Updated: Dec 27, 2021
In Boulder there’s lots of left hands. There’s Left Hand Brewing Company, Left Hand Creek, Left Hand Canyon. There’s also Niwot, which means left-handed in the native Arapaho language and is also the name of a town nearby (as well as nearby Niwot Mountain, and Niwot Ridge). All of these references to ‘left hand’ or Niwot are a homage to the southern Arapaho chief, Chief Niwot.
Chief Niwot played an integral role in Colorado’s state history. He and his people lived along the Front Range, often spending winters in Boulder Valley. In the fall of 1858 during the Colorado Gold Rush, early immigrants were welcomed by Niwot and his people to the area, even though it was Arapaho territory. Upon meeting the first settlers in the fall of 1858, Niwot is said to have stated his legendary Curse of the Boulder Valley. According to local lore, Chief Niwot said, “People seeing the beauty of this valley will want to stay, and their staying will be the undoing of the beauty.”
Chief Niwot wanted his tribe to coexist peacefully with the white man. He learned English, Cheyenne, and Sioux, which allowed him to communicate with white settlers and other tribes. However, peaceful relations between the southern Arapaho and the white prospectors did not last.
Racist Colorado Territorial Governor John Evans decided to get rid of the “Indian problem.” He ordered the peaceful southern Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes to relocate to Sand Creek, an area in southeast Colorado north of Fort Lyon (an area in far east Colorado close to Kansas, not to be confused with the town of Lyons that’s close to Boulder). Governor Evans then ordered the Third Colorado Cavalry, commanded by Colonel John Chivington, to patrol the land for hostile Indians.
Colonel Chivington and his men patrolled Colorado’s eastern plains for months without finding any hostile tribes. Frustrated, they headed to Sand Creek. Despite Major Edward Wynkoop, commander of Fort Lyons, stating that the Native people at Sand Creek were peaceful, Chivington and his men attacked the Araphao camp the morning of Nov. 29, 1864. There are no exact statistics on the number of people who were killed that day, but most historians believe approximately 230 American Indians were killed during the Sand Creek Massacre, including Chief Niwot, and mostly women, children, and the elderly.
President Abraham Lincoln, bogged down by the Civil War, called for a Congressional investigation into the tragedy. Congress ruled the “gross and wanton” incident a “massacre” rather than a “battle.” Chivington was reprimanded for his actions and lost his commission, Governor Evans was removed from office, and Colorado was placed under martial law. The Sand Creek Massacre site is now designated as a National Historic Site.
Today, we remember Chief Niwot with all the references to his name and statues scattered around the boulder area. AstroTours happens at the “Boulder Valley Ranch trailhead” Chief Niwot’s legendary Curse is of the entire Boulder Valley. Chief Niwot is believed to have said: “People seeing the beauty of this valley will want to stay, and their staying will be the undoing of the beauty.”
The first half of the curse is as true then as it is today. The beauty of the Boulder Valley is definitely eye-catching and has caught the eyes of people from all over the world that move here. If you’ve been on an Astro Tour you’re definitely well aware of the beauty both on earth and in the heavens above the Boulder Valley and probably wish to stay there longer taking in its beauty. Unfortunately the *curse* part is also all too real these days with people moving to Boulder, Longmont, Niwot, Gunbarrel, Lyons, and everywhere in between not only is the development hard on the land and natural resources but it’s taking away the pristine sky above our community with light pollution.
So next time you visit the Boulder Valley be wary of this curse. It's a captivating land but don’t let the beauty of the valley be its undoing. Practice Leave No Trace principles and limit your light pollution and maybe we can undo the curse.
This post was taken heavily from the Visit Longmont article below. I think the original ending is hilarious how it says this land is cursed because people keep coming here soooooo... you should come here too 😊