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A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Kelman's book starts by recounting the story of the Sand Creek Massacre. He introduces us to three characters: John Chivington, committed abolitionist, Union colonel, and inveterately racist Indian hater, led the attack and devoted himself to defending (and exaggerating) it in newspapers and official statements for years afterwards. Captain Silas Soule, gold seeker and mama’s boy, refused to participate in it or order his men to, and blew the whistle afterwards, leading to the investigation and condemnation of Chivington’s actions. George Bent, the son of a federal Indian agent and a Cheyenne woman, was a Confederate volunteer, captured by Union soldiers and released, who went to live with his mother’s people to protect himself from anti-Confederate sentiment in Colorado; he was wounded in the massacre, but survived and published his story in a six-part series almost forty years later. Sand Creek is an important part of United States history, though one that most Americans know little, if anything, about. In late November 1864, towards the end of the Civil War, Chivington led two Colorado regiments to a site near Fort Lyon, where a peaceful group of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians had been promised protection by the U.S. Military. Chivington’s troops proceeded to decimate the encamped Cheyenne and Arapaho in a massacre that fueled the subsequent Indian Wars throughout the American West and, fascinatingly, demonstrates that the U.S. Civil War was both a war against slavery and, less nobly, a war of westward expansion. It freed the slaves, but it also opened the door to the near-destruction of the Plains Indians. This is a timely story, and a profound one. But Kelman is not merely adding to our current fascination with the Civil War. He is also, and even more importantly, explaining to the educated general public how history gets made. That process is the book’s true subject, and accordingly, after this first chapter, we leave the massacre itself behind and focus instead on the real meat of the book: the 20th- and 21st-century struggle over commemorating it. The negotations involved in establishing the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site are themselves fascinating, involving a fair bit of situational humor, a cast of compelling characters almost big enough to warrant a Russian novel-style reference list, a genuinely engaging set of theoretical and ideological problems, and real emotion. I found myself tearing up as the book’s closing pages described the internment of the massacre victims’ remains. Kelman’s methodology is his content, which makes the book interesting both as a story and as a window into historiography. He relies heavily on interviews, which is both unusual for an academic historian and eminently appropriate to the subject. It also gives the book both dramatic thrust and a its humor: again and again, some hurdle gets in the way of history, is overcome with a great deal of diplomacy and difficulty, and then some new character rises up with some new agenda that needs addressing. Highly recommended.