Monday, March 28, 2016

BvS: Dawn of Justice - the comic book movie we deserve

In my previous post, I talked about how great it is to be a comic book fan right now. Part of the reasons was that comic book characters and stories have gone mainstream in media. That means we don't have to read 4 color, paper copy anymore (that is just frosting!). Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is one example of how mainstream comic characters have become. And it is a testimony to what culture has done to comics.

For those uninterested in my long analysis of the movie, allow me to summarize my feelings about it.
Dislikes -
1. It is too dark. I am not talking about tone. I am talking about cinematography. 
2. I don't care how much Zack Snyder defends the "manslaughter over murder" deaths in the movie, I didn't care for it
3. This is not like a Marvel movie.
4. This is not a DC movie.
5. Not another Batman origin. PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!
6. Perry White.

Likes -
1. This movie did not hold my hand as a comic book fan. This was not a, "Hey, lets make sure the audience knows every little thing that led up to this story arc" kind of movie.
2. This was an epic crossover comic story arc.
3. This movie speaks to some very clear cultural shifts.
4. Wonder Woman.
5. This was a serious treatment of Frank Miller's Batman.
6. This movie reflects what comic book readers have allowed to happen.

Okay, here is the in-depth review:
Dislikes -
1. It is too dark.
The entire movie was cloaked in shadows and clouds. The tones were all muted and drab. The few times (very few) when Superman's blue and red were allowed out to play, it was brief and undeniably "stained" by the dark tones.

First, the quality issue bugs me. This may seem like a nit-picky thing (I do pick many a nit during my moving going experiences), but not all theaters are created equal. We have all seen poorly shot home videos where you can barely see the faces or the action. When a movie is so dark that details are absent, especially when my home television can render them so much better, the movie going experience suffers as a whole. I would rather see movies on my television than pay for a muddy movie. I am lucky that it costs me less than $10 to see a movie. If I had to pay the crazy prices some people have to pay in order to watch a film where a lot of dark shapes moved across a less dark background, I would be contacting the company for a refund.

Second, the tones should not have to tell the story. Yeah, Batman is the Dark Knight. Yeah, this movie is dark in theme. But try to find a blue sky or a color that doesn't register heavy on the saturation levels. I am not saying we should step back into the Schumacher/Clooney days of day-glow colors or the campiness of the 60's. Batman should be brooding and have some element of sinister to him. His rogue's gallery is full of homicidal maniacs and gang types who care little for the violence they spread. But his character should not so heavily influence the story telling that they can't pay for lighting. Nor should the overall story require the viewer to sit through a swampy morass of shadows.

2. Killer heroes.
I get that this is based on Frank Miller's iconic Dark Knight Returns where Batman is shown wearing the weight of the life he has led. I don't, however, understand the carnage implied by the violence of the Bat. And whether or not Superman has a "no killing policy" in the comic books, each death would weigh upon him. There is only one scene where the death of people around him seems to dent his emotions of steel.

We are living in a violent period. We all know that people die every day. Some die because of the life choices they make. Some die because another person made a life choice. Still others die because we live in a reality where human bodies succumb to the frailties inherent with our flesh and blood. But we want our heroes to rise above that. We want our heroes to save people, not be the instruments of their death. We want to see that good can overcome the harsh reality we live out daily. Call it escapism. Call it fantasy. It is what we want as human beings. We find a book or a movie that offers us just a little bit of relief from what is rolling over us. (I have more to say later.)

This movie offers us a Batman who has broken one of his primary character traits: no killing. This year we have had Deadpool and a really good version of Punisher. Both of those characters are brutal. Batman started in comics without regard for life or death. But he became known for his position against killing. It was woven into the character as a way to separate him from the criminal element he routinely encountered.

Superman, on the other hand, has been identified as the "Boy Scout". He has stood for the high road for decades. Clark Kent was taught that his powers could easily go to far. And he is careful about remembering that his actions have enormous consequence. The deaths for which Superman is credited in this movie do not seem to weigh on him. He doesn't take responsibility for his action. Instead, he escapes responsibility. He mulls, broods, and goes walk about. When he and Lois have their heart to heart on the balcony, it would have been reasonable to assume that he was launching himself into space to never return (see Superman Returns...)

Batman and Superman are both heroes grounded in a life ethic. This movie takes them into a place that it truly should not have gone.

