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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Rich Smyth's Where Are They Now? Silas Stillman Soule

Prior to the final executions of Albert Hazlett and Aaron Dwight Stevens, a plan was hatched to free the condemned. James Montgomery an Abolitionist, leader of the Free State men and friend of John Brown from his Kansas days was recruited by a group of northerners including John W. Le Barnes, John Brown biographer Richard H. Hinton, and Secret Six member, Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Montgomery and his raiding party of Kansas men which included Silas Soule met with Higginson in west Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on February 17 to discuss the plan. Higginson had raised $1,800 for the rescue attempt and Le Barnes would seek volunteers from among German socialists of New York. Soule, disguised as an inebriated Irishman had himself placed into the Charlestown jail where he communicated the plan to the prisoners. Hazlett and Stevens, fearing repercussions for Jailer Avis discouraged the plan. In addition a severe snow storm would have prevented them from carrying it out had the prisoners elected to go through with the scheme.1 
Silas Stillman Soule
(National Park Service)
Silas Stillman Soule's brush with history did not end with the aborted rescue of the condemned Raiders. At that time he was 21 years old and a radical Abolitionist and Kansas Territory Jayhawker anti-slavery militant. He was friendly with John Brown who visited the Soule family home on numerous occasions during his slave raiding forays. During the Civil War, Silas was a captain in the Union Colorado Volunteers and present when Colonel John Chivington ordered the massacre of Cheyenne and Arapaho men, women and children who had pitched their tents along Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado.2 Soule refused an order to attack and later testified against Chivington, writing a letter to a friend describing what had occurred:        
"I refused to fire, and swore that none but a coward would, for by this time hundreds of women and children were coming towards us, and getting on their knees for mercy. I tell you Ned it was hard to see little children on their knees have their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized. ... I saw two Indians hold one of another's hands, chased until they were exhausted, when they kneeled down, and clasped each other around the neck and were both shot together. They were all scalped, and as high as half a dozen taken from one head. They were all horribly mutilated. One woman was cut open and a child taken out of her, and scalped. ... Squaw's snatches were cut out for trophies. You would think it impossible for white men to butcher and mutilate human beings as they did there."3
Scalps were taken by soldiers including soldier Morse Coffin who traded one for a new pair of boots after returning to Denver and Chivington who displayed them in Denver along with a vagina cut from one of the female victims, Descendants of another soldier, Jonas Anderson Jr. repatriated a scalp for burial at Sand Creek that he had collected at the massacre, William A. Allen whose family remembers “as small boys, seeing it at family dinners, hanging on the wall of their grandparents’ house between the kitchen and the dining room.”4  Fingers and ears were cut off the bodies for the jewelry they carried. The body of White Antelope, lying solitarily in the creek bed, was a prime target. Besides scalping him the soldiers cut off his nose, ears, and testicles, the last for a tobacco pouch.5 One officer pulled out and showed off the ears of White Antelope in exchange for free drinks in Denver area bars.I saw the body of White Antelope with the privates cut off, and I heard a soldier say he was going to make a tobacco pouch out of them," as quoted from a now unknown witness.6 Scalps and body parts from Sand Creek were put on a hideous display for three days in Denver’s Apollo Theater opera house. An Indian scalp from the massacre was on exhibit until the 1960’s in a Denver museum. Lieutenant James D. Cannon describes the mutilation of human genitalia by the soldiers, "men, women, and children's privates cut out. I heard one man say that he had cut a woman's private parts out and had them for exhibition on a stick. I heard of one instance of a child, a few months old, being thrown into the feed-box of a wagon, and after being carried some distance, left on the ground to perish; I also heard of numerous instances in which men had cut out the private parts of females and stretched them over their saddle-bows, and some of them over their hats."7

