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The Civil War Monument "On Guard"
Lonnie Bunch, the first African American and first historian to serve as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, said, “what you really want to do is use the statues as teachable moments. Some of these need to go. But others need to be taken into a park, into a museum, into a warehouse, and interpreted for people, because they’re part of our history."
This monument stood in front of Colorado's State Capitol until it was toppled in June 2020 during protests for Black lives. Installed in 1909 to memorialize Colorado’s role in the Civil War, the monument holds multiple meanings for viewers today: a tribute to those who’ve served and sacrificed in the nation’s armed forces, a reminder of atrocities committed against Indigenous peoples, a symbol of white supremacy and injustice, a casualty of destructive lawlessness, and more. After the statue fell, when some people said “monuments like these belong in a museum,” we decided to take them up on the suggestion and give everyone an opportunity to discuss what the monument means to them. We invite you to join others in this space for conversation about what the monument represents and to encounter the viewpoints shared with us.
More about Colorado in the Civil War
Colorado was born in the midst of the Civil War. Colorado troops, drawn primarily from local volunteers, fought for the Union Army. They engaged in several battles, most notably the Battle of Glorieta Pass in northern New Mexico, where they played a vital role in protecting western gold fields from Confederate takeover.
But Union troops weren’t just here to hold the gold. In this wartime context, soldiers used military force to clear Indigenous peoples from their homes and secure the land for white settlement. On November 29, 1864, US cavalry regiments attacked a peaceful camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho people on Colorado’s eastern plains. Under Colonel John Chivington's command, the troops murdered more than 230 women, children, and elders as they tried to run for safety. It was the bloodiest day in Colorado history.
The over-militarized response to Native peoples in Colorado was an action of a nation at war, and events like the Sand Creek Massacre sparked decades of government-sanctioned violence against Native Americans in the West.