Beyond Sand Creek Documentary

“The Covered Wagon Redux” is a different project for Boulder Community Media (BCM). It was originally a part of a much larger project but was stalled during the COVID-19 pandemic. The documentary “Beyond Sand Creek” was completed. When “The Covered Wagon” premiered in 1923, before the curtain went up, producers Ed Farlow and Tim McCoy gave a presentation featuring members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe who appeared as extras in the movie. “The Covered Wagon Redux” is a collaboration with the Boulder Symphony that will perform an original culturally appropriate soundtrack featuring the Northern Arapaho Eagle Drum and Singers.

We are accepting donations through a facebook fundraiser that runs through the end of December. After that, you can contribute through PayPal.

Here is the preview of that component of the project. Click on the link to watch the latest cut of “Beyond Sand Creek.” This is the documentary that will screen before “The Covered Wagon Redux.” You can watch the preview.

The Eagle Drum and Singers from Arapahoe, Wyoming. Watch the latest cut of “Beyond Sand Creek.”

Here’s the “Beyond Sand Creek” shooting script

By: Alan O’Hashi

Sun over Arapaho Ranch, Arapaho activities, Indian taco, front of Boulder High School, Indigenous People’s Day Grand Entry.

Alan walking down the road. Intercut powwow images

“People seeing the beauty of this valley will want to stay, and their staying will be the undoing of the beauty.”

According to local folklore, that quote is attributed to Arapaho Chief Niwot.

It is true that Niwot peacefully asked a group of miners to abide by the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty and look elsewhere for gold so as to protect the Arapaho winter camp in what is now the Boulder Valley of Colorado.

His request fell on deaf ears.

What if contemporary Arapaho tribal elders who listened to stories from their ancestors about the Sand Creek Massacre, were able to renew their cultural identities by returning to their homelands in Colorado?

Over three years and continuing into the Corona Virus 19 pandemic I’ve visited with Southern and Northern Arapaho tribal members. We’ve met in person and on ZOOM.

Elvin Kenrick, Eugene Ridgely, Wayne C’Hair, Billie Sutton

My interest in this story goes back to my past life when I worked for the Northern Arapaho Tribe on the Wind River Indian Reservation in west central Wyoming.

The friendships I made 30 years ago continue today. My past and present lives serendipitously collided in 2018 prior to an Indigenous People’s Day celebration.

I was contacted by a Boulder, Colorado-based nonprofit organization.

Discrimination toward indigenous tribes has been happening for parts of five centuries or more.

Tribal populations were decimated when pioneers took the land on which tribes resided and subsisted upon without any notion of ownership by anyone.

The Arapaho and other nomadic tribes roamed the Great Plains following herds of bison.

Settlers seeking new lives drove the tribes from their traditional home lands to reservations where the United States military tried to strip tribal members of their language and culture.

Racial discrimination and negative stereotyping are the legacies of western expansion.

“Beyond Sand Creek” is about how the Arapaho are renewing their way of life by teaching their children the Arapaho language, and the tribal culture. Emphasizing past tribal presence within non-tribal communities will undo racism toward indigenous people.

Tribal elders link those efforts with repatriation of their traditional homeland that will result in a cultural pipeline from Wyoming through Colorado to Oklahoma.

An example of this, Arapaho Language and Culture Commission member Wayne C’Hair presented a short class on the Arapaho language at an Indigenous Peoples Day workshop.

Tribes have been in conflict with European settlers from the moment the intruders set foot on what is now American soil since, I’ll say 1492.

Wayne’s brother William is current chairman of the Commission. I spoke with him about this at a commission meeting in Arapahoe, Wyoming.

Fast forward to the Transcontinental railroad that was completed in 1869. The railroad made it easier for settlers to travel west.

The U.S. Army protected the settlers and railroads from tribes protecting their homelands and their way of life following the bison herds that were nearly exterminated by bounty hunters.

Many railroad rights of way are abandoned. Right Relationship Boulder and the Arapaho are working with the Boulder County government to incorporate a tribal presence within the track bed.

Interpretive signage presented with history and information in the Arapaho language would follow a route that extends from a ghost town called Valmont to Erie just east of Boulder.

Such efforts are small steps that help undo discrimination toward Native Americans, but it’s an ongoing struggle.

The news and popular media have portrayed negative images of tribal members for centuries. There are countless examples.

I came across a 1923 silent movie called “The Covered Wagon” that was considered to be an epic back in its day.

The story is a stereotypical “cowboys and Indians” movie, but what’s unique and relevant to the Arapaho story, director James Cruze wanted to depict the realities of the period.

The storyline perpetuates the tribal stereotypes that he ironically wanted to avoid.

But rather than hiring dark skinned Latino, Filipino or White actors in makeup, Cruze opted to hire actual Native Americans as extras for his film.

Cruze chose a fellow named Ed Farlow from Lander, Wyoming who had a good relationship with the Wind River Indian Reservation tribes.

Farlow enlisted future cowboy actor Tim McCoy to recruit a few hundred Native Americans to be in the movie, who ended up to be mostly members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe.

