The Letter and the Leaders

Cheyenne and Arapaho Chiefs at the Camp Weld Conference Image Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Cheyenne and Arapaho Chiefs at the Camp Weld Conference
Image Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

This article is part of a series by the National Park Service concerning the 150th Anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre.

On June 27, 1864, Colorado Territorial Governor John Evans offered an opportunity for a ceasefire in the ongoing conflict with Plains Indians. He directed “friendly Indians [to] keep away from those who are at war, and go to places of safety”. In response, Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle sent a letter which reached Major Wynkoop on September 6, writing, “All came to the conclusion to make peace with you… We have seven prisoners of yours which we are willing to give up.”

The mention of prisoners convinced Wynkoop to act.  Departing Fort Lyon with 130 men, the Major found thousands of Cheyenne, Sioux and Arapaho near the Smoky Hill River.  An apprehensive Wynkoop put his trust in Black Kettle.  Negotiating release of four prisoners, Wynkoop noted, “I have the principal chiefs… with me, and propose starting immediately to Denver City.”

Wynkoop and the delegation arrived at Camp Weld outside of Denver in late September.  Governor Evans begrudgingly agreed to meet the chiefs, stating, “So far as making a treaty now is concerned, we are in no condition to do it… My soldiers are preparing for the fight.” By contrast, Black Kettle was conciliatory, saying, “We have come with our eyes shut… like coming through the fire.  All we ask is that we have peace…”

The Camp Weld Council is one of the most important events preceding the Sand Creek Massacre. The meeting played a role in the removal of Wynkoop from command at Fort Lyon and the selection of the Sand Creek camp by many Cheyenne and Arapaho as they awaited news of peace.

To find out more about the Sand Creek Massacre and its repercussions, go to or visit the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site outside of Eads, Colorado.


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