Silas S. Soule: Abolitionist and Brave Soldier

Silas Soule in uniform
Capt. Silas Soule in 1864 or 1865.
Credit: Denver Public Library
Colorado Volunteers
credit: Denver Public Library

When: 1838-1865

Where: Fort Lyon near Sand Creek, Colorado

Why Important Soldier who refused orders to participate in the Sand Creek massacre

Biography

In Bath, Maine on July 26, 1838, Silas S. Soule was born. He grew up in Maine and Massachusetts in an abolitionist family and was taught that slavery was wrong. When Silas was sixteen, his family joined the New England Emigrant Aid Company, moved to Kansas Territory where Silas’ father helped set up the Underground Railroad near Lawrence, Kansas. During that time, Kansas desired to join the United States, however, its citizens could not agree whether to be a “slave-state” or a “free-state” and turmoil ensued. There were many skirmishes and incidents between the citizens that were “pro-slavery” and the abolitionists (anti-slavery). Silas chose to participate in some of these confrontations. He even assisted in the escape of an abolitionist that had been arrested.

In 1859, gold was discovered about 600 miles west of Kansas in what is now Colorado. Silas, along with his brother and cousin decided to try their own luck at prospecting and headed to the gold fields near Central City in May, 1860. Silas did not strike it rich and ended up working for a blacksmith. After the Civil War began in 1861, Silas joined the 1st Regiment of Colorado Volunteers.  [footnote]“First Cavalry Colorado.” Daily Mining Journal, December 26, 1863. CHNC[/footnote]

Illustration of Sand Creek Massacre
credit: Denver Public Library

He was a very successful soldier[footnote]“Local News.” Rocky Mountain News Weekly, August 10, 1864. CHNC[/footnote] and was promoted to Captain[footnote]Daily Mining Journal, April 27, 1864. CHNC[/footnote] by 1864.  This promotion placed him in charge of his own company, Company D of the 1st Colorado Cavalry.

Company D was one of the companies under the leadership of Colonel John Chivington. The regiment was assigned to Fort Lyon,[footnote]“City Items.” Weekly Commonwealth, June 15, 1864. CHNC[/footnote] which had tribes of displaced Cheyenne and Arapaho Native Americans living in tents outside of the fort near Sand Creek. Unprovoked, Colonel Chivington ordered an attack on the Native Americans, which at the time consisted of older adults, women and children. Silas did not agree with this order and commanded his company to refuse to carry it out. Not one soldier in Company D fired his weapon on the tribes. This incident became known as the “Sand Creek Massacre.”

There was an investigation into the massacre[footnote]“Consistency.” Rocky Mountain News, March 3, 1865. CHNC[/footnote] and Silas testified against Colonel Chivington. On April 23, 1865, soon after he testified, Silas was assassinated [footnote]”Murder of Capt. Soule.” Daily Mining Journal, April 25, 1865. CHNC[/footnote] just weeks after he had married Hersa Coberly in Denver. He was only twenty-seven years old. Although there were initial arrests made for his murder,[footnote]“Local Matters.” Daily Mining Journal, June 14, 1865. CHNC[/footnote] no one was ever convicted of it, and many believed at the time that Colonel Chivington was behind the assassination.[footnote]“Who Did It.” Daily Mining Journal, April 26, 1865CHNC[/footnote][footnote]Rocky Mountain News, November 6, 1865. CHNC[/footnote] . Silas Soule is buried in Denver[footnote]“Afternoon Report.” Daily Mining Journal, April 24, 1865. CHNC[/footnote] at the Riverside Cemetery and is often remembered honorably by the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.

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