Hersa Soule in mourning attire, 1865
(courtesy of Colo Coberly
Find A Grave contributor No. 47241087
When his enlistment was over Silas married Hersa (Hursey) Coberly on April 1, 1865 and moved into a house on Curtis Street in Denver. Just three weeks later on April 23, Soule was on duty as a Provost Marshal in Denver, Colorado, walking by the northwest corner of Fifteenth and Arapaho Streets when several shots were fired, one striking him in the head, killing him. It was thought at the time the murder was in retaliation for his testimony against Chivington although little evidence supports this theory. First Lieutenant James Cannon, a friend of Soule’s, followed one of the suspected murderers, former Private Charles W. Squier, of the Second Colorado Cavalry, to New Mexico. Squires was brought back to Denver to stand trial. In Denver, the suspect escaped and Cannon was poisoned, again, presumably by Chivington supporters. Cannon died in his Denver hotel room from the poison. The other suspect in the Soule murder, William Morrow, was never located.8

Every year on the anniversary of the massacre, local and national Indian organizations commemorate Soules and Cannon by decorating their graves in Riverside Cemetery in Denver, Colorado. His simple white government marker reads:

S.S. Soule
Capt. Co. D
1 Colorado Cav

Soule and his wife Hersa are buried separately in
Riverside Cemetery, Denver (Courtesy of
Craig H. Trout & Carol Singer,
Find A Grave contributors(#46979152 & #46822921
His wife of only twenty-three days, Thersa A. "Hersa" Coberly, later remarried Alfred E. Lea, who a miner from Boulder who had several children. She became ill and died in 1879 at the young age of thirty-four. She is also buried in Riverside Cemetery. Her marker reads: “Hersa C., Wife of A.E. Lea.” Riverside Cemetery is located at 5201 Brighton Boulevard, Denver, Colorado.

Charles W. Squires was the son of a New York Episcopal preacher. After escaping from jail in Colorado he made his way back to New York where he stayed with his brother E.G. Squires. According to historian and author Tom Bensing, Squires drifted from job to job, attempting at one time to re-join the army and later unsuccessfully seeking passage to Central America.9  In 1869 he was involved in a railroad accident in which his legs were crushed. Squires eventually died due to gangrene.According to Tom Bensing the author of Silas Soule; A Short Eventful Life of Moral Courage, Squires is buried in the Bronx, New York’s Woodlawn Cemetery. (Note: an independent search of records by the author could not confirm Squires burial in the cemetery.)

Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY
John Milton Chivington was a Civil War Union Army Officer. An Abolitionist and Methodist minister, he was known as the "Fighting Parson" during the border wars in Kansas during the 1850s but will be forever defined by his actions at Sand Creek, Colorado. The panel of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, which investigated his conduct at Sand Creek, declared:

As to Colonel Chivington, your committee can hardly find fitting terms to describe his conduct. Wearing the uniform of the United States, which should be the emblem of justice and humanity; holding the important position of commander of a military district, and therefore having the honor of the government to that extent in his keeping, he deliberately planned and executed a foul and dastardly massacre which would have disgraced the verist [sic] savage among those who were the victims of his cruelty. Having full knowledge of their friendly character, having himself been instrumental to some extent in placing them in their position of fancied security, he took advantage of their in-apprehension and defenceless [sic] condition to gratify the worst passions that ever cursed the heart of man. Whatever influence this may have had upon Colonel Chivington, the truth is that he surprised and murdered, in cold blood, the unsuspecting men, women, and children on Sand creek, who had every reason to believe they were under the protection of the United States authorities.

