The annual theme offers wide latitude in your selection of topic but the most important thing to remember as you organize your essay/presentation is that the readers are not looking for a retelling of an already well-known event or historical person. Beyond a brief summary or biography of the event or person, if needed, the readers will be looking for a unique interpretation of the evidence in your telling of the story as well how it makes a new contribution to the historical narrative or opens up new avenues of research.
Excellent examples of these points were the 2013 presentations at the Massacres of the Mountain West symposium by Chris Rein and Katherine Scott Sturdevant, as follows.
“Much of the research on the Sand Creek Massacre has focused on the political and military leaders who organized and led the attack, and the victims and survivors. Numerous works place the event in the context of conflict on the plains during the period. To date, no work has focused on the perpetrators of the massacre itself. This study seeks to understand how men who, by most accounts could be considered typical Americans, could willingly and wantonly engage in such behavior, with an emphasis on religious ideals and views that could have led them to commit one of the nation’s worst atrocities.” … Chris Rein
Daughters & Fathers: Family Secrets Behind Colorado’s Indian Massacres
“Historically, massacres began with women’s and men’s private-life experiences. Animosities smoldered long distances away, in time and space, from where the firestorm would ignite with tragic results. By gathering Chivington family traditions – and the unsung work of local women historians and genealogists – by releasing a ‘skeleton’ from the family closet, we unlock new understanding of Colorado massacre motivations. Join one historian’s effort to detect and analyze clues, in private and public records, to the complex relationships in Colorado’s era of Indian-white conflict.” … Katherine Scott Sturdevant
Both Rein and Sturdevant discussed the possible motives of or influences on Col. John Chivington on November 29, 1864, when he led Colorado militia troops on a surprise attack against peaceable Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians, killing many people, mostly women, children and elderly. However each scholar offered unique insights into the most prominent and controversial figures of the Sand Creek massacre narrative, and each opened previously un-explored topics of discussion and research.
An excellent example of a proposal, which includes all of the requested information, is Dr. Michael Olsen’s for the 2013 presentations at the Massacres of the Mountain West symposium:
Proposal for the Pikes Peak Library District 10th Annual Regional History Symposium “Massacres of the Mountain West,” June 8, 2013.
Proposed by: Michael L. Olsen
Title: Myths and Massacres: An Incident on the Santa Fe Trail
On October 24, 1849, the party of Dr. James M. White, a trader on the Santa Fe Trail, was attacked by Jicarilla Apache near Point of Rocks, New Mexico. All in the party except Mrs. White and the White’s daughter died. A subsequent attempt to rescue Mrs. White and the child failed, ending with the death of Mrs. White. This incident has echoed down through the years in regional history, with interpretations of the “massacre” changing as time passed. This paper, using the “White Massacre” as an example, will look at how the “myth” of a massacre changes over time in American culture, down to the present.
The thesis of this paper is that perceptions of what constitutes a “massacre” for Americans and in American culture, changes from generation to generation. Certainly in recent years, since the 1960s at least, there has been more of an inclusive interpretation of the elements in what was labeled as a “massacre,” than previously. There is more of an effort to comprehend the circumstances than to condemn.
The “White Massacre,” described above and famous in the annals of the heritage of the Santa Fe Trail, will be used as an example of how the myth of a massacre can change. There will be four parts to the analysis:
- Reaction at the time, especially among people in Santa Fe and with the U.S. Army, will be considered. The role of Kit Carson in attempting to rescue Mrs. White is prominent here.
- Late 19th century literature of the “massacre” will be presented. It is lurid and romanticized, elements which characterize American reaction to the closing of the “Frontier West.”
- Sources mentioning the “massacre” from 1920s and 1930s will be covered. These representations are more even-handed and less biased, though still regarding the incident as a “massacre”
- Contemporary accounts will conclude the analysis. These accounts weigh all the elements involved – the political state of affairs just three years after the American conquest of New Mexico, the attitude of the U.S. Army, the relationship of the local Hispanic population vis-à-vis the Jicarilla Apache, the pressures felt by the Apache themselves, and the nature of the Santa Fe Trail trade.
Some of the sources to be used (in chronological order by date of publication) include:
- Averill, Charles E. Kit Carson, the Prince of the Gold Hunters; or, The Adventures of the Sacramento. A Tale of the New Eldorado, Founded on Actual Facts. Boston: G. H. Williams, 1849.
- Conard, Howard Louis. “Uncle Dick” Wooton, The Pioneer Frontiersman of the Rocky Mountain Region. Chicago: W. E. Dibble & Co., 1890.
- Inman, Henry. The Old Santa Fé Trail, The Story of a Great Highway. Topeka: Crane & Company, 1899.
- Duffus, R. L. The Santa Fe Trail. New York: Tudor Publishing Co., 1934.
- Brown, William E. The Santa Fe Trail: National Park Service 1963 Historic Sites Survey. St. Louis: The Patrice Press, 1988.
- Myers, Harry C. “Massacre on the Santa Fe Trail: Mr. White’s Company of Unfortunates,” Wagon Tracks: Santa Fe Trail Association Quarterly 6 (February 1992), 18-25.