them with “better” or seemingly natural resources. As amateurs to both the field of conservation as well as environmentalism, enrollees did not realize what they were getting into. They thought to be reshaping nature in order to preserve it, but they may have been doing so only to damage its past and present meaning. What President Roosevelt saw as an emergency relief may have only started the silent fight between government conservation, environmentalism and history. One exemplary CCC project is the Blue Ridge Mountain territory in Shenandoah National Park.

The National Park Service, with the help of the CCC, made the sacrifices needed to Shenandoah Park to re-create its “naturalistic appearance” (Reich, 2001 pg. 106). When NPS collaborator Harlen Kelsley influenced the NPS to remove natural infections, restore missing wildlife, and introduce new wildlife to Shenandoah, he may not have realized the contradictory method of conservation he was using. In fact, he admitted to his act of “free proper use of the axe” as an aid to “nature in its struggle to overcome man’s destructive operations of the past” (104). He felt that Shenandoah was covered with an “entirely different nature from what is originally;” namely, nature. Another obstacle the NPS found at Shenandoah was “human disturbances” (106). In 1934 The NPS had four hundred and sixty five families removed from their dwellings on Blue Ridge Mountain after coming to the realization that “humans are incompatible with mission of national parks”(105). But Shenandoah was one of only tens of famous scenic historic sites that underwent this “re-creation”.

The story of Bluffs National Monument introduces the concept of public memory as a civic right. The story behind the monuments “improvements” such as the addition of automobile roads for visitors to reach its summit and the attraction it subsequently gained reflects the need shared by the locals to own their own “memory” of the site close to them. Though hardly “old settlers,” these town folks felt connected to the Oregon Trail marker that represented western expansion (Barber 2004). They used this area for relaxing recreation with family.  Their love for the monument and their connection to the history drove them to get the monument recognized as a national historic site and eventually lobbied for the “improvements” to make it more attractive. Their actions seem inspiring but possibly conflicting with the meaning of preservation. Can their right justify their efforts to preserve the monument grounds in the way that they did? Who truly has the “right” to decide how these landscapes are to be preserved and how it will be carried out? Does the conflict of Public memory continue within the preservation movements? How should public historians approach a history project without stepping over the lines of so many different memories and personal meanings?

The NPS will continue to “preserve” lands through re-creating instead of maintaining. The idea that National Parks must be attractive to visitors may be the only defense for the National Park System and others who believe re-creation is the answer to landmark preservation.


Mackintosh, Barry. The National Parks: Shaping the System. National Park Service: July, 2005.

Maher, Neil. A New Deal Body Politic: Landscape, Labor and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Forest History Society and American Society for Environmental History: July, 2002.

Reich, Justin. Re-Creating the Wilderness: Shaping Narratives and Landscapes in Shenandoah National Park. Forest History Society and American Society for Environmental History: Jan, 2001.

Barber, Alicia. Local Places, National Spaces: Public Memory, Community Identity and Landscape at Bluff National Monument. Mid-America American Studies Association: 2004.

Source: National Parks: Shaping the System Through Re-Creation by Orah Afrah