The Hungate Massacre


On June 11, 1864, an Indian raiding party believed to be Arapahos attacked and brutally murdered a young family
on the Issac Van Wormer ranch near Box Elder Creek (vicinity of present-day Elizabeth, Colorado).  A small posse of ranchers, freighters and soldiers searching for Indian cattle thieves soon discovered the hideously mutilated bodies. 
The traditional historical account of the Hungate massacre is as follows: 


Early on the day of June 11th, Nathan Hungate and another hired hand by the name of Miller left the Van Wormer ranch in search of missing calves. Shortly after Hungate and Miller left, four Arapaho warriors arrived at the ranch, apparently bent on revenge for the year-long feud with Van Wormer.  The warriors raped, murdered and scalped Ellen Hungate, and cut the two children’s throats before stealing Van Wormer’s livestock and burning the ranch house and Hungate’s cabin.  Hungate and Miller soon spotted the smoke in the distance.  Miller then allegedly retreated to find help, but he could not convince Hungate to come with him.  In a futile attempt to save his family, Hungate frantically rode to the ranch and was murdered and scalped by the Arapahos.

[Following the discovery of these events] the horrified and angry freighters brought the ravaged Hungate bodies to Denver and displayed them in the center of town, sending a shock wave across the Colorado Territory.  Although the Sand Creek Massacre was the culmination of settlers’ anger over many other larger Indian raids after the Hungate murders, this specific incident became a focal point of Governor Evans’ argument that the Indians had initiated a full-scale war against the citizens of the Plains territories.


Rocky Mountain News editorial regarding Colorado Territorial Governor John Evans’ appeal to the
people upon the subject of Indian defense.
  Rocky Mountain News, August 10, 1864

His Excellency, Governor Evans, publishes in this paper an appeal to the people upon the subject of Indian defence (sic).  Except at the moment of alarm, a most remarkable state of apathy has thus far prevailed among our people.  They seem oblivious to the danger.  The time is coming, and we believe it is near at hand, when a different policy will have to be adopted or else our outside settlements, at least, are doomed to extermination, and all our intercourse with the States will be cut off.  The Indian uprising is general.  It extends from New Mexico to British America; from Missouri and Iowa to California and Oregon.  There is no assurance that troops will be sent here in numbers adequate for our protection.  Gen. Curtis says: “You must defend yourselves,” and in Kansas they have the same assurance so far as the Indian war is concerned.  In that State the militia is organizing to beat back the savages from their frontier settlements.

In this emergency the Governor calls for the organization of military companies.  When organized, he will supply arms.  They will be entitled to all the horses and other property they may capture, and in addition, he promises to use his influence to procure their payment by the general Government.  

Eastern humanitarians who believe in the superiority of the Indian race will raise a terrible howl over this policy, but it is no time to split hairs nor stand upon delicate compunctions of conscience.  Self preservation demands decisive action, and the only way to secure it is to fight them in their own way.  A few months of active extermination against the red devils will bring quiet, and nothing else will.

[When asked if individuals could receive individual commissions to attack hostile Indians the Governor responded by saying,] “If your party numbers thirty or more, and will organize under the militia law - the only authority under which I can act – commissions will be issued to its officers, and I will furnish arms and ammunition, with orders to attack, disperse and kill hostile Indians wherever they can be found, and permission to keep all property captured from such Indians.”

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