Three weeks ago, a sculpture of a Union soldier who had fought in the Civil War stood on a pedestal before the state Capitol building in Denver, gazing out toward the Rocky Mountains. Across the street, Christopher “Kit” Carson—a frontiersman and scout—kept his balance on a rearing horse, the centerpiece of a fountain dedicated to Colorado’s pioneers. Four hundred miles to the south, another Carson monument stood in front of the Santiago E. Campos United States Courthouse in Santa Fe: a sandstone obelisk that lauded his career with an inscription reading “Pioneer, Pathfinder, Soldier.” One block away, another large obelisk towered over Santa Fe Plaza. A granite and marble monument to Union soldiers who fought in New Mexico, the obelisk’s four sides commemorated these soldiers’ battles with Confederates and Native peoples, who were originally described on the monument as “savage Indians” (an Indigenous protester chiseled off the word savage in the 1970s).
Today, these sites look strikingly different. The Union soldier in Denver is gone, pulled down by protesters demonstrating against police brutality and racial inequality. Carson had a less violent end, carted off by the city in anticipation of another protest. Santa Fe’s two obelisks are now covered in plywood to cover up tags labeling them as racist memorials of genocide and the theft of Indigenous lands.
Those responsible for pulling down and tagging these monuments have not been identified, so we cannot know their motives, but some Americans might see these removals as part of a “slippery slope” that monument advocates warn against. After all, as Colorado’s governor, Jared Polis, put it, these statues are of “Union heroes of the Civil War who fought and lost their lives to end slavery.” But while many Union soldiers did fight for emancipation in the East, Union soldiers in the West fought for Native annihilation and removal. For this reason, these monuments in Denver and Santa Fe deserve to be examined with the same scrutiny as Confederate statues.