3. This is not a Marvel movie.
I think this is a fair criticism. Movie goers who have dipped into the comic book stream are well accustomed to the Mighty Marvel way of doing flicks. They have done cinema longer and better. There is humor to lighten the down time or to bolster us for the hard times. There is a message of hope throughout. 

4. This is not a DC movie. I mentioned in my previous post that DC is best known for larger than life characters. This movie did everything it could to drag Superman and Batman down to the worst levels of human examples.

5. Not another Batman origin. PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!
Everyone has to tell the story. In every Batman movie there has to be some reference to THE event that shapes Bruce Wayne into becoming the Batman. And every director/writer has to tell it their own way. We get it. A horrible act of violence changed the course of the child Bruce Wayne so that he has to become a force for good in Gotham. We do not need you (the next person to tell the story) to show us the event again. Even in the comics, the scene of young Bruce kneeling by the bodies of his parents serves as icon enough to remind everyone on Earth about what happened to him.

And if you are going to show the origin story, remember that the origin story also shapes Batman as being against killing.

6. Perry White.
Really!?!? You take Laurence Fishburne, a fabulous dramatic actor, and boil him down to a headline spouting, budget expenditure crushing, life sucking presence? The old guy that was in the Wayne building at the beginning of the movie had more screen presence than Perry White. 

Likes - I really did like this movie. The dislikes that I hold with regard to it do not overshadow the fact that I thought it was better than the last two Superman movies.

1. This movie did not hold my hand as a comic book fan.
This was not a, "Hey, lets make sure the audience knows every little thing that led up to this story arc" kind of movie. There are many fans of fiction who complain that authors have to lead you into the setting, the characters, the events. If you have ever picked up a comic book then you know that, unless you have read them regularly and religiously, you are not going to have the writer tell you the whole story of what is going on in that issue. That comic will tell you what is happening only in the context of those events. I have picked up hundreds (maybe thousands) of comic books over the years. I did not ever once pick one up and think, "I sure hope they tell me exactly how this character got in this situation."

I sat down in the theater and within just a few moments, the writer/director allowed me to make the connections I wanted to make. Hey, Bruce Wayne was in Gotham the day that Superman fought Zod. Hey, it is possible that Ben Affleck's Bruce/Batman is closely related to Christian Bale's Bruce/Batman. Hey, this is a different take on Lex Luthor than we have seen before. I felt like I was sitting down with a comic book that I haven't followed regularly, but had seen some previous issues.

Did I have questions? Sure. Did I have gripes? Yep. But it was a comic book experience. And as a fan of the medium, I appreciated it.

2. This was an epic crossover comic story arc.
Not all comic books can tell a story in one issue. The crossover story arc became a "thing" in the '80's; my era of comic reading. I have read a few over my years. And this movie came across like a crossover story arc. It was telling two (or more) stories. There was the Superman story that was left over from Man of Steel. There was the Batman story that is the Frank Miller-esque story. There was the Lois Lane story that was dealing with the intrigue. There was also the Batman detective story of trying to track down the "White Portuguese". And Lex Luthor had his own story.

Some people felt that this made the movie disjointed. There were too many story threads so the overall story was weak. Which is valid if you are watching a movie. But if you are watching a comic book, you begin to see that this is not a single issue. Nor is it a single story arc within one book. This is different books telling their own story but with facets that overlap.
3. This movie speaks to some very clear cultural shifts.
If you can go to a movie for the sheer pleasure of watching a movie, I am truly happy for you. As some of my current church members have reminded me over and over, I can't just watch a movie. There are only two movies that I watch for the sheer pleasure of watching them: One Crazy Summer and The Princess Bride (also anything by Mel Brooks, but that is mostly because he taps into the 12 year old boy in me).

Watching Batman v. Superman, I realize that this movie nailed a couple of cultural shifts we are experiencing in our American life at this time. Police violence and disestablishment of religious ideologies. I don't know if these were intentional or even subconscious themes, but as a movie goer and as a cultural observer and a news surveyor, I see both of these sticking out like banners waving in the dark skies of Gotham and Metropolis.

Regarding the first: what are the closest things we have to superheroes who protect us? Police officers. And in the last few years, violence by police officers has moved into the front of everyone's reaction toward law enforcement. Think about the protests against officers and how the theme of "excessive force" has dominated the news. I am not making a judgment call on this. I am just pointing out that if there is an allegory to be seen here, we cannot miss the connection between heroes using extreme violence and the media/cultural attention given to police officers using force.

