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Public Memory of the Sand Creek Massacre By Lindsay Calhoun

Chapter 1:  Introduction to Sand Creek
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Public Memory of the Sand Creek Massacre

Chapter 1

Introduction to Sand Creek

When I gaze out upon the Sand Creek landscape, I see wide emptiness, an open field of possibilities for interpretation. There is no large monument dominating the landscape of one of America’s newest national parks, no visitor’s center, no paved roads—only a pervasive quietness. Without the stone monuments, visitor’s centers, and other trappings of traditional memorials that are currently absent from the landscape of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, how does one begin to interpret the collective memory of Sand Creek? How does this vast, open landscape—seemingly defined by absences—enact and define so much meaning for the visitor and viewer? Uncertainties, haunted meanings, contested narratives, and restlessness define Sand Creek. To gaze upon the landscape of Sand Creek is to gaze upon a geographic space that does not verify its past or its location as the setting of a tragic historic event. In fact, its peacefulness belies the terror, violence, chaos, and pain that constitute its history. The place dares viewers to prove that its horrible past actually occurred. It serenely smiles at determined efforts to verify its truths. Sand Creek itself embodies the shape-shifting trickster character that inhabits Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal stories.