DENVER (CBS) – Gov. Jared Polis said he is outraged that a Civil War statue in front of the Colorado State Capitol was toppled and damaged overnight. The statue and its base have been repeatedly vandalized since the George Floyd death protests began in Denver.
Gov. Polis said the statue will be repaired. Surveillance tapes are being turned over to police for review, and Polis said the people responsible would be held accountable.
One man who would not give his name told CBS4’s Rick Sallinger he was there as the statue came down, “We figured what better way to get rid of a statue that represents racism.”
He says it took five to 10 minutes to topple it. No ropes necessary. And no security
Doug Platt, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Personnel and Administration, said, “This monument was designed to commemorate Colorado’s involvement in the Civil War, of course Colorado was on the Union side.”
According to the State of Colorado website, “This statue of a Civil War cavalryman, dismounted with rifle in hand, honors the Colorado soldiers who fought and died in the Civil War. The statue was designed by Captain Jack Howland, a member of the First Colorado Cavalry.” Howland fought for the Union.
The First Colorado Cavalry is tied to the Sand Creek Massacre, a dark chapter in Colorado’s history. Led by Col. John M. Chivington, 675 volunteer U.S. soldiers attacked 700 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians on Nov. 29, 1864, along Sand Creek on Colorado’s Eastern Plains. Over 8 hours, the soldiers killed approximately 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho, mostly women, children and elderly, as they fled their camps and hid behind rocks and shrubs.
The statue is not of Chivington, but rather a generic union soldier. Many battles are commemorated on the plaque at the bottom of the statue, and included among those is the listing of the Sand Creek engagement.
Crews were using heavy machinery to remove the statue Thursday morning. They said it has to be transported to a different location for repairs.
Gov. Polis issued the following statement about the toppling of the statue:
“I am outraged at the damage to a statue that commemorates the union heroes of the civil war who fought and lost their lives to end slavery. This statue will be repaired, and we will use every tool at our disposal to work with Denver Police and to hold accountable those responsible for the damage whether they are hooligans, white supremacists, confederate sympathizers, or drunk teenagers.”
“This monument is designed to commemorate Colorado’s involvement in the Civil War, of course Colorado was on the Union side, and it lists a number of names and of infantry that served from Colorado and some battles that took place here during that time,” said Doug Platt, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Personnel and Administration.
A Black man named Kenny observing the scene told CBS4, “We have to get rid of every racist monument in this country. We have to do it in our own backyard. I don’t know who did this but I thank them.”
The man who said he was there when the statue was toppled was asked by CBS4, “Did you take part in bringing it down?” He replied, “I can neither confirm nor deny it at the moment.”
He did say we brought it down, “with our hands.”
Another man CBS4 spoke with Thursday morning said he was glad to see the statue knocked down, “I know that (soldier) is one of many men who were part of the Sand Creek Massacre and many other genocidal acts that happened throughout Colorado’s early histories,” he said.
On Thursday, government crews removed two brass cannons located near the toppled statue.
“The 1,250-pound brass cannons were manufactured by the Revere Copper Company in 1862-63 and 1864-65,” the State of Colorado website states. “No one knows for certain how the cannons arrived in Colorado. Various explanations of the cannons’ origin exist.”
The statue was hauled away for repair and safe keeping, as well as the cannons.
A plaque was placed by the statue after a resolution was passed in 1999 which reads:
The controversy surrounding this Civil War Monument has become a symbol of Coloradans’ struggle to understand and take responsibility for our past. On November 29, 1864. Colorado’s First and Third Calvary, commanded by Colonel John Chivington, attacked Chief Black Kettle’s peaceful camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians on the banks of Sand Creek, about 180 miles southeast of here.
In the surprise attack, soldiers killed more than 150 of the villages 500 inhabitants. Most of the victims were elderly men, women and children.
Though some civilians and military personnel immediately denounced the attack as a massacre, others claimed the village was a legitimate target. This Civil War monument, paid for from funds by the Pioneers’ Association and State, was erected on July 24, 1909, to honor all Colorado Soldiers who had fought in battles in the Civil War and elsewhere. By Designating Sand Creek a battle, the monument’s designers mischaracterized the actual events. Protests led by some Sand Creek descendants and others throughout the twentieth
century have led to the widespread recognition of the tragedy as the Sand Creek Massacre.
This plaque was authorized by Senate Joint Resolution 99-017.