DENVER — A Colorado legislative committee is considering a proposal to replace the statue of a Union soldier with a monument memorializing the Sand Creek Massacre.
The statue of the soldier was torn down by protesters during the calls for social justice over the summer. Capitol staff then removed the statue and placed it in the care of History Colorado.
The concrete pedestal where the soldier stood stoically for decades has been boarded up and sat empty for months. On Thursday, the Capitol Development Committee discussed the idea of replacing the statue with the Sand Creek Massacre memorial.
“When the Civil War Monument came down over the summer during the protest, it seemed a logical fit now that that was available, not in a way I would ever have envisioned or wanted, but there it was that it seemed fitting and appropriate to the moment of social reckoning,” Rep. Susan Lontine said.
The same regiment of Union soldiers who were commemorated by the Civil War Monument were also responsible for the Sand Creek Massacre, murdering more than 230 men, women and children.
“I just don’t understand why that soldier continues to be glorified. I don’t understand when what they represent was so wrong,” said Otto Braided Hair during Thursday’s public testimony.
Lawmakers have been discussing adding a memorial to honor the Native Americans who lost their lives in the attack for years but have never been able to agree on where to place it.
Even though the idea was approved and an artist came up with a design, the memorial has been on the legislative back burner for years. The proposed design depicts a grieving woman who is holding an empty cradle. The woman’s hair and finger are cut off to show she is in mourning.
“I wanted people to see that this woman suffered. She was suffering,” Harvey Pratt, the artist, said.
In November, an appropriations committee agreed to place the statue on the West Steps of the Capitol.
Lontine said the tribes have been pushing for this location for a year because of its connection with the massacre.
“After the massacre Col. Chivington and his band of folks came back to Denver to display their trophies,” Lontine said. “They literally took body parts of the victims of the massacre and paraded them through downtown, and they ended this parade at the location of what is now the West Steps.”
Colorado was not a state at the time of the massacre, and the Capitol had not been built yet. Still, the location is something tribes have fought for.
“We’re looking for healing. We want to feel pride again. We want to see something respectful and something with dignity that gives our people dignity,” Braided Hair said.
Others disagree with the statue’s proposed placement at the prime spot on the West Steps of the Capitol.
In an opinion piece published in the Denver Post, Republican consultant Dick Wadhams argues replacing the statue would be rewarding the people who took matters into their own hands and tore the Union soldier statue down.
“Let there be no mistake, the peaceful protesters were not responsible for this behavior but unfortunately, anarchist elements ended up taking over the streets of downtown Denver with the intent of destroying as much public and private property as possible. Not returning “On Guard” to the front of the Capitol allows anarchy to win,” Wadhams wrote.
The second main argument against placing the Sand Creek Massacre memorial in this location is because the West Steps, in many ways, serve at the gateway to the Capitol building.
The area is often used for rallies, speeches and even protests. Wadhams said while he agrees the massacre should be memorialized on state Capitol grounds, he doesn’t think the West Steps are the right location.
Instead, he believes this area, in particular, should serve as a reminder of what Colorado stands for.
“If “On Guard” is not returned to its place, the Capitol Building Advisory Committee and the full state legislature should step back and engage all of Colorado in a full discussion of what should be there as a symbol of our proud history and aspirational future,” Wadhams wrote.
Lontine doesn’t think the issue of commemorating Colorado’s role in the Civil War or honoring the victims of the Sand Creek Massacre is an either/or choice.
The Capitol Development Committee laid over the discussion for a future meeting. If the memorial is to be placed in that location, the committee and the governor’s office would have to approve of the idea before the full legislature takes up a resolution to vote on it.