Regarding the second: Lex Luthor stands in for the voice saying, "God should die." Whether it is extremism being denounced or establishment religion being criticized, there is a cultural shift that seems to be pointing to a corner of the shared life and telling religion, "Go over there and sit, out of the way." The identifying of Superman as God/god and Luthor's supremacy of knowledge over him hits right in the domain of the science religion movement that is gaining a growing voice. Again, I am not making a judgment call on this, just observing.

4. Wonder Woman.
I am totally pumped to see the Wonder Woman movie next year. Gal Gadot did a fantastic job of taking a character whose last screen presence involved Lynda Carter in the '70's and bringing her into a new generation. She also hints at the possibility of taking a character who has been shortchanged for decades and making her a strong character equal in strength to Superman and wisdom to Batman.

Only thing I didn't care for was her theme music.

5. This was a serious treatment of Frank Miller's Batman.
Disclaimer and shame: I have never read Miller's Batman. But from what I know about it, Affleck and Snyder brought that characterization to the screen in a reasonable way. They didn't shy away from the less tasteful qualities of the character. They didn't hide that it was not the Batman we all know and love. It is a grittier examination of him and that came across clearly. We may not like it but it was a fair treatment of the source material.

6. This movie reflects what comic book readers have allowed to happen.
I think this may be a dislike but I put it here because it is honestly something I believe to be true about the movie. Comic books are not like they used to be. My grandparents' generation discovered comic book heroes that are nothing like what my kids' generation discovers. They don't always have happy, the good guy always wins endings. The bad guys have gotten worse. The good guys aren't always good. And the only way to account for that shift is because comic book readers bought the books that went that direction. Movies tap into the demographics. Deadpool brought in buckets of money, yet I was embarrassed at the number of parents who brought children under 10 into the that movie.  I walked out of Batman v. Superman thinking, that was not a fun movie. But I was also still processing the Brussels attack. I would read afterwards of the bombing of an amusement park in Pakistan directly targeting Christians celebrating Easter where children were the intended collateral damage. And as I watched the movie, September 11, 2001 was constantly in the front of my consciousness.

I was reading comics when the anti-hero movement began. It wasn't long after that I took a break from reading them. The anti-hero movement in comics was the development of characters like the Punisher, Miller's Batman, Wolverine/Lobo. These were heroes who muddied the lines between heroic and psychotic. One of my favorite characters, Moon Knight, eventually went and had a full psychotic break in the comics. It got harder to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. And maybe, as we watch the news, comic books fans recognize that we don't live in the 4-color kind of comic world. We can't have the happy endings.

We deserved this movie. It wasn't fun. It wasn't easy to watch. It didn't allow us to escape. It put our reality in front of us and told our favorite heroes, "Hey, why don't you deal with OUR world for a change."

Monday, March 21, 2016

I love being a comic book fan right now!

I have loved comic books for most of my life. Andrew and I were talking about how long I have read comic books. I started trying to put a date to when I started reading and collecting. My best guess puts me starting to fall into love with comic books somewhere around 1977 or 78. That means that I started with comic books when I was 6 or 7 years old. I would have been barely able to read them at that point.

Some of my earliest comic book memories includes a mix of DC and Marvel. I remember reading Superboy really early. I also remember the treasury edition of Star Wars that was released with the movie by Marvel and Whitman. I still have a beat up copy of The Defenders #28 (featuring the ORIGINAL Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr. Strange, and the Hulk) and a slightly less destroyed copy of Daredevil #142. I have remnants of other comics from around that time period. I also have memory of my first subscriptions: Dazzler and Star Wars. Those were around 1981. I have loved comic books for a long time.

It is really a great time to be a lover of comic books right now. It isn't something I have ever been ashamed of. Collecting is something that I have had to retire from, though. I found having a family and providing for them came into conflict with regular comic book purchasing. But I still love them.

It is a great time for comic book lovers because they have become mainstream. There was a time when comic book heroes were an every day feature. Daily comic strips featured some of the big, and small, name comic heroes. Superman and Spider-Man both had daily runs for decades. But even when they were in the newspaper, the characters were not mainstream - ie, they didn't make money. Now, with the release of Batman Vs. Superman this weekend, there are people who know the characters and even some of their qualities that make them interesting.

