Mar 19, 2021 | OPINION | By Julia Chase | Photo by Kate Nixon
Just off campus on the corner of Cascade and Boulder Street, a large boulder stands starkly along the sidewalk, beseeching pedestrians to stop and read the contents on its copper plaque. Erected in 1913, by whom I humbly assume was a group of old white women at the El Paso County Pioneer Association, this plaque commemorates the murder of three young boys in 1868 by Arapaho Indians.
The plaque describes “the last massacre, in the Pikes Peak region, of whites by Indians.” It continues to testify that the boys were “killed and scalped,” a comical attempt by its creators to justify the questionably conspicuous presence of the plaque on the pedestrian walkway.
If you walked along the sidewalk and happened to stop and observe the plaque, then you might walk away with a momentary feeling of sorrow for the young boys. But if you are at least intermediately aware of the reality of pioneer-Native relations during the nineteenth century, you may walk away with a tinge of skepticism or perhaps even downright laughter.
Directly next to the boulder ought to be another plaque commemorating the slaughter and mutilation of 500 Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians in southeastern Colorado, mostly women and children, by a 675-man Army Force in 1864.
Just four years before the alleged murder of the boys in Colorado Springs, the Sand Creek Massacre could have provoked a brutal retaliation, but to disregard this historical context is an act of egotistical cowardice and a blatant disregard for historical integrity.
Historian Celinda Kaelin, adjunct professor at Colorado College, author of “American Indians of the Pikes Peak Region,” and president of the Pikes Peak Historical Society, said that “if we’re honoring the dead, I think we need to be egalitarian,” adding that, in successfully depicting the Indians as violent barbarians, the plaque’s creators failed to acknowledge the babies cut from their mother’s wombs in Sand Creek just four years prior.
With both figurative and literal pushes to remove Confederate statues recently, my recent examination of this plaque was timely, and yet it left me wondering if there have been any efforts to have the boulder removed. If there have been actions taken to remove the plaque, Google failed to reveal them.
According to an April 2020 study, Confederate monuments are more likely to be removed in localities that have a large Black and democratic population. So, where are the Arapaho and Cheyenne peoples, and why aren’t they advocating for historical representation and justice? Urbanization in the Front Range was unsurprisingly made possible via colonization and the displacement of Indigenous peoples, including the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes.
The plaque for me is a stark reminder that I live on colonized land. The original inhabitants of what is now Colorado included the Apache nation, the Arapahoe nation, the Cheyenne nation, the Pueblo tribes, the Shoshone tribe, and the Ute Nation. Other tribes whose territory sometimes extended into Colorado included the Comanche, the Kiowa, and the Navajo.
The famously glorious Pikes Peak that we admire each day was and still is referred to by the Colorado Mountain Ute as Tava, meaning “Sun Mountain.” The Ute themselves identified as the Tabeguache, meaning “People of the Sun Mountain.” The Arapaho people named the mountain Heey-otoyoo, meaning “the Long Mountain.”
It was not until 1859 that newspapers during the Colorado’s gold rush coined the term Pikes Peak, a term that represents the region’s colonized reality and relentless attempts to erase the physical and cultural presence of Indigenous peoples in the Front Range.
I am not claiming that the plaque just off campus is historically inaccurate or that the event that it commemorates never occurred. The Pikes Peak Pioneers Association was created to “promote the memory of the pioneers of the region,” so their motivations for constructing the boulder are unsurprising albeit one-sided.
I’m simply arguing that if a complete representation of the region’s history and native-pioneer relations are to be acknowledged and pursued, another group ought to propose for a much larger boulder with a much larger plaque directly adjacent to the aforementioned one that commemorates the Sand Creek Massacre, perhaps with its size comparatively proportional to the lives lost.