When it was agreed that my son would be named Silas, after a Colorado hero and legend, there was one obvious place that I knew I would have to take him to: the Sand Creek Massacre site in southeastern Colorado.
Our Silas Sawyer was named after Silas Stillman Soule. Soule was an abolitionist. His family’s home was an important stop on the Underground Railroad. They were friends with the legendary John Brown. As only a teenager, Soule fought in an abolitionist militia in Kansas known as the Jayhawkers. Younger than the other men in the militia, Soule became respected on account of his bravery, character and weaponry skills.
His time as a Jayhawker ended trying to free slaves with an attempted jailbust in Virginia of legendary proportions, as he tried to free John Brown and two followers of Brown, all who rather chose to be martyred.
At the age of 21 Silas came to Colorado to mine quartz with his brother after learning he was being hunted as one of the “Jayhawk Ten”. When the Civil War broke out, Silas rose the ranks of Lieutenant very quickly because of his previous military experience. His first battle in the Colorado First came as the Confederates were trying to advance north. Soule and the army walked fourteen days south to Glorietta Pass (I took my Silas here too), to stop their advance in impossible fashion by flanking the Confederates on the second day of the battle – the Union army, The Colorado First, won. Soule was an important part of the slaughter.
After two treaties were signed between the natives and the Americans, there appeared to be peace, alas on the plains. But that wasn’t to be. The Colorado governor and Colonel John Chivington had already made plans to attack the natives.
The Colorado Third walked from Denver, all the way down to Fort Lyon on the Colorado plains. It had to have taken over a week to walk that far. Chivington said they were under attack from the natives. Soule quickly realized that this wasn’t true and that Chivington was going to instead, attack the peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho.
Soule became vocal, calling Chivington a coward. Chivington threatened to hang Soule if he didn’t accede and advance on the encampment on Sand Creek.
On November 29th, 1864 The Colorado Third, with about 700 soldiers, arrived on the hills around the Sand Creek encampment. Soule said he’d shoot any of his men that advanced on the village that was flying the Union flag, signifying that they were in alliance with the calvary, Chivington and the Colorado Third. It was a grizzly scene. About 150 people died that day, mostly women and children.
You can read Silas’ letters to his friend Ned Wynkoop. They are gory and even unbelievable. But it’s these letters that have given us the true portrait of what happened that day.
In January of 1865 Soule testified against Col. Chivington to the U.S. Government. Chivington was outraged and considered it betrayal.
On April Fool’s Day of 1865, Silas married Hersa, the daughter of a saloon that Soule and Ned liked to go to, south of Denver. Then on April 23rd, Silas and Hersa heard gunshots outside of their house in Denver. Silas went to investigate and he was killed by the men. It was two men that served in Chivington’s army – they were caught but escaped prison and so we will never know if they were hired by Chivington, or not.
Soule’s story captivated me when researching the early history of Denver. Just like so many characters, theirs was a story that was greater than fiction. Wanting my children to all have names of importance and value, it was Silas’ name that rang out when I knew I was going to have my first son. And it’s something that has stuck.
Out of the blue last year my Silas, Silas Sawyer (I stuck with the S.S. theme in Soule’s name), walked up to me and said, “Dad, I’m the new Silas Soule.” I got choked-up. My reaction gave him the motivation to repeat that. It’s become a bit of a thing for all of us. Let us all be the next Silas Soule.