Rich Native American history. Alfred Packer eating his dead companions in an effort to stay alive. “Pike’s Peak or Bust.” If you are a native Coloradan, you probably remember all of the above from your 8th grade history class. While the history of the Centennial State may seem somewhat cheery on the surface, there is a dark and often overlooked side to it as well, which can be seen in these five horrifying Colorado stories that you didn’t learn about in history class:
1. Sand Creek Massacre
While we often associate Colorado's Native American history with the Mesa Verde dwellings and exquisite clay pottery, there is a very tragic side to it as well; the violent Sand Creek Massacre. Due to territorial disputes and the murders of Cheyenne Indians in nearby Kansas, tensions between Colorado's white settlers and Native Americans were at an all-time high, so much so that by 1864, U.S. Army Colonel John Chivington lead 700 men into what is considered one of the worse massacres in state history.
After Chivington and his army blind-sided the tribe, ransacked their village, and mutilated nearly 160 tribe members, investigations were conducted and the Treaty of the Little Arkansas was signed, which promised the Indians access to the lands south of the Arkansas River, as well as restitution to the survivors of Sand Creek.
2. Ludlow Massacre
Nearly 50 years after the Sand Creek Massacre came the devastating Ludlow Massacre, in which 19 men, women, and children were brutally murdered at the hands of their employer. Beginning in 1910, employees of Colorado Fuel and Iron debated whether or not to go on strike, as the working conditions were dangerous and often deadly. Fed up by the company's unwillingness to make improvements, the miners finally went on strike, causing Colorado Fuel and Iron to call in Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, who were known for their less-than-traditional ways of breaking strikes (like shooting at random tents during the night and harassing families with their self-proclaimed "Death Special" - a steel covered car with a machine gun mounted to the top).
As if it couldn't get worse, then-Colorado governor Elias M. Ammons called in the Colorado National Guard, who on April 20, 1914, instigated all-day gunfire between the Guard and miners, killing 11 children, four women, and four men. The following days led to the Colorado Coalfield War, where mining union members attacked the guards at other Colorado camps and set fire to company buildings, which lasted 10 days and took the lives of nearly 30 more. The violence finally ended after President Woodrow Wilson sent in Federal Troops to disarm both sides.
3. Dust Bowl
While most people think of the Dust Bowl as occurring in more Midwestern states like Kansas and Oklahoma, it was equally devastating to Colorado and its agriculturally-rich Eastern Plains. It was, of course, the Dirty Thirties, when America's finances were in a state of collapse, but no one could have predicted the equally devastating Dust Bowl, which covered Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico, and blew away nearly 75% of dry topsoil over one hundred million acres of land.
4. The Death of Joe Arridy
When you hear the name Joe Arridy, what comes to mind? If you are like me, you have probably never heard of Arridy, but his story is truly haunting, as he is said to have been wrongly convicted of raping and killing a Colorado schoolgirl in 1939. Arridy, who was nicknamed the "happiest man on death row," was mentally handicapped and said to have had the mentality of a six-year-old, and - even more tragically - was coerced into a false confession by Cheyenne, Wyoming Sheriff George Carroll.
Though Pueblo officials had already arrested Frank Aguilar for the crime, they then prosecuted Arridy, who spent his time on death row playing with a toy train that was gifted to him by a prison warden. It wasn't until 2011 when Arridy was pronounced innocent, receiving a long-overdue pardon by Governor Bill Ritter (pictured above).
5. Mike the Headless Chicken
Since the last stories have been downright depressing, let's end on a more lighthearted - albeit bizarre - part of Colorado history, which is that of Mike the Headless Chicken, who survived his beheading and became a sideshow sensation who earned close to $4,500 per month (equal to $47,700 today). Fed a diet of milk, water, and corn, Headless Mike lived for 18 months and is still honored each year in Fruita with the Mike the Headless Chicken Festival, which celebrates the legend with concerts, games, Peep eating contests, and local artisans.
Did you know about these lesser-known events in Colorado history? Are there others that you would add to this list? Let us know in the comments below.
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