Wednesday, August 7, 2013

John Evans’s 1888 rationalizations of genocide: "the banality of evil" and the H.H. Bancroft interview, document 8, part 1



“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.” ― Hannah Arendt

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This essay comments on the surviving part of John Evans’ 1888 interview with H.H. Bancroft (for whom the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library is named). The interview bizarrely cuts off in the vital section on Evans’s relationship with indigenous people in mid-1864, just after the killing of the Hungate family. In the next series of posts, I will analyze Evans’ words line by line. Against the over-the-top celebration\lionization involved in naming mountains, towns, state capitol monuments, big streets, chapels and the like for Evans, this is a way to see plainly, from his own words, his role in ordering the massacre and subsequently defending it.

But in 1888, an underlying sense of guilt gnawed at him. The Quakers, among whom John Evans had been raised, stood out among whites for decency toward indigenous people. But John Evans was himself the author of the Sand Creek massacre. Try as he might to square these things, Evans could not. He does not directly mention the massacre in this part of the manuscript; yet it is an implicit touchstone in what Evans says. Following Sand Creek, three Federal hearings condemned him; he was fired for the massacre in 1865. The former Governor’s words are a barrage of rationalizations – as much to keep his own spirits up as to persuade Bancroft - often undercut a sentence or two afterwards.

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From his statements at Camp Weld in Denver, one can see that Governor Evans was angry with the Cheyenne and Arapaho leaders who would not meet with him - though he had brought a "feast" and "presents" - in the summer of 1863. See here. In 1864, he turned on these Indians as irrevocably "hostile" and spurned any efforts, including the bravery of Moketevato (Black Kettle) and others, coming to Camp Weld in response to his Proclamations, to make peace.

In this autobiographical interview with Bradford, Evans tells of the incident between his agent Gary and the indigenous leader Bull Bear at which Evans took special umbrage. This account will reveal how a patriarchal thinskinnedness changed him from quasi-Quaker - racist but wanting to make peace between tribes, settle Indians, get them out of the way for settlers, yet make them prosperous (as he fantasized) farmers - to eradicating them.

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In “The crux of the case against John Evans as an exterminator” – see here - I identified two crucial points from Evans's Proclamations and the Camp Weld meeting: 1) that Evans called for the destruction of all "hostile Indians," man, woman and child. Though this was a great war crime, it was characteristic of American policy of collective guilt and mass murder toward indigenous people throughout the country. See here. 2) At Camp Weld in Denver, he refused to allow indigenous people to make peace. He feigned allowing the Indians to go to Fort Lyon under the protection of Major Edward Wynkoop. See here. The indigenous leaders made every effort to secure peace and thought they had. Instead, he sicced Chivington to slaughter friendly Indians. This was the crime for which the Joint Commission rightly condemned Evans as especially horrific even in the bloody chronicles of ethnic cleansers. See here.

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As I also indicated in "The crux of the case," the Evans\Bancroft interview had been cited by Alexander Saxton in his book The Rise and Fall of the White Republic. I temporarily used Saxton’s research to establish a third point – that Evans used a quasi-Lockean argument about supposed productivity of whites to trump the rights of indigenous people to the land they had been on for generations. Instead, Evans claimed that the signing of treaties to gain title to the land was a grave mistake (in fact, Locke’s argument is that each laborer must leave “as much and as good as before” in the state of nature; that wasn’t done; the land was seized by settlers; indigenous people were cordoned off in reservation/concentration camps. Put differently, in his Second Treatise of Government (1690), Locke’s own prejudices against indigenous Americans – the King of a large territory in America is "feeds, lodges and is clad worse than a day laborer in England," ignoring that indigenous people lived cooperatively and that day laborers were often treated miserably – were strong; a more decent, corrected version of Locke’s argument is asserted in 1760 by J. Philmore in “Two Dialogues concerning the Man-Trade”: in a state of nature, all are fully human and equal, red, black and white. (See Alan Gilbert, Black Patriots and Loyalists, ch. 2)