For me, Marvel Comics have been my staple. I grew up with Spider-Man and Captain America. Iron Man was neat for a science geek, as were the Fantastic Four. Being able to see these characters given some quality screen time (minus the Fantastic Four) has been a real unrealized dream come true. But the really great thing about being a comic book fan is found on the television, in my home, every week.

Marvel and DC are both releasing some quality stories and entertainment on the small screen. I have just finished watching the second season of Daredevil. The interesting feature about that series is no major network is handling its release. It is on Netflix, an online streaming service. No commercials, no season schedule. You get a single blast of an entire season. And it may be the best comic book media being produced right now.

I won't get into a DC vs Marvel debate because they are apples and oranges. I feel that the DC tele-verse (Arrow, Flash, Legends, and Supergirl) are doing their own stuff. They are light and "super". Which has really been DC's best quality. Tell stories about heroes that are not down to earth. Tell stories about characters who get to do things beyond the human experience. Marvel has always felt at home dealing with characters who are more down to earth. These are people who are capable of things beyond human experience, but they have to deal with those gifts within the every day, relatable world we all experience.

Granted, the current crop of television tries to cross over that line. Arrow tries to be "normal" and Daredevil steps into the wild and wacky at times. But overall, they fall into the old shoes they have worn so well over time.

And more than anything else, it is a great time to be a comic book love because I get to share it with my kids. Nick doesn't do comics, but he likes the movies. Andrew, bless his geeky little soul, is a DC fan. That sparks endless conflict between comic fandoms. But I love being able to share something that is part of me, and has been part of me for so long, with my boys. Which means that I am pretty well guaranteed that for many years to come, I will love being a comic book fan.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Colorado Day Trip: Amache Internment Camp, Part 2

Historical information is here.
Part 1 is here.

I wish I knew why this was so powerful for me. I can't explain it. I am not Japanese. As far as I know, none of my ancestors was Japanese. But I have always had a deep appreciation of the history, culture, and people of Japan. It is one of the few places I want to visit before I am unable to travel anymore. Hearing about the Executive Order 9066, the displacement of people just because of their ancestry, and the experiences of their lives in the camps, it all hits me very hard.

Visiting the Amache Museum in Granada was deeply interesting. I have to say a huge, "Thank you" to Mr. John Hopper. He is a social studies teacher at the high school and oversees the Amache Preservation Society. He drove down and opened the museum for us. He also took time to speak with us about the history of the camp and some of the artifacts in the museum. He risked being late for a meeting to share with us.

The museum doesn't look like much. It is a small building, much like many of the museums you find in small communities. When you step inside, you can see almost all of the museum by sweeping your view around the room. The "tour" is simply a circuit around the open format, looking at cases and wall-hangings. But the museum is a window into the life of a community that developed and disappeared within 3 years.

Life for the inhabitants of the camp was the effort to live as normal as possible in a setting that screamed, "This is not normal." Fences, spotlights, guard towers with armed guards watching all of the activity in the camp were part of their ongoing, daily lives.

Instead of homes or apartments that offered privacy for a family, multiple families were housed in a single building. "Rooms" were partitioned with walls that didn't extend all of the way to the ceiling and were thin plywood. Living space was 20'x20' for small families; 20'x24' for larger families. Provided accommodations included a light bulb, a potbelly stove, and military cots with thin mattresses. There were no shelves or chest of drawers for their belongings. Rules were established that prohibited scavenging of scraps, but it did not stop people from using what they could find to provide for a more comfortable existence.

The familiar family structure of the inhabitants were also challenged. Japanese families were very centralized. Prior to living in the camps, families sat down at meals together. Camp life required traveling to a central mess hall within blocks for communal meals. But family time was changed. The gathering around the table became less a time of connection for the family. Instead of sitting with the family unit, younger generations would sit with classmates and peers in the communal dining hall.

Many times, those meals did not take the culture and traditional meals of the people into account. They were provided their rations from the government. It took time for staples that families were accustomed to using before they were provided for the camp, including rice.

The camp, itself, was staffed by many of the internees. The police and fire departments were completely staffed by internees (except for the chief of security and the military police). The silk screen printing shop and the co-op that operated within the boundaries of the camp were run by residents. Those who were health professionals before life in the camp were allowed to work in the camp hospital. The majority of people had to work in the fields growing crops or raising livestock. These were not forced labor situations, but opportunities were severely limited. Permission had to be granted to leave the camp grounds. The town of Granada did not have many more opportunities, and the citizens of the community filled many of those.

