When sculptor Harvey Pratt looked at his Sand Creek Memorial prototype, he felt there was something missing. The mournful grief he had molded on the Cheyenne mother’s face was not enough. She is wailing, on her knees over the murder of her child, her right arm encircling an empty crib.
His work took on a new urgency ever since he was told that long-dormant plans to place a monument at the state Capitol were back in motion.
For the 7-by-9 inch model, Pratt had already cut off her right finger at the joint and made cuts in her left leg to represent a self-wounding ritual, he explained, done by the Cheyenne and some other tribes when a loved one dies.
When the sorrow came to him fully, he chopped off her braids.
“I call it visualization. I see an idea,” the Cheyenne artist explained in a Zoom interview. “When we lose a relative,” he said, “we take a knife to our hair. She cut her braids off. They are laying on the ground.”
In the first go-round of the statue’s evolution, the woman’s braids were hanging down her shoulders, but even then, some of those who saw it complained that the missing joint and self-wounds were too graphic.
“When I first submitted they said, ‘That’s kind of brutal.’ I said, ‘It’s history!
All these years, you guys change history!’ ”
A Sand Creek descendent and crime-solver
After serving in the Marines as an MP during the Vietnam war, Pratt returned to Oklahoma where he got a job with the Midwest City police department. He drew pictures to pass the time, which led to a career combining his love for law and order with his art. “They saw me drawing and we had a man get killed at his home. The murderers shot his wife in the face. (They asked,) ‘She’s in the hospital and she may not make it. Could you go talk to her?’ I went over there, did a drawing and they caught the guy.”
In Pratt’s 50 years with police, and subsequently with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, he has listened to at least 5,000 witnesses and victims, recreating the face they saw on the most horrific nights of their lives. His cases include a lineup of high-profile criminals, including reconstructions in the Osama Bin Laden investigation, Ted Bundy, “BTK killer” Dennis Rader, Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols, Bobby Jo Long, and the “I-5 killer” Randall Brent Woodfield.
He also developed a process called soft tissue reconstruction and has drawn hundreds of sketches showing a missing child’s progression to adulthood.
His retirement from law enforcement in 2017 has allowed him more time for his art. Last week, another of Pratt’s creations, the “Warriors’ Circle of Honor,” was laid for its Veterans Day dedication at the American Indian Veterans Memorial.
Pratt identifies as a Cheyenne, though some of his ancestors were white. His great-great grandfather, William Bent, straddled the two cultures as a translator and trader, and as a sub-chief.
Contradiction must run in the family. Pratt also finds himself in a puzzle, as he understands the feeling of oppression behind this summer’s protests, but he does not support the damage protestors have done to businesses and government buildings, including the type that toppled Denver’s Civil War soldier.
“I think there’s a way to protest, and it’s just gotten plumb out of hand,” he says. “There’s a way to do things legally without committing crimes, looting and destroying state federal and personal property. I think that’s terrible. It’s kind of like Sand Creek. People came in there and just destroyed everything.”
He said that he feels he has a sixth sense for crime-fighting. “If I’m interviewing you and you tell me who the guy is that robbed you, I see it.” Pratt said. He used that gift and the memories of his ancestors to create the Sand Creek Memorial.
“People say when they go to where it happened, they hear voices. So I thought, what did they hear? They heard people say, ‘Don’t forget us. Remember us!’ ”
The Sand Creek Massacre’s Bloody Eight Hours
Two hundred and thirty Cheyenne and Arapahoe, mostly women, elderly and children, were slaughtered on Nov. 29, 1864, when volunteers from the First and Third Colorado Cavalry regiments ambushed them at sun-up. The 700 Cheyenne and Arapaho who gathered there had been promised a peaceful existence by the government. The massacre poisoned relationships and was a catalyst for wars between the U.S. Army and Native Americans for years.
Soldiers testified in government-held trials months later that an American flag and a white flag of surrender flew over the tepees. Those messages were ignored by Col. John Chivington’s troops that early morning as their horses thundered over a ridge in a surprise ambush.
