Last weekend, I made my eighth pilgrimage to the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.
On my way there this time, I listened to Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery by Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah and counted the roadkill and wildlife I saw along I-70, Highway 287 and State Highway 96. (If you’re a person of faith, I highly recommend Unsettling Truths and Mark Charles’s regular life practice of watching the sunrise).
- 1 antelope on the median side
- 1 deer on the shoulder
- 1 bird, species unidentifiable
- Five herds of pronghorn antelope
- One red fox
- More than a dozen herds of cattle
- Half a dozen horses
My favorite part of the drive there was the low-lying, purple prairie flowers that periodically dotted both sides of the road.
This year, I checked out the new National Park Service Sand Creek Visitor Center, now located in downtown Eads, Colo., but they haven’t yet opened its research center to the public. (Can’t wait until they do!) They had relocated their old displays from their old Highway 287 location to the upstairs of the new location, while they’re having new displays made. I noticed they were old because some of the statistics listed on the displays didn’t reflect the most current consensus and research on the massacre.
After browsing for a while at the visitor center, I spent some time at the Eads Public Library, where a very hospitable librarian found me a place to charge my phone and computer, and then I had chicken fried steak at a local restaurant.
At the NPS site itself, everything was sooooo green. It’s normally less so, but this year, I guess because of all the rain we’d gotten this spring, it was almost emerald green. It was also cool and windy for most of the day with thunderstorms forecast for the afternoon.
This year, I saw an oriole right after pulling into the lower parking lot.
(Last year, an owl flew right across my windshield as I approached the site.) The contrast between its orange feathers and the green landscape almost burned my eyes. In a good way.
I was grateful this year to share my pilgrimage with four close friends who traveled to Sand Creek in two cars. All first-timers, but a small group because of COVID and still-in-place park restrictions on social distancing and such. We spent most of the day exploring, discussing, walking, listening and just being present in that sacred place. I don’t know that I can put into words what it feels like to be there, to remember and to bear witness.
I’m encouraged by the growing awareness of the story of Sand Creek and of Colorado’s history of displacement and gross mistreatment of Native peoples. I just know I can no longer ignore the past and how the past has contributed to our present moment. As Georges Erasmus of the Dene Nation in Canada has said,
Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.