It is difficult to fit everything into just a few posts. The thoughts, feelings, and impressions that run through me as I write crash into each other. It becomes difficult to sort out what I want to say or how to say it. I could continue, but I will not. I would like to finish this reflection on the Amache camp with the following thoughts, though.

There has been some disagreement over how to describe the camp. It was officially called a relocation center. It was defined as a place for those who were displaced by the military. The military had the authority to choose the boundaries of that area and who was to be excluded. Persons who were defined as being excluded were relocated to the camps. It has also been called an internment camp. People were sent here to live, but they were very restricted in how they lived. Synonyms for an internment camp would be prison camp and the typical internees would be prisoners of war or political prisoners. In other countries these were called gulag or stalags.

The last term used to describe the camps is the hardest to choke down for most good Americans. President Franklin Roosevelt called the camps he created concentration camps. There is good reason to use this term. A concentration camp was established to "concentrate" a population of people who fit a particular profile. For the Nazis, the majority of people in their camps were Jews. The post Pearl Harbor Americans chose to concentrate Japanese and Japanese Americans. They were "relieved" of citizenship and the rights that were theirs under the Constitution. They had their way of life taken from them. Many internees were released and allowed to return to their place of residence only to find their homes, jobs, and belongings were gone. They had to start over.

I know that not all Japanese heritage persons were sent to the camps. The exclusion zones were found along the west coast. But that was also where the largest concentration of Japanese were found. The targeted racism is apparent because no other group was excluded from those regions, including those of German heritage who may have had the same length or status of citizenship. This was a dark day for those who were forced to live out years of theirs lives as non-alien members of their own nation.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Colorado Day Trip: Amache Internment Camp, Part 1

You can find some historical background at this here.

Amache is a Cheyenne name. It was the name of the daughter of One-Eye, a Cheyenne chief. One-Eye, Ochinee or Lone Bear, was killed at the Sand Creek Massacre. Amache married a local rancher and raised a family in the region around Granada. The camp was officially called the Granada Relocation Center. Amache became the unofficial name to differentiate the camp from the town that lies just outside the boundaries of the camp.

When you research the history of the Amache Camp, you learn some fascinating details. At the time, it was the tenth largest city in Colorado. It housed almost 7,400 people at its most populated. They had a fire and police department. It had its own "day-care", elementary, and high school. It was the only one of 10 internment camps for the Japanese in America that experienced no riots or large scale disturbances. It had the highest percentage of volunteers who joined the military and most of those fought in the highest decorated military unit in World War II, the 442nd Infantry Regiment. 

The 10 camps that were used to house the 120,000 people of Japanese descent were spread from eastern California to Arkansas. The people who lived in those camps were divided between the Issei and Nisei. The Issei were first generation immigrants to the United States. The Nisei were second generation - they were born in the United States. The first generation were like many other immigrants. They spoke Japanese as their primary language. They retained their Japanese customs, traditions, and way of life as it could be adapted to life in the United States. The Nisei were more American than Japanese in many ways. They adapted to their surrounding because they were natives to the United States. And by nature of their birth, they were natural born United States citizens. Their children, Sansei, were just kids, as American as any of us whose grandparents and prior generations had chosen to seek out the American way of life.

When the Japanese and Japanese Americans who lived along the west coast were ordered to vacate their homes and businesses and lives, it was done with no regard to loyalty or citizenship. It was done in an all encompassing way - anyone of Japanese race was to leave. There was no voice or power that could turn the order. People of every economic level and class were to leave. Age, health, and status were ignored. This was a racist reaction to the events of the Empire of Japan and the Americans were judged guilty by race.

It makes someone wonder - how is this any different than what Hitler and the Nazis were doing to the Jews? How is this any different than the attitudes against Blacks? How is this any different than the treatment of indigenous peoples for three centuries?

The biggest difference, at least for the people of Amache, was that they never gave up on their country. The loyalty of the people forced to live in Amache seemed to never waver.


For me, the most powerful moment of this reality was reading and hearing about the Boy Scouts of America who lived within the walls of that camp. These young men continued to salute the flag. They continued to wear their uniforms. They bugle corps played when soldiers left for World War II and the played when they returned to be buried. 

