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Casino operator gives Sand Creek Massacre site to Indians

By Kit Miniclier
Denver Post December 30, 2003 

A Colorado gambling entrepreneur has given the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma the deed to the heart of the Sand Creek Massacre site 180 miles southeast of Denver.

But it will literally take another act of Congress, and perhaps the purchase of more land, before the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site becomes a reality, National Park Service spokesman Rick Frost said Monday.

On Nov. 29, 1864, about 700 Colorado militiamen killed more than 163 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians in a raid on their camp at the site. Most were women, children and elderly men.

Historians believe the massacre provoked the bloody battles between Plains Indians and settlers that echoed across the West for years as Indians sought revenge for what they believed was a determined effort to exterminate them.

The tribes have spent the past three decades trying to establish a monument at Sand Creek.

Although Congress has already authorized the creation of the monument, another act is required to place the deeded land in trust before the National Park Service may legally manage it in cooperation with the relevant Indian tribes and the Colorado Historical Society.

"We are working hard to make sure this site is online soon because it tells a part of our national story that people really need to hear," Frost said.

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., reached on a motorcycle trip in Arizona, said Monday he would be happy to sponsor the needed legislation if requested by the new deed holders.

"I don't anticipate any opposition in Congress," Campbell said, noting that historically the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes once "occupied and controlled" what became Colorado from the mountains east to the present-day borders with Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.

"This is kind of a long time coming, but it is poetic justice," said Campbell, whose tribal ancestors were Cheyenne. "They lost their lands to white men, and it is a white man's organization that bought the site back for them."

Campbell has expressed interest in preserving the site since he was a state lawmaker 20 years ago, but owner William Dawson didn't want to sell it.

Campbell said he anticipates an Indian homecoming event at the site this spring to bless and consecrate it.

The senator won praise from Indian tribes and Western historians for sponsoring a bill authorizing the historic site in 2000.

The federal government offered Dawson $300,000 for his 1,465-acre ranch, but the rancher declined. Then Jim Druck, president of Southwest Casino & Hotel Corp., bought it for $1.5 million in April 2002.

During deed-transfer ceremonies Dec. 19 in Concho, Okla., Druck said he explained to tribal elders that he is Jewish, and "my people were nearly wiped out in Germany and Poland before and during World War II."

"I told them I understood their pain and what it means to fight for your heritage," he said.

The site is intended to keep the memory of "the horror of Sand Creek alive," he said.

Druck, who operates two casinos for tribes to which he gave the deed, is negotiating with government officials for a third tribal casino.

A resident of Pine, Druck also owns three casinos in Cripple Creek - the Gold Rush, Gold Digger and Uncle Sam's.

Asked what he gains by turning the $1.5 million deed over to the tribes, he said: "A longer, stronger, better relationship and a real good feeling. It isn't often in a person's life one gets to do something that means so much to so many."

The Colorado Historical Society has provided $600,000 to help buy land adjacent to the 1,465-acre Dawson site, helping the Park Service acquire a total of 920 acres from several of the 17 private owners.

Frost of the Park Service declined to speculate on the need for more land to meet the requirements of the original congressional act.

Eads, a farming community of 747 people about 16 miles west of the site, expects to benefit from an influx of thousands of tourists once the national monument is established, Mayor Larry Michael said.




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