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In the surviving part of the interview itself, I found this crucial third argument at greater length: that the English, somehow, did not steal the land from indigenous people; instead, the King, like the Popes in "Dum Diversas," 1452 and "Romanus Pontifex," 1455, merely declared he owned it and licensed it to whomever he willed. This was justified for Evans, once again, on the grounds that Occupier civilization was more productive than the indigenous inhabitants. It was William Penn whom Evans, a former Quaker, says powerfully, was concerned “with justice and humanity,” who had been responsible for having meetings with Indians and signing treaties to get the land. But Penn's initiative, Evans says, he had abruptly and recently, “realized[,] was a mistake” which caused the “Indian wars.” For Indians otherwise, by Evans’s lights, would have had no sense, though long living on the land in the absence of murderous and arrogant invaders, that it was theirs…

They were “children” needing “white Fathers” to tell them what was what…If one wants to understand the errors of patriarchy and othering, the stupidity of this judgment is a paradigm.

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As former Governor of the Colorado Territory, Evans knew that he had ordered the deliberate murder of every man, woman and child among so-called hostile Indians. As his and Chivington’s supporters like Captain S.M. Robbins testified in "the Chivington interest," they had murdered them “because the white settlers wanted some Indians dead” and did not care which ones. Both men hoped to gain election as Republicans, the former as Senator, the latter as Congressman when Colorado became a state just after the Civil War (the Massacre and the hearings helped postpone this for 11 years). But Evans had been condemned by three Federal hearings – named the “worst prevaricator” the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War had heard in four years - and fired for ordering/enabling the Massacre. See here.

The 1888 Bancroft interview is thus a last attempt at self-deception, to look at himself – having done this - still as a decent man. Evans works at it, but as we will see, his barrage of rationalizations wears thin. Penn, Evans says repeatedly, had put the settlers and the U.S. government in the position of highway robbers:

You teach a man that this is his property and then take it away by force and it is highway robbery.”

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Cancel Evans’ racism. The indigenous people were on the land. The settlers and their powerful government came and stole it, and in Evans’s own case, massacred the people who lived there, killing foetuses cut from their mothers’ wombs and toddlers (one was taken off by the “soldiers” in a wagon, and then left on the prairie). See here (That Denver was a violent, hard scrabble male place - less than 4% of the population of 4,749 were women in 1860; 2 schools, 2 churches, 2 hospitals, and 35 saloons, figures courtesy of Colorado History Museum - may have something to do with this crazed massacre at its "founding"; that Evans represented "civilization" and the indigenous people, with their families, "savages" is an odd judgment...).

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That is collective punishment, not law. That is Occupation. That is John Evans.

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In addition, “highway robbery,” though true, is too weak a word. In other areas, though externally guided and not self-reflective, Evans had a strong conscience. He wanted to think of himself as a decent man, a doctor, a founder of educational/religious institutions, an opponent of slavery, a Quaker or a Methodist, a man who thought Indians had often been badly treated and intended to “civilize” them.

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But his racism and zeal for extending the railways – he spends a lot of time on his wise investments and forcing others to behave wisely about money as a founding trustee at the Garrett Institute\Northwestern - also made him want to drive indigenous people out of Colorado. He did not sympathize with or even comprehend their very understandable reaction to being continually pushed out of their lands on which their parents and families were buried, the treaties broken (in contrast, many indigenous leaders had a commitment to living by their word), and they and their peoples starved. Indigenous leaders had striven to settle with the white conquerors, gave lots of concessions to overwhelming force, but, due to the indecency and criminality of the farmers and miners – they continued to come “like locusts” even onto the treaty/reservation lands newly assigned as refuge to the indigenous people – could not.

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The contrast of Evans with Lincoln about the Santee Sioux at the battle of New Ulm, Minnesota is instructive. Lincoln allowed 38 out of the “convicted” 303 to be hung if there was at least some evidence against them. Some evidence: two of the hung were misidentified and one more than innocent: he had saved a white woman at New Ulm during an attack...

The captured were allowed no defense attorneys and could not understand the trial proceedings; to hear the story is to take in what racist or American “justice” at the time amounts to.

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The doctrine of collective punishment for “savages” - the opposite of Anglo-American justice but, subsequently, a core Nazi principle - was the