This summer during my annual trip to Kansas to spend time with family, I took a trip of my own to Colorado. I have a hard time resisting the mountains, and this year I caved. But I took a detour on the way to out to visit two historical sites. It was a tour of tragedy.
Less than 50 miles apart in Eastern Colorado are the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site and the Granada Relocation Center, known as Camp Amache.
Sand Creek Massacre
In 1864, the U.S. Army killed over 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho men, women, and children. The Cheyenne and Arapaho were pursuing peace and many gathered with Chief Black Kettle under an American flag and a white flag. Yet the U.S. soldiers opened fire, shooting down unarmed villagers as they ran away and firing cannons into the crowds.
The massacre didn’t end with the killing. The soldiers went among the dead and wounded, bludgeoning any survivors and mutilating the bodies to take trophies—scalps, ears, and genitals.
“We ran up the creek with the cavalry following us… [it] was now a terrible site: men, women, and children lying thickly scattered on the sand.”George Bent, Sand Creek survivor
In 1942, as the U.S. joined World War II, thousands of Japanese—many American citizens—were rounded up and imprisoned by executive order. The Granada Relocation Center was one of 10 such internment camps and housed more than 7,000 people on the outskirts of a small town in Eastern Colorado.
The gross racism of this act is perfectly captured in the fact that it targeted primarily people of Japanese and not German heritage. It was also completely unnecessary—there were no instances of sabotage or spying by Japanese Americans. In fact, nearly one thousand men and women from Camp Amache served the U.S. military during World War II—a number even died in combat.
We trusted them to serve as analysts and interpreters for the Military Intelligence Service in the Pacific, but we couldn’t allow them to live in freedom and peace at home. Instead of we forcibly removed them, often claiming their property.
This Is America
It’s a hard history to recount, but this is our history.
It’s bitterly ironic that so close to one atrocity we committed another. (I haven’t read the entire history of the Sand Creek site yet, but it seems the exact location was lost to history for a time and only recently rediscovered with the establishment of the historic site in 2007.)
How easy we forget.
These aren’t exactly great tourist sites, places you want to plan a vacation around. Visiting them exacts a toll. But it’s important to remember who we are and the things we’ve done.