Amid America’s racial reckoning spurred by the killing of George Floyd, a number of controversial historical monuments were torn down by protesters or removed by authorities this year, including some in the Mountain West.
In Denver, the century-old statue of a Civil War cavalryman was toppled by protesters in June. It was designed by Captain Jack Howland, a member of the First Colorado Cavalry. Soldiers from that cavalry killed more than 200 Native Americans in the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864. More than half the victims were women and children.
The Capitol Building Advisory Committee voted Nov. 20 to replace the toppled monument with the statue of a Native American woman. Harvey Pratt, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes and a Sand Creek Massacre descendant, is sculpting the bronze piece.
“Women were really impacted a great deal and they were targeted quite a bit. And so I wanted to show an Indian woman grieving. I'll leave it up to someone that's looking at it to decide if they think she's a victim or a survivor,” he said.
The statue will depict a woman with short hair, her braid resting on her lap. Her outstretched hand is missing fingers. Pratt said Cheyenne women mourning loss would often cut off their hair and fingers. She is also barefoot because Pratt was always told growing up “that you need to keep your shoes right there by the bed because you might have to get up and run.”
Pratt’s great-grandparents escaped the brutality of cavalrymen on that fateful day in 1864. For those left behind, Pratt hopes the statue will flip back the pages of history and highlight words that must be spoken: “Don’t forget us. Remember us.”
Meanwhile, across the region in Albuquerque, New Mexico, authorities in June removed a statue of the oppressive Spanish conquistador Don Juan Oñate. It came down after a man reportedly defending the statue shot a protester. The city launched the “Race, History and Healing Project” to discuss potential replacements. Protesters roughly one hour away in Santa Fe tore down a Civil War obelisk in October. It had a plaque dedicated in part to “heroes” who died battling “savage Indians.”
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.