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Family Rules

In our household, we have a set of rules. These rules have been learned through experience. They have been proven through testing and trials. They stand as timeless and proven. They apply at every age level and in every circumstance.

Rule #1 - Don't be stupid.

Rule #2 - People are stupid.

Rule #3 - I will defend your honor but I won't defend your stupidity.

Today I have found an addition that meets the previous qualities:

Rule #4 - The will to be stupid is a very powerful force.

Rule #5 - The ability to overcome Rule #1 is to conquer Rule #4.

(Thanks go out to Lois McMaster Bujold for Rule #4 and #5.)

Colorado Day Trip: Sand Creek Experience, Part 2

You can read the historical background here.

The history of this event was virtually ignored among public attention. It took over 100 years for attention to develop. Initial interests were to establish a historical marker. In 1998 there was action taken to establish a historical site at the location. Eventually a National Park Service Historical Site was established. Even the United Methodist Church began to address the connection it had to the events. 

In 2012, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church adopted an Act of Repentance Toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous Peoples. It recognized that there are times in our history as the UMC when our forefathers and mothers were complicit in perpetrating or condoning acts that were not examples of Christian charity. But even these efforts have not increased public awareness of the events of that tragedy.

My trip to Sand Creek was made with a friend and colleague in ministry. We set out to visit Sand Creek and the Amache Internment Camp National Historic Site. Sand Creek is situated on an isolated piece of property off of the state highway a few miles. 

The trip up the dirt road seems to be leading to nowhere. Over a couple of cattle guards and through the miles of scrub, there is a dry creek bed that bends slightly from its north-south course to run nearly east-west. The National Park Service office and maintenance buildings are the point of entry. There is a trail that leads to a monument and bluff that looks over the landscape of where the massacre happened.

It takes little to imagine the events when you know the details of what happened. 

As we stood on that open bluff, there is little noise but the wind moving across the brush and trees. There were signs of the passing of the inhabitants; trails of rabbits, birds, and other critters that wander about on four legs with tails. There are also plenty of signs that notified us of less peaceful residents. It was breezy and cool walking up to the monument and continuing up the trail.

We stood and tried to imagine how the attack unfolded. We tried to picture where the escape route the victims attempted to flee along would take them. But the silence reminded us that this was sacred ground. There was something that took place here that served to scar the history of our people, white and indigenous, citizens of nation and tribes, all of us human beings and of sacred worth. 

I would never claim something that is not mine. I cannot claim the terror or the shared history of the survivors of this encampment. I cannot pretend to understand the stigma that the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Sioux, Kiowa, and other tribes experienced in this region of the world I call home. But I can claim kinship on the basis of humanity. I can understand that all people deserve to be treated with grace and kindness, and not terror or death.

This place is a reminder that at times we are not the best that God created us to be. Even among those who claim belief in the same Christ, we are not always completely faithful to his example. This place is not just a place that points to a scar in our history. It is also a place that reminds us that peace is a necessity. We can change our future based on the experiences of the past. 

I have to give a huge thank you to the rangers who were on site that day. They took time to talk with us and share the story of what is known about the events. 

I also want to share the links that I used to research the trip:
 Sand Creek
Colorado Experience: Sand Creek Massacre - YouTube
PBS - THE WEST - Documents on the Sand Creek Massacre (1864-1865)
John M. Chivington
John M. Chivington's Defense: To the People of Colorado
Captain Silas S. Soule report to Maj. Edward Wynkoop | Sand Creek
The Sand Creek Massacre » Silas Soule
Silas S. Soule | Two Letters Regarding the Sand Creek Massacre
Testimony of Captain Silas S. Soule - Kansas Memory
Lieutenant Joseph A. Cramer letter to Major Edward Wynkoop
Chivington Massacre.
Sand Creek Massacre - War of the Rebellion Records - Engagement on Sand Creek, November 29, 1864
The Sand Creek Massacre Report of the Secretary of War - p. 184 - 228
Sand Creek Massacre |
Google Maps
Prologue: Selected Articles
Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service)
Basic Information - Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service)
Sand Creek Massacre Tips on Traveling to the Site
Sand Creek Massacre Bibliography - Government Records and Articles

I offer these that anyone interested may read about what took place. I encourage you to visit the Site for yourself. I hope you will learn about the history of the conflict between the indigenous people, those who moved into their territories, and the governments efforts. We learn from our past - the wise decisions and the poor choices. The events of Sand Creek, the Washita River, Little Bighorn, and Wounded Knee are not memories of a more ignorant time. They are still reflected in the attitudes and treatment people still receive today.  