McCoy and Farlow traveled with their actors to Utah for the production.

Farlow and McCoy paid their background actors the same rate as white actors.

In addition, to tribal member extras Cruze hired hundreds of covered wagons at the rate of $2 per day to be in the movie.

Wagon owner families were also played parts in the film.

The production included a huge herd of bison in a stampede scene.

During the movie filming, seven bison were killed.

“The Covered Wagon” glorified Native American stereotypes as savages.

Because of long-held cultural cues spanning more than 500 years, discrimination toward indigenous people continues today.

Devin Oldman is the former Northern Arapaho Historic Preservation Officer.

Eugene Ridgely is a language and culture instructor at St. Stephen’s School in Arapahoe, Wyoming.

Based on their past experiences, Arapaho elders still prepare the next generation by explaining how they may be treated by the dominant culture.

Gary Collins was chair of the Northern Arapaho Business Council and tribal liaison to the state of Wyoming.

In  1956, the U.S. Congress established a new policy towards Native Americans that eliminated government support for tribes and ended the trust status of tribal lands.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs began a voluntary urban relocation program. This was yet another step toward stripping tribal members of their identity.

Hand in hand with defunding the reservations, Tribal members could move from their rural homes to new ones in big cities like Chicago.

The BIA produced recruitment films that painted a rosy picture of city life. The realities of urban relocation weren’t always as rosy.

The BIA pledged assistance with locating housing and employment. Numerous American Indians made the move to cities but struggled to adjust to city life.

While there were tribal members who successfully adapted to city life, others faced unemployment from low-end jobs, discrimination, and the loss the traditional cultural support.

When BIA urban relocation efforts started, nearly eight percent of Native Americans lived in cities. According to the 2000 Census, that number had risen to over sixty percent.

Those policies ended in 1975 but their negative effects continue among some urban tribal members.

Arapaho people maintain tribal ceremonies like sweat lodges that undo intentional cultural disruptions.

The Arapaho cultural conduit would locate places for ceremonies on repatriated homeland.

New beginnings for a culture that straddles two world views start with young people such as this bison ceremony that took place on the Wind River Reservation.

Right Relationship Boulder is working as the community liaison between the Boulder Valley School District to connect Arapaho Elders to the classroom.

Kyle Eddington, Sofia Greenwald, Cecelia Chigo

The results of this ongoing relationship filter down to the community at large to undo negative stereotyping and replacing those with stories about how tribal members live today.

Reversing negative stereotypes is a daunting task that begins with students.

Arapaho tribal cultural programs are collaborating with Right Relationship Boulder to establish a language and culture camp that complements other tribal efforts such as the Arapaho Safari, and Arapaho virtual reality storytelling.

Southern Arapaho legislator and cultural advocate, Billie Sutton, says that preservation of the Arapaho language is important to maintaining cultural traditions.

Teresa His Chase works through Right Relationship Boulder and connects the Northern Arapaho elders with the Boulder Valley Community.

The Arapaho tribes are reestablishing their cultural presence in their traditional homelands and building partnerships with local governments to return the land back to the tribes.[PP1]  

Former Boulder Mayor was optimistic. Elected tribal and city leadership change every two years. Maintaining continuity is an institutional barrier.

Regardless, Right Relationship Boulder is facilitating these efforts to repatriate land back to the tribes.

In the fall of 1858, a party of gold prospectors led by Captain Thomas Aikins trekked 30 miles from Ft. St. Vrain on the way to Nederland seeking precious metal ore.     

The fort was a place where tribal members could barter their bison hides for supplies.

Two businessmen Charles Bent and Ceran St. Vrain formed the Bent, St. Vrain & Company when they built the outpost at the confluence of the South Platte River and a tributary now called St. Vrain Creek in 1830.

The Aikens party pitched a camp on Boulder Creek near a rock formation.

Chief Niwot and his closest braves, galloped down to greet them when he asked them to leave.

Niwot threatened war, but the gold miners and stood firm.

There continued to be tension, but Niwot relented thinking that coexisting [PP2] with the settlers was the only solution that would result in the Boulder Valley remaining undisturbed.

Movies like “The “Covered Wagon” romanticize settlers traveling west with stops at military outposts like Fort St. Vrain and the U.S. Army providing protection along the way.

Shortly thereafter, though, pioneers provoked the Arapaho, who responded in kind so as to protect their dwindling territory.

The Territorial government took steps to address the conflicts among settlers and the Arapaho.

The towns people feared attacks by the tribes and built an earthen fort, later known as Fort Chambers, east of Boulder.

One pioneer was David Nichols. He came to the Boulder gold mining boomtown in 1859 and set up shop as a blacksmith.

His granddaughter, Lora Webb, later recounted that her grandfather held racist views toward Native Americans, which may have been his motivation to become Boulder County Sheriff in 1863.

Nichols later resigned to accept a captain’s commission with Company D of the Third Colorado Volunteer Cavalry.

Territorial Governor John Evans formed the Colorado Third in 1864 to punish the tribes viewed as hostile and force them out of the Colorado Territory.

