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'All land is Native land,' says artist Gregg Deal in cycling journey to Sand Creek Massacre site
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Artist Gregg Deal raised awareness of the inaccessibility of Native history during an attempted 150-mile bike ride to to the Sand Creek National Historic Site.

EADS, Colo. — Despite recovering from an abscessed tooth extracted just days before, artist and cyclist Gregg Deal emerged from his attached bike-garage/studio on a hot summer day with a smile, displaying two bright teal water bottles, one in each hand. The right water bottle was perfectly intact, if not slightly marred by use; the other, victim to a gravel road and at least one set of tires. Lost during one of his training rides, Deal circled back around to discover it flattened. 

He laughed, waving the near paper-thin water bottle in the air. “I was going to use this tomorrow,” he said.  

Hydration was important for the excursion he was preparing for. In the morning, Deal would set off on a 150-mile bike ride from his home in Peyton, a northeast suburb of Colorado Springs, to the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site. Sitting on the rural east central plains of Colorado less than 50 miles from the Kansas border, it is one of the National Parks Services’ few nods to the darkness of western settlement.  

“When you actually start to break down the events of the Sand Creek Massacre, you begin to see a series of very deliberate choices,” Deal said. “They're not just upsetting, but really disturbing.” 

Colorado Voices

All land is Native land, says artist and cyclist Gregg Deal

The History

On November 29, 1864, five months before the end of the Civil War, 700 Union soldiers on horseback invaded a camp of peaceful Arapaho and Cheyenne families waiting for their peace treaty to come through. Elders and Chiefs from the community of 750 Native Americans had traveled through what had become Colorado Territory to Denver, ready to discuss peaceful terms of resettlement. They were told to camp east until further notice. The tribes settled on the banks of Sand Creek, near what is now the town of Eads, and awaited word.  

Meanwhile, Union Colonel John Chivington — who had earned his stripes after the accidental discovery and subsequent destruction of a Confederate supply train during the Battle of Glorietta Pass — ordered the Calvary to exterminate the camp. Historians and scholars say Chivington was responding to an order from Colorado Territorial Governor John Evans issued on August 11, 1864, “to kill and destroy, as enemies of the country… all hostile Indians.” The following year, Evans was forced to resign from governorship for instigating the Massacre.

An estimated 230 Arapahoe and Cheyenne tribal members were killed in a brutal assault that lasted hours. The massacre received a lot of attention for a Civil War-era transgression. Soon after, three separate federal investigations were held into the events of November 29, including a military trial. Extensive first-person accounts of the brutality were read aloud, scorching congressional minds. The event was declared a massacre. 

The Sand Creek National Historic Site outside of Eads, Colorado.

“These are not things that exist within popular culture, or at least in the understanding of basic American history,” Deal said. “These are the things that need to be talked about.” 

In 2007, through the work of tribal representatives, community members, and the National Park Service, a National Historic Site was created to protect and honor the site and to provide public education.  

[Related: Governor Polis officially rescinds John Evans’ proclamation that led to Sand Creek Massacre]

“The acknowledgement that these places even exist is a big part of this,” Deal said. “Any sort of awareness that this site exists, and the story of this place, I think is important. We can maybe, maybe raise a little bit of awareness about this space as we make a journey to it.”

With no planned stops along the way, Deal made plans to hydrate with “a CamelBak, and a water bottle an hour, at least — maybe more” as well as routine temperature checks to help identify heat exhaustion during one of the summer’s hottest stretches. “I have no doubt, it’s going to suck tomorrow,” Deal told Rocky Mountain PBS of the journey’s false-flat terrain and triple-digit forecast. 

Deal outlined the trip on his phone's GPS. They’d leave when it felt right, around 5 or 5:30 a.m. Deal estimated it would take about 10 to 12 hours to complete a rugged 150 miles, traveling almost all gravel roads.

The Mission

Deal first visited the site a few years ago as part of an invitation to participate in a film project about systemic violence in the United States of America — a topic he said the film’s creators found was a straight line through history back to the attempted genocide of Indigenous populations. While connecting with the site for the first time, Deal was struck by the out-of-sight, out-of-mind function of both American history and its remote locations — yet at the same time, its relative closeness to his own chosen home. 

“Like Native history in America, it is hidden but in plain sight,” Deal said.  

Deal’s work brings awareness of Native history to familiar outdoor spaces and the walls and floors of some of Colorado’s most popular art galleries. His small and large-scale mural, spray paint, graphic and visual works highlight lonely, biting transgressions against his ancestors — his work is an invitation, but also a call for the viewer to reckon with the past.

