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A presentation on the frontier-era American Indian Wars by self-styled historian George Koukeas rankled audience members and blindsided members of the Englewood Historic Preservation Society on Jan. 29.
Koukeas, who runs Personal Protection Services, a security services company, presented a talk titled "The Real George Custer: Separating Fact from Political Bias" to the EHPS at the Brew on Broadway in downtown Englewood. The talk largely centered on the life and career of Lt. Col. George Custer, a controversial figure in the 19th-century Plains Indian wars, which saw native nations pushed from their homelands and herded onto government reservations.
Koukeas said his talk sought to exonerate figures like Custer and Army Col. Kit Carson, whom Koukeas said had seen their reputations tarnished by “biased activists pushing agendas.”
Koukeas repeatedly referred to Cheyenne Indian warriors as “baby killers” and “rapists,” citing the narratives of captives held hostage by the warriors.
Koukeas doubled down on his characterizations at the tail end of his talk, and said that the herding of Native American participants in the Battle of Little Bighorn, where Custer was killed, onto reservations was “poetic justice.”
Tensions boiled over during a question-and-answer section that followed the talk, beginning as several audience members took issue with Koukeas' portrayal of the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Jose Vialpando, who said later that he is of Kiowa descent, took exception to Koukeas' characterizations of Native Americans.
“They were fighting for their homelands,” Vialpando said.
“Well, you're an idiot,” Koukeas said.
Englewood Historic Preservation Society President Matt Crabtree took the microphone, and Koukeas left the gathering moments after the talk ended.
The heated scene was not what the Englewood Historic Preservation Society was expecting, Crabtree said.
“I've never had to cut a speaker off in all the years we've been doing these talks,” Crabtree said by phone after the event. “It was unfortunate because this was among our better-attended talks.”
Crabtree estimated the attendance at more than 50. He said the group has received complaints via email and Facebook following the event.
“This talk did not represent the views of the Englewood Historic Preservation Society,” Crabtree said. “We've never had a situation like this. We don't want to be controversial or cause conflict.”
Crabtree said Koukeas had done a previous presentation for the society, on “Buffalo” Bill Cody, that went off without a hitch. He said the group felt Koukeas was vetted as well as could be expected.
“Short of asking for a full copy of someone's speech in advance, there's not much we can do to prevent someone from veering off like this.”
Koukeas previously presented at History Camp Colorado, a day-long history symposium.
"I had heard him before at History Camp, and I disagreed with him there too, but it wasn’t this presentation," said CJ Cullinan, EHPS's secretary. "This one felt so slanted, and even slanderous. It caught me off guard. I think it caught us all off guard. Although I will say it was interesting to have that much attendance."
Cullinan said she spoke to one couple who found the presentation interesting.
"It kind of brings up dialogue, doesn’t it? It allows us to say history is not static," she said. "Some people like things to be black and white and good and evil, and it’s just not."
Koukeas declined to comment for this article.
Vialpando said he saw the talk as an attempt to justify atrocities and dehumanize Native Americans.
“He was talking as if native people were street gangs,” Vialpando said by phone after the event. “He talked about Indian attacks on whites, but failed to mention that many of the attacks he was referring to were committed by refugees fleeing Colorado after the Sand Creek Massacre. And, let's be honest, we're talking about the desperate actions of people who were victims of genocide.”
The Sand Creek Massacre was an attack by American troops on an Arapaho and Cheyenne camp in November 1864, according to the National Park Service. Soldiers killed around 230 Native Americans, mostly women and children, and mutilated their bodies.
Vialpando said he was disturbed by Koukeas' presentation but was heartened by people who pushed back against his characterizations.
“There were real humans in the room that night,” Vialpando said. “I don't want conflict. I want people to love each other and learn from each other.”
The Englewood Historic Preservation Society holds presentations on the final Monday of every month. The group's next presentation, on Feb. 26, will be Crabtree's telling of the life of Nikola Tesla. He said it promises to be electrifying.
Crabtree will present the talk at 2:30 p.m. at the Englewood Public Library at 1000 Englewood Parkway, and 6:30 p.m. at the Brew on Broadway at 3445 S. Broadway. Visit historicenglewood.com for more information.
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