On a sweltering morning in June, I wandered across the withered grass of the historic Riverview Cemetery on the outskirts of Denver. I was looking for the grave of Captain Silas Soule, a remarkable man who refused to order his men to fire on the unarmed Cheyenne and Arapaho at Sand Creek on November 29, 1864. This may seem like a small detail in the tragic history of European American and Native American relations, but Captain Soule’s brave deed keeps haunting me.
Once I found his grave, it was clear I wasn’t alone in wanting to honor one of the many people who tried to turn the tide of genocide away from the Indian families camped along Sand Creek. Among the dozens of military grave markers lining the northeast corner of the cemetery, Soule’s was the only one decorated with plastic flags and Memorial Day juju. The sprinkling of stones left along the top intrigued me. I’ve heard that people bring these offerings from Sand Creek, but since I’ve yet to visit the site of the infamous Massacre, I don’t know if that’s true. I hope it is. The talkative magpies that liven up the cemetery left an iridescent black feather on the ground. I tucked it under one of the little stones and said a prayer as a coal train rumbled beyond the chain link fence.
When popular American culture replays the history of the so-called “Indian Wars,” we rarely hear about the peacemakers like Black Kettle, Lean Bear, William Bent, or Silas Soule. Let’s seek them out. I can’t help thinking their efforts still hold a blessing for us.