“All history is history, and there are aspects in that history we need to be accountable for,” Deal said. “No matter where we are, we are treading, walking, and driving on Indigenous lands.” 

Gregg Deal’s artwork in his studio.

Deal’s work meets you where you are at; though if you find it unsettling, the point of contact may be your ego. Deal said he has seen people storm out of his events when they realize it is pro-Native American content. 

If the viewer exists through this reckoning and overcomes their personal discomfort to then participate and engage with the work, they are drawn into a narrative redirection and reflection that we, too, live on these stolen lands. 

Deal acknowledged some institutions have been easier to work with than others in advancing these conversations. He said as an artist, doors have opened for him.

“Yet I don’t see as many doors opening in the cycling industry,” Deal said. “This ride is also about finding an approachable narrative within cycling.” 

Money, time, gear, and access are all barriers to getting involved in outdoor sports, he said. Plus, “a lot of outdoor sports industries put out there that you can only participate if you look a certain way. You have to be rich, white, thin, and all the things that go along with that,” Deal said.  

[Related: The 'Black Sherpa' summits every Colorado 14er in a push for more diversity in outdoor recreation]

Deal credits supportive bike gear and apparel companies for lending their goods and social media platforms toward awareness of Indigenous presence in the cycling world, and for standing behind his work.  

Gregg Deal displays the bike he rode during a planned 150-mile trip from the suburbs of Colorado Springs to the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site on the east central plains of Colorado.

“It’s a really difficult set of circumstances, because no one is really telling anybody what to do next,” he said. The brands behind Deal’s ride — Canondale, SRAM and Velocio — “have 100% been the types of organizations that tell me to go do what I want to do, and just want to make sure I have what I need.”

Deal, of Pyramid Lake Paiute (Numu) descent, was raised in a ski resort and mining town in Utah. He grew up biking. 

“Bikes were sort of the symbol of freedom when I was a kid,” he said. He and his father took short and long bike trips together, packing food, water and supplies. 

“At the time, it was pretty extreme, and pretty unheard of,” Deal said. “Not so much now. I mean, we are going to attempt 150 miles in a day, which is still pretty extreme,” he considered. “But really, nothing is extreme anymore.” 

The Ride

Artist and cyclist Gregg Deal set out early on a July morning to journey to the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.

At 4:45 on this July morning, crickets lulled along the walkway, serenely welcoming the porch light before sunrise. A small caravan of support gathered, including artist and filmmaker Steven Yazzie and Emmanual Gallery director and curator Jeff Lambson.

The plan was to follow Deal in their vehicle with plenty of snacks and water. Dave Nice, otherwise known as “Fixie Dave” — Deal’s ally and fixed-gear-riding bike mechanic — would cycle alongside him. Nice spends his days at Pedal Station, a community bike center, lending his talent to Kids on Bikes, a Colorado Springs community mainstay that aims to get more kids involved in cycling.  

In the blink of an eye, the vehicle was loaded, the walkie talkies tested, and Deal and Nice took off down Deal’s cul-de-sac before speeding away. They round out of the neighborhood as dawn broke over the horizon, soon going from the suburbs out toward the vast prairie. 

As the sun rose, the chill of the high desert summer air evaporated into the asphalt, which soon turned to gravel for Deal and his crew. Sage brush bended to the low-rumbling wind. Prairie flowers in full bloom beg to be appreciated as semi-trucks rocket few and far between through sparse terrain.  

Later, approaching wheat territory, trucks carrying grain rode almost back-to-back, more like a train, across the plain horizon, leaving one to marvel at the physics of “dry farming.” The regional agricultural method relies solely on precipitation — crops are not supplemented with any other irrigation throughout the growing season.  

“At first, we were booking,” said Deal of the early morning hours of the ride. “I think a lot of it has to do with how cool it was, being fresh in the morning. A lot was downhill, and most of the climbing were short climbs that you could just kind of push through.”  

“The climbs got increasingly longer,” he said. “A little after the 50-mile point things started getting really, really hot.” Bike tires sunk in the sand, fishtailing the bikes. “I started to notice that my ability to stay on a constant path was becoming increasingly difficult,” Deal said. 

“I was struck by really just how incredibly harsh the landscape is,” Deal said of the ride. “This is not an obvious destination. You really have to put in some work to find this place. Most people don't even know this is here. You have to want to come here to come here.” 

Across the cattle, ranch and farmlands of rural eastern Colorado, place names and counties play ping-pong: Cheyenne, Lincoln, Kiowa, Kit Carson. Turning off past Eads, a confused GPS and light signage lead the car over miles of newly graded gravel to the gates of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.  

The Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site

Teri Jobe, the acting lead interpretation ranger of the site, said her role relating the narrative of a complicated and traumatic past is a constant process of listening, learning and integration. 

On the day of the Sand Creek Massacre, as troops attacked the Native camp, “some of the chiefs started to walk out to meet the soldiers who were coming across the Creek,” said Jobe. “There were several accounts that Chief Black Kettle of the Cheyenne had taken an American flag he had been given some years earlier, put it on a long pole, and leaned it up against his lodge with a white flag under it, symbols indicating the camp was peaceful.”

Despite flags showcasing peace, “soldiers weren't here to talk,” Jobe said. “They opened fire on the Chiefs coming out to meet them.”  

“Soldiers were firing at anyone they could see,” Jobe said. “Men, women, children, the elderly, whoever. The Cheyenne and Arapaho fled in whatever direction they could. According to stories passed down by survivors, some people were pursued up to 10 miles away.” 

“This site is vast specifically because they realized, after really doing the research on the events that happened here, that people ran for miles to get away and were hunted down for miles,” Deal said. 

The Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.
The Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.

“This is a dark part of American history. And if those are not acknowledged along with everything else, you can start to lose context,” Jobe said. “Being able to acknowledge those things and trying to make connections to modern times is the most important aspect that I see.” 

While Chivington’s exact motivation is not known, Jobe said he may have been taking advantage of the feelings of fear and hate among settlers to gain a political position, and to rise rank, Jobe explained. 

Some soldiers of the First Calvary did not participate in the attack. Those soldiers, Jobe said, had been present for or were aware of the tribes’ efforts to establish peace. After the attack, the soldier’s pay was delayed, but they did eventually receive pay for the days leading up to and including the massacre. Following military investigation and public renouncement of his deeds, Chivington himself did not face repercussions.  

Today, Jobe said building and maintaining relationships with the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes is a primary focus of the site. 

Colorado Experience

Sand Creek Massacre

What would lead 700 volunteer soldiers to attack a peaceful settlement of Cheyenne and Arapaho Native Americans in east central Colorado Territory? Accounts of the Sand Creek Massacre, as told by tribal members, descendants of survivors, and historians are told through this hour-long documentary as part of Rocky Mountain PBS’ Colorado Experience series.

The Next

The Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site. It is open to the public Thursdays through Mondays.

At the entrance gate on that hot July day, the temperature on the dashboard hit 104. Heat lines wavered in the distance against a parched earth. Deal called off the ride after 90 miles due to heat exhaustion as he experienced cold chills and seeing spots. His journey this time to the Sand Creek Massacre Historical site ended with his arrival via an air-conditioned SUV.  

Deal was still dizzy from sun exposure when he spoke to Rocky Mountain PBS again. Within moments of turning off the air conditioner, his face glistened with an outpouring of heat.  

“I didn't make it as far as I'd hoped,” Deal said. “I made it just over 90 miles and had to stop. I just had to call it as is and stay safe.” He said he'd like to try again this fall. 

Gregg Deal’s artwork is at RedLine in Denver through October 9.

Deal’s commitment to education surrounding forgotten history has enlivened regional, statewide, and national cultural spaces, including a current collaboration with the Fort Garland Museum and Cultural Center. There, in the former Commandant’s Quarters of Kit Carson himself, an alternative narrative of Indigenous existence is depicted through graphic illustrations of Native and European figures relating punk rock band lyrics. The traveling exhibit, Merciless Indian Savages, opened in June.  

A punk survey of Deal’s multimedia and visual art is up at RedLine Contemporary Art Gallery in Denver through October 9, and a show of his work at the Ent Center for the Arts’ Gallery of Contemporary Art in Colorado Springs will be shown through December 11. In conjunction with the GOCA show, Esoo Tubewade Nummetu (This Land Is Ours), Deal will perform with his band, Dead Pioneers, in a parking lot in front of his large-scale Take Back the Power mural in downtown Colorado Springs. The concert is on Friday, September 23 at 5:30 p.m. at the corner of Pikes Peak Avenue and Tejon Street.  

Whether it's through the turning spokes of his bicycle wheels, by the crackle and mist of spray paint hitting canvas or by the soundwaves of music reverberating through space, Deal wants message to sink in. 

“History has to be reconciled in order for us to move forward in a way that in not only just appropriate but rooted in equality," said Deal. "All history is history. And there are aspects in that history that we need to be accountable for.”


Kate Perdoni is a multimedia journalist with Rocky Mountain PBS and can be reached at kateperdoni@rmpbs.org

Jeremy Moore is a multimedia journalist with Rocky Mountain PBS and can be reached at jeremymoore@rmpbs.org 

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