In 1864, Cheyenne Chief One Eye negotiated a truce among the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and the U.S. government. According to the agreement, tribal members would be guaranteed safe winter camping along the nearby Sand Creek.

One Eye had a daughter called Amache. The Camp Amache World War II Relocation camp was named after her.

She married a Colorado cattleman named John Prowers. He is credited with bringing the first Hereford cattle into the Colorado Territory.

Despite the pact, on November 29, 1864, around 750 members of the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes, in compliance with U.S. Army agreement, were peacefully encamped along Sand Creek.

Even though tribal members waved the American flag and raised white flags, the camp was surprise attacked by the Colorado Third under the command of Colonel John Chivington.

Soldiers stormed onto the Prowers ranch and held Prowers and Amache hostage.

After the attack, more than 150 tribal members were killed and mutilated, including Chief One Eye.

There were 650 troops that included the 100 volunteers of Company D trained at Fort Chambers under the command of Captain Nichols.

The fort was located on the outskirts of Boulder and very near to where Chief Niwot confronted the original party of miners heading to Nederland six years before.

The ambush is known as the Sand Creek Massacre.

The original site of Fort Chambers, now known as the Poor Farm located on 61st Street, is a part of the city of Boulder parks and open space program.

The back story doesn’t end there. David Nichols now a war hero, went on to be elected to the Territorial Legislature.

Nichols was named Speaker of the House where he was successful in getting the legislature to locate the University of Colorado in Boulder in 1875. Colorado became the Centennial State in 1876.

David Nichols and his wife Elizabeth had two sons, Ezra and Horace. Horace married and had a daughter born in Boulder named Lora, after the middle four letters of Colorado. Her middle name was Webb.

Horace moved his family to a ranch near Encampment in south-central Wyoming. Lora Webb worked for the local newspaper and became a well-known regional photographer.

Lora Webb Nichols kept a detailed diary that provides insight about her grandfather’s perspective about Native Americans.

She writes, “Grandfather fought four battles with the Indians one of them being that of Sand Creek which will be remembered as the most sanguinary engagement.

“Many a time I heard my grandfather say emphatically, ‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian.’

“His experiences with the noble Red Man very understandably prejudiced him against them.

“Although I have often heard him say when visiting with his cronies, considering the treatment the Indians received from the white men, it is no wonder they show no mercy.

“I do not like to remember the anecdotes they told, about the Indian atrocities which were too awful to bear contemplation.”

Lora Webb Nichols separated from her grandfather’s experiences and prejudice toward Native Americans. She turned her creative pursuits to photography.

Her future husband gave her a camera when she was 16. She didn’t look back.

Arapaho elders are connecting tribal youth with their language and culture while integrating those efforts with their traditional land base.

After a multi-tribal consultation, the Boulder City Council in 2021 changed the name to Peoples’ Crossing.

Elvin Kenrick is a southern Arapaho chief. He thinks that gaining access to land is key to improving relations with the Boulder Valley.

Fort Chambers is no longer standing, but its memory is still alive.

The Arapaho partnered with Right Relationship Boulder to help collaborate with local government and other landowners with the hope of returning land back to the Arapaho.

Little did anyone realize how Fort Chambers and the Sand Creek Massacre would later be tied to the Arapaho return to their homeland.

After several investigations into the massacre, the military siege was admonished and resulted in the Treaty of the Little Arkansas in 1865.

That agreement was soon reneged upon. The U.S. government took back 90 percent of the reservation land.

In the aftermath of the Sand Creek Massacre, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal refugees were scattered from their traditional homelands to other reservations.

The Southern bands of Arapaho and Cheyenne were pushed to Concho, Oklahoma.

The Northern Cheyenne ended up in Lamedeer, Montana, and the Northern Arapaho on the Wind River Reservation that they share with the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.

After the tribes were split, the route taken from Colorado by the Arapaho and Cheyenne is now known as the Sand Creek Massacre Trail.

Regardless, the Southern and Northern Arapaho are still culturally bound together by language and religious ceremonies like the sun dance, with frequent travel, mostly by the Southern Arapaho who transport themselves to and from Wyoming. 

What if there was a place for the Arapaho to meet midway in Colorado?

Over the past couple decades, there have been some cultural activities in Boulder as attempts to forge stronger relations between the Arapaho and the Boulder Valley.

The affected tribes, because of their traditional presence in the Boulder Valley are working with and local governments to write a management plan about the Fort Chambers site including how the land could be repatriated.

According to Gary Collins, the massive reservation land base with abundant water is an important resource that adds to a stable economy.

That strength can bolster efforts to foster stronger relationships in Colorado.

Some tribal members believe that anything short of giving the land back is nothing more than a well intended gesture.

Others think that land ceded back with conditions is a good step forward.

There are traditional Arapaho stories about Arapaho returning to Colorado

Wayne, Elvin, Iggy John,

Moving Beyond Sand Creek hasn’t been easy, but the strong community partnership with Right Relationship Boulder facilitating the ongoing effort, means the Arapaho return will be sooner than later.