Monday, March 07, 2016

Colorado Day Trip: Sand Creek Experience, part 1

The Sand Creek Experience

I have always had a deep fascination with “The Old West”. As a history geek, I read about it all through my childhood. As a young man, I participated with a gunslinger group doing cowboy cinematic style shootouts across Oklahoma. I still enjoy reading and discovering new places in the Old West. One aspect of the Old West experience that I have found most interesting, and powerful, is the Plains Indian Wars.

During the Civil War, western expansion encountered the people and tribes of Plains. These included the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Souix, and many other cultures. They traveled from what would be the Dakotas and Montana in the North to Texas and Oklahoma in the South. As more people moved from the East into the Plains, they began to settle on lands that the tribes who traveled across those lands used for hunting and seasonal habitations. This led to conflict that was sometimes violent.

Territorial and elected governors, expressing concern over “protecting settlers”, asked for Federal troops to be sent to their regions. In many cases, these soldiers were stationed in camps or forts around the undeveloped areas that accounted for much of the frontier. In many cases, troops were not able to be on hand when settlers were accosted or attacked. When reports came out, there were few details about who was involved or how many. This resulted in parties of soldiers being sent out in retaliation. According to reports submitted by soldiers, there was some reclamation of property or reclaiming of persons taken in raids.

Tensions increased among the different “sides” that had a voice in the affairs of the region. Settlers and communities desired increased patrols to feel at peace. Tribes desired access to lands that they had long used to survive. Politicians desired to keep their constituents pacified. Tribal leaders were torn between those desiring to make and keep peace with the new “neighbors” and those who desired keeping what they had by force. In many cases, the tension that was growing led to increased violence.

There are many places that are marked by violence in the war that continued throughout the second half of the 19th Century. I have personally visited 3 of those places. The most famous, the Little Bighorn battle in Montana has gained notoriety as Custer's Last Stand. The Battle of the Washita, right outside Cheyenne, Oklahoma, was George Custer's first “successful” campaign against an Indian encampment. And Sand Creek in Southeastern Colorado. All three sites have deepened my interest in the campaigns between the indigenous people of the Plains and western expansionist settlers. 

The most recent, the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, has a dual point of interest for me. The history of the United Methodist Church intersects with the Plains War in a very real way at Sand Creek. The territorial governor of Colorado, John Evans, was a lay leader in hist Methodist Episcopal Church congregation. The commander of a group of Colorado volunteer troops, Colonel John Chivington, was a former Methodist Episcopal Church ordained clergy. Evans and Chivington were in agreement on an effort to exterminate certain Indian groups. Evans gave Chivington authority to use troops to kill any Indian groups who were not “under protection”.

The brief history of the Sand Creek Massacre involved Evans meeting with chiefs who lived in Eastern Colorado and giving them a verbal assurance of protection if they stayed within a protective envelope around established military forts or camps. When those chiefs returned to the fort near their camps, they were given temporary shelter, but were told by the commander to return to a camping site near the fort, but outside of the envelope. Chivington took his troops into Southeastern Colorado looking for a fight. When he arrived at the fort, he obtained command of the regular troops assigned to the fort. It was clear to the soldiers at the fort that Chivington was seeking out the same tribes represented at the meeting with Evans. He was determined to attack their encampment.

After commandeering the fort's complement of soldiers and artillery, Chivington leads the troop to the encampment. He uses the relatively untrained volunteers to separate the horses from the tribe, to prevent their easy escape. He sends regular, experienced soldiers through the camp to put the people to running. He assigned the artillery to shell the only escape route they had. As the women and children ran toward the only escape, the men attempted to delay the soldiers. The untrained volunteers broke from scattering the horses to concentrate on the fleeing women and children. In the 8 hours that followed, between 150 and 200 Indians were killed, two thirds of whom were women and children.

The early reports submitted by Chivington described a battle with few casualties among women and children. But unofficial letters between resistant officers to an officer who was not involved led to a military tribunal and two congressional hearings over the events. The result of all three proceedings was that this was not a military campaign. This was a massacre that should have never happened. 

Tomorrow I will offer some contemporary reflection on the visit.