“Sand creek was a crime, it happened 150 years ago… and this gun is kind of the smoking gun for Sand Creek,” Andrew E. Masich, president and CEO at Pittsburgh’s Senator John Heinz History Center, said of the artifact he acquired for the Sand Creek National Historic Site near Eads, Colorado. “It’s evidence of the past; it’s evidence of a crime.”
The artifact evokes the dichotomy that marks many discoveries connected to the site of the November 29, 1864, horrific massacre of nearly 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho people. This Starr .52-caliber carbine issued to Jordan J. Brown, one of the volunteer soldiers lead by the murderous Col. John Chivington, was almost certainly fired during the attack on the peaceful village.
“It’s an incredibly tangible link, and it’s a research tool, but it’s also a horrific object,” Alexa Roberts, superintendent of the historic site, said of the weapon. “We have over 400 artifacts from the massacre itself, both military and Native. Many of those are extremely compelling objects, some are difficult to look at or to handle.”
This newest artifact, announced this week by the National Park Service and funded by the NPS and the Kiowa County Economic Development Foundation, seemed destined to return to the scene of this crime.
The rifle was purchased at an annual gun show earlier this year in Baltimore by Andrew Masich, who was there with his curator from the Heinz History Center to scout potential items for the center.
“We were there looking for things related to the French and Indian Wars… when I spotted this Starr carbine in rough shape,” Masich said.
Masich, once vice president of the Colorado State Historical Society, noticed that the rifle’s serial number was within the range for carbines issued to the 1st Volunteer Colorado Cavalry of the U.S. Army, the cavalry lead by Chivington in the massacre. He looked at a list of rifles and soldiers on his iPhone and made the link to Brown and to Sand Creek. With the show closing within hours, he called Roberts in Colorado to ask if she’d like him to buy the carbine for the historic site. She agreed to the purchase.
“It’s a rare thing, to be able to match an artifact with a man who was at an historic and horrific event,” Masich said, adding that for Sand Creek, “I don’t know of another one. This was an extremely rare find.”
It turns out that the carbine had been earlier identified as issued to Brown by the gun collector who likely owned it before the seller in Baltimore. Author-collector Charles G. Worman, in his 2005 book Gunsmoke and Saddle Leather: Firearms in the Nineteenth-century American West, had a photo of the rifle identifying it as “Starr percussion carbine (#4724) issued to Sgt. J.J. Brown, 1st Colorado Cavalry. He was on active duty in November 1864 and probably participated in the Sand Creek affair.”
Historic documents also indicate more about the man who used the rifle, according to ones cited by Masich: “Jordan J. Brown was born in Indiana circa 1837 and enlisted in Central City Colorado Territory on Sept. 4, 1861, at the age of 24. Occupation: Miner. He stood 5-feet, 6-inches tall, had gray eyes, brown hair and light complexion. He was soon appointed 2nd corporal in Company H, 1st Colorado Volunteer Infantry (which later became cavalry). He was appointed sergeant in Company H in September 1862 and then first sergeant in November 1862. In December 1864, he became a Veteran Volunteer, Company C, 1stCavalry Colorado Volunteers.”
In that, Brown exemplified many of the paid “volunteer” soldiers who were unemployed miners rather than career military personnel.
The Starr carbine will be used in research and may or may not be publicly displayed, Roberts said. An interpretive management plan is being developed for the historic site and a general management plan will likely be announced soon.
As to the carbine itself, research at the site has uncovered .52-caliber bullet casings, “almost right where Company H would have been,” Roberts said. Sgt. Brown was in Company H.
“It’s conceivable that based on a forensic analysis, it could be matched to a specific weapon,” Roberts said of the bullets. “What it helps us do is accurately place who was where on the ground.”