The murders were first heralded by the people of Denver as a war victory. It was only until recently that the truth of the blood spilled at Sand Creek was acknowledged. In 2014, Gov. John Hickenlooper officially apologized to Sand Creek descendents for the atrocity.
Pratt, a descendant of the massacre, says his great grandparents, Julia Bent (the daughter of frontiersman Bent and the Cheyenne princess, Owl Woman) and Edmund Guerrier were courting when the ambush happened. They fled for their lives, and were eventually forced to relocate to Oklahoma, where they had three children. The trauma of the Sand Creek Massacre remained with Pratt’s family in stark rituals.
“My Aunt, Laura Birdwoman, would tell us. ‘When you guys go to bed, put your shoes by the bed because you might have to get up and run,’ ” Pratt said. “As I got older that’s when I realized that’s what they did. They had to get up in the middle of the night and run.”
An opportune moment
One Earth Future Foundation, the group spearheading fundraising for the Sand Creek Memorial, called Pratt early this month to tell him that after the project sat in limbo since its inception in 2014, it may finally have a home on the Capitol’s west steps.
The original plan during meetings four years ago was to place the Memorial on a hilly site on the southeast Capitol grounds. That location then changed to a place near the Capitol’s west side, but that idea was nixed by the state. Other spots have been bandied about including placing it on a stretch of flat ground in Lincoln Park, near the Colorado Veterans Memorial, but the tribes opposed that spot.
Ironically, it was the June toppling of a Civil War cavalryman that stood at those steps for 111 years — which honored a regiment that defended the territory from Confederate soldiers, but also was responsible for the Sand Creek massacre — that started the talks to replace it with Pratt’s bronze.
“The tribes wanted the West side from the very beginning,” Jon Bellish, One Earth’s Vice President of Strategy, said. “It’s what the foundation was hoping for to be a source of truth-telling and a subject of reconciliation.”
The Capitol Building Advisory Committee is now considering replacing the toppled Civil War statue with Pratt’s Sand Creek Memorial. Colorado Politics confirmed that the discussion over the location of the Monument was re-opened at an Aug. 21 CBAC meeting.
State Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, says they’ve invited the tribes — the Northern Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho, and the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho — to listen in on their next meeting scheduled for Nov. 9.
Lontine talked about the logistics as if the Commission would be moving forward with the Sand Creek statue as a replacement for the Union soldier, which is hidden in an undisclosed location until it can be moved to History Colorado as part of its Democracy exhibit.
“What we’re going to have to do is have a formal resolution to replace the Union solder with the Sand Creek Memorial. That’s the technical thing we will have to ask for,” she said. “They have a design. Would they be willing to modify it?” She is concerned about how the new monument, if it’s approved, will fit into the circle where the Union soldier’s concrete pedestal still stands.
The Sand Creek Monument’s location had been the sticking point between Native American descendants of the massacre, the state and also with supporters of the European settlers.
Bellish, whose job through Earth First is to build peace during international conflicts, doesn’t expect a decision any time soon. He believes the possibility that the Sand Creek Memorial would have the supreme location as the focal point in front of the State Capitol stirs up personal arguments on both sides.
“Whoever comes to the discussion for the settlers doesn’t have a direct stake in the settlement of the American West. But they’re speaking from a core identity and those are the kinds of arguments that are hardest to resolve,” he said.
The location has changed as much as the statue itself.
Pratt says scrapped from the original creation were a medicine wheel and bronze teepee poles fitted with an American flag and a white flag of truce. A path strewn with footprints representing fleeing survivors was also shelved. The final image of the statue is now the lone Cheyenne woman sobbing over the death of her infant, her left arm frozen in a desperate reach, perhaps in appeal to the killers.
Lontine said the November meeting of the BCAC is open to the public, but she hasn’t yet heard from anyone who would oppose the statue’s location on the west steps.
“I’m not proud of Sand Creek,” Lontine said. “It’s a moment of shame in our history. It was never my intent to take it (the Civil War statue) down. We are coming to a reckoning, and here’s a chance to attempt to make it right.”