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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)
Executive Summary

Reassessment of Human Remains from the Sand Creek Massacre Site Obtained by Lt. Bonsall and Assistant Surgeon Forwood in the Collections of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Region: Plains
Associated Cultures: Cheyenne, Arapaho

2012

This report reassesses the cultural affiliation of two individuals based on new evidence that has been obtained since the 1994 assessment (see Kiowa summary) and in response to a request made during a September 20-21, 2011, consultation with representatives from the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes and the Northern Cheyenne. The remains were originally sent to the Army Medical Museum and cataloged there as Kiowa from the Sand Creek Massacre site, Colorado. The Cheyenne and Arapaho are the only tribes known to have been present at the November 29, 1864, Sand Creek Massacre and the 1994 assessment found that the two remains were culturally affiliated with the “Cheyenne or Arapaho” and recommended that tribes be contacted and apprised of this information, and that appropriate arrangements be undertaken in consultation with all concerned parties.  New evidence has been located in archival records for the remains of an individual obtained by Lt. Samuel H. Bonsall and sent by Assistant Surgeon Henry Tilton to the Army Medical Museum (AMM). The remains of the second individual were sent to the AMM by Assistant Surgeon William Forwood, and while no new archival records have been located on the origin of these remains, this report reassesses the evidence based on all seven of the remains from the Sand Creek Massacre that Forwood sent to the AMM.

Bonsall was not a participant in the November 29, 1864, Sand Creek Massacre. The remains were obtained by Bonsall from the massacre site sometime between December 1867, when he arrived in the area, and before September 1869, the date corresponding to a letter from Assistant Surgeon Tilton that reports that remains were being sent to the AMM. New evidence located since the 1994 assessment is a map prepared by Bonsall that shows he escorted General William Tecumseh Sherman from Fort Lyon to Cheyenne Wells, and visited the Sand Creek Massacre site on June 16-17, 1868. The map shows definitively that Bonsall had been to the Sand Creek Massacre site, and thus it is possible he obtained the remains during his 1868 visit. In addition, Luke Cahill, a soldier who was with Bonsall on this trip, reported in his 1915 reminiscences that human remains and objects were obtained from the massacre site during this visit. The weathered condition of the remains is consistent with Bonsall obtaining the remains from a surface context several years after the massacre.


Tilton’s September 1869 letter to the AMM describing the Sand Creek remains obtained by Bonsall had not been found for the 1994 assessment. The only AMM record available in 1994 was the AMM logbook which contains numerous additions and corrections. It listed that Bonsall had obtained the remains from Sand Creek and identified one individual as Kiowa. The Kiowa tribal identification was questioned in the 1994 report because only the Cheyenne and Arapaho were known to have been present at the Sand Creek Massacre. In addition, it was not known how a specific tribal identification could be made based on skeletal remains obtained several years after the massacre. The discovery of Tilton’s original letter provides new evidence concerning the cultural affiliation of the remains. Tilton’s letter states that the remains were obtained by Bonsall from Sand Creek, and does not identify the remains as Kiowa or list any tribal designation. Listed above the Sand Creek remains on Tilton’s list are the remains of a Kiowa from Cimarron Crossing on the Arkansas River. The identification of the Sand Creek remains as Kiowa in the AMM logbook appears to be a copying error made by an AMM staff member who applied the name of the tribe associated with the Cimarron Crossing remains to the Sand Creek Massacre remains.


The remains from the Sand Creek Massacre site were not identified by tribe by Bonsall, however, the preponderance of evidence indicates they are likely those of an individual who is either a Cheyenne or an Arapaho, the two tribes that were massacre victims at Sand Creek. This cultural affiliation is in agreement with the findings of the 1994 report. It is recommended that these remains be made available for repatriation to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, the Northern Arapahoe Tribe, and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.


The remains of the second individual attributed to the Sand Creek Massacre were sent by William H. Forwood to the Army Medical Museum in 1867, along with six additional individuals also attributed to the Sand Creek Massacre. Forwood was not present at the Sand Creek Massacre, and the condition of the skeletal remains indicates they were obtained from the surface many months after the massacre. Five of the seven remains were transferred to the U.S. National Museum (later the NMNH) in 1898, and four were repatriated in 1993 and 1994 (see Cheyenne and Arapaho summaries). The remains of two of the seven individuals obtained by Forwood were not sent to the NMNH. The remains of the individual presently in the collections of the NMNH were originally identified in the AMM records as Kiowa.  All of the remains that Forwood contributed in 1867 are attributed to the Sand Creek Massacre in the AMM logbooks. Historic accounts, including testimony by Indian survivors of the massacre and their descendants, identify only Cheyenne and Arapaho as victims, not the Kiowa. The preponderance of evidence indicates that the remains are either Cheyenne or Arapaho, the same findings as the 1994 report. Culturally affiliated is with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, the Northern Arapahoe Tribe, and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.

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Smithsonian Institute - National Mueseum of Natural History