The Life of Silas Soule

Captain Silas Soule is best known for refusing to participate in the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, where 150 unarmed Cheyenne and Arapaho women and children were murdered in present-day southeastern Colorado. Because of the testimony and letters Soule left behind, the truth behind the Sand Creek massacre is known.

(Photo: Kansas Historical Society)

Born in Maine in July of 1838, Soule was raised in an abolitionist family. In 1854, Soule’s father and oldest brother left for Kansas to join abolitionist groups fighting against slavery. Left as the head of his family in Boston, Soule worked several factory jobs to support his mother, sisters and younger brother. Soule himself moved to Kansas in the late 1850s.

As one of the founding families of Lawrence, Kansas, Soule was active in the Underground Railroad. Inspired by the discovery of gold in present-day Colorado, Soule – along with a brother and cousin – headed to Colorado’s Central City in May of 1860. Rather than striking it rich, Soule joined the First Regiment of Colorado Volunteers and was promoted to Captain by 1864. This promotion put him in charge of Company D of the First Colorado Cavalry.

Company D’s regiment was assigned to Fort Lyon, a fort in southeastern Colorado where tribal chiefs and members had turned themselves in; they had been promised a “safe haven” and protection by the military at an encampment called Sand Creek. On November 29, 1864, Colonel Chivington – who was also stationed at Fort Lyon – ordered an unprovoked attack on a peaceful camp of American Indians at Sand Creek as a personal opportunity to rise in the military ranks. Soule, along with all fellow soldiers in his Company D, refused to carry out orders and did not fire their arms during the attack.

(Photo: Legends of America)

Soule later testified against Colonel Chivington and following their investigation, congress declared the event a massacre. Shortly after testifying, Soule was assassinated at the age of 27.  While many believed Chivington was behind Soule’s murder, no arrests were ever made. Today, Soule is buried in Denver at the Riverside Cemetery where he is honorably remembered by the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, as well as Governor Hickenlooper on behalf of the state of Colorado. Soule’s original tombstone, which was replaced by the current one at Riverside, is on prominent display in The Fort’s courtyard. Tours of The Fort’s historic adobe building, conducted by Tesoro Cultural Center, continue to educate the public on the heroism of Captain Soule and the Sand Creek Massacre. 

Learn more about the Sand Creek Massacre through primary source documents here.