If you’ll remember back to where we left our story on Wednesday, John Milton Chivington had performed admirably, if somewhat controversially, at Glorieta Pass. And he had been promoted for his trouble. Still, he wasn’t satisfied with the rank of colonel; he had his eye on a “brigadiership.” It wasn’t going to happen. There wouldn’t be any more significant Civil War engagements in the Rocky Mountain region, leaving Chivington frustrated by inactivity. But not all was bleak. He had secured for himself an excellent reputation: as a man of God, a man of courage, a man of action. And his good name was a kind of currency, especially in Colorado territory, where, absent an established community, the social hierarchy remained relatively fluid. Chivington, though still a newcomer, could rub elbows with the territorial governor, setting himself up for a bright future. Or so Chivington hoped.

Two years later, by spring 1864, Chivington had become a politically influential figure in Colorado. But he still longed for another promotion, which, he wrote his sister, would guarantee him “a seat in Congress.” With the closest Confederate troops hundreds of miles away, Chivington began contemplating how to manufacture a battlefield opportunity for himself. Throughout that year, the local Indian tribes, including Cheyenne and Arapaho people, faced dire prospects. Colorado’s white settlers had confined the Cheyennes and Arapahos to the southeast corner of the territory, land that, as time passed, couldn’t sustain the tribes. As a result, hunting parties left the reservation, sometimes raiding white settlements to the east of Denver.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1864, a series of skirmishes involving settlers and the Cheyenne and Arapaho people escalated tensions in the area and left between twenty and forty whites and Indians dead (the numbers are sketchy — sorry). By late summer, Colorado’s governor, John Evans, decided that he could allay white settlers’ anxieties only by authorizing the territory’s citizens to kill any “hostile Indians” and then seize their property as compensation for the trouble and expense of the hunt. Evans also received permission to raise a regiment of volunteer soldiers to fight Indians. It only made sense that Evans would turn to his friend, the war hero, John Chivington to lead the 3rd Colorado Regiment. Chivington, of course, was thrilled. He finally had an opportunity for more action, a chance for further promotion.

Without getting into too much detail — I promise to do a long Sand Creek Massacre post next November, so stay tuned until then (seriously, just keep refreshing your browser every few minutes for the next eight months) — Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle, upon hearing news of Evans’s proclamation, sought a meeting with the governor. That gathering took place in September in Denver. After listening to Black Kettle’s plea for peace, Evans explained that the Cheyennes needed to discuss the matter with the local military authority. Then he turned the meeting over to Chivington. Chivington, in turn, remained cagey; he could not guarantee peace. Instead, he explained that if Black Kettle wanted to keep his people safe, he should head for southeastern Colorado and camp there on a small stream: Sand Creek.

Again, the Sand Creek story is beyond the scope of this post, so I’ll cut to the chase. Black Kettle did exactly what Chivington had suggested; he brought his people to camp on Sand Creek. Chivington, meanwhile, prepared the Third Colorado for battle. In November he marched his men to Black Kettle’s camp and slaughtered approximately 150 Cheyennes, the vast majority of whom were women, children, and the elderly. Chivington then returned to Denver, where he received a hero’s welcome. He had saved the day at Glorieta Pass, and now he had secured a future for white civilization in Colorado territory. He had cemented his reputation at Sand Creek. The fruits of victory would soon follow: promotion and a political career.

Or so he thought. In fact, federal authorities launched several investigations into what had happened at Sand Creek, ultimately concluding that Chivington had perpetrated a “massacre.” Confronted with this turn of events, Chivington never wavered. He insisted that his actions had been just, that he had won a stirring victory over hostile Indians, that he deserved promotion not scorn. And then he left: first for Nebraska, where his wife and son died, and he married his daughter-in-law; next, after leaving his second wife, for Canada, where he lived for a time in mysterious circumstances; then for Ohio, where he apparently stole the money set aside for his mother’s burial before losing an election after his opponent got wind of his misdeeds at Sand Creek; and finally, back to Colorado, where he served as a county coroner, a job that allowed him, late in his life, to supplement his income by emptying the pockets of corpses. He never did feast on the flesh of the dead. At least I don’t think he did.

Despite his extraordinary fall, Chivington remained a beloved figure in Denver. Into his dotage, he used to sit in a rocking-chair on his front porch, regaling passers-by with tales of his exploits during the war. And when he died, in 1892, hundreds of mourners attended his funeral, remembering the hero of Glorieta Pass and Sand Creek. Although Chivington is no longer revered by most Coloradoans, a small town, just a few miles from the site of the Sand Creek Massacre, still bears the name.

[Author’s note: On this day in 1862, the Battle of Glorieta Pass ended. ‘Kay?]