He married Martha Rowlinson (sometimes spelled Rollison, Rollason or Rowlison) in Jefferson County, Indiana on July 24, 1839, and had at least three children; Thomas (?-1866), Elizabeth Jane Chivington Ottaway (1842-1914) and Sarah (?-?). Note: Thomas drowned in the North Platte River while trying to pull a freight wagon from the flooding waters. A second version has Thomas drowning in June 1866 as a ferryboat had broken loose at the crossing of the North Platte River near Fort Halleck in present day Wyoming. Thomas had volunteered to help retrieve the boat, which capsized as it was being returned to the landing. Martha died the next year. In 1868 he seduced and then married his daughter-in-law, Sarah Lull Chivington in an attempt to make a claim on his late son's (Thomas) freighting business.  When that failed he abandoned his new wife. In October 1871, she obtained a decree of divorce for non-support. Sarah, battled cancer until her death on August 51912. She is buried in Wyuka Cemetery, Nebraska City, Nebraska, lot: OG-512-03, near both her parents. The cemetery is located on South 19 Street, Nebraska City, Nebraska. His third wife was Isabella Arsen (Amzen) of Cincinnati who he married on November 251873 and was arrested for beating.10 In later years he was described as a broken man who 
finally drifted away from Colorado, his political future destroyed by the disgrace of Sand Creek. He wandered from place to place, finally returning to his native Ohio in 1872. He purchased and ran the Blanchester Press for ten years. In 1882, he entered the race for the State Legislature, but his opponent brought up Sand Creek, and he withdrew from the campaign. He returned to Denver where William Byers helped him find several minor jobs. He died in 1894 of cancer, his last days haunted by the memories of Sand Creek.11 
William Newton Byers was the founder and publisher of the Rocky Mountain News, Denver’s first newspaper and a lifelong supporter of Chivington once describing him as “one of Colorado’s greatest heroes.” It should be noted that in 1864 Denver experienced a catastrophic flood in which at least 15 people perished. Byers stated that Chivington saved his family.12 Chivington died of cancer on October 41894 and was buried in Fairmont Cemetery in Denver, Colorado, plot: block 2, lot 143 section 1The address of the cemetery is 430 South Quebec Street, Denver, Colorado. An ordained minister, a man of God, his life was filled with lies, fraud, embezzlement, wife beating, accusations of burning two of his homes for insurance money but…his life and legacy will be forever marked by his ordering and commanding the massacre at Sand Creek.--Rich Smyth


     1 See Oswald G. Villard, John Brown 1800-1859 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, & Co., 1910, 1929), pp. 575-78.  

     2 "She Looks Back Seventy-five Years to the Founding of Lawrence," The Kansas City Star, January 13, 1929, Sec. C.

     3 Gary L. Roberts and David Fridtjof Halaas, "Written in Blood," Colorado Heritage (Winter 2001): 25.

     4 Michael Allen, "A Massacre in the Family | My Great-Great-Grandfather and an American Indian Tragedy," Wall Street Journal, Nov. 24, 2014.  Retrieved from https://on.wsj.com/32dpMG3.

     Stan Hoig, The Sand Creek Massacre (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1974, 2005), p. 153.

     6 See the website, The Sand Creek Massacre at http://bit.ly/2OPIRKi.

     7 United States Congress Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, 1865, Appendix, p. 57 (testimonies and report).

     8 Lieutenant Cannon was found dead in his hotel room in Denver.  A postmortem examination reveals Cannon died of a lethal mixture of liquor and morphine.  Cannon was seen drinking and gambling at a Denver saloon before his death, and witnesses reported hearing a struggle in his room later that night.  The timely and coincidental circumstances of his death fuel speculation that Chivington's “Thirdsters” poisoned him.  No evidence was ever produced to prove that Cannon was murdered.  See "The Sand Creek Massacre Timeline 1865" at:  http://bit.ly/2Me6wCF.

     9 Tom Benzing, Silas Soule: A Short, Eventful Life of Moral Courage (Dog Ear Publishing, LLC, July 2012). 

    10 Information on Chivington from Lone Wolf, the website of author Kevin I. Cahill,  at http://bit.ly/2VDhODp.

    11 Soule Kindred Newsletter V:3 (July 1970): 121.

    12 Byers died on March 25, 1903 at the age of seventy-two and is buried in Fairmont Cemetery in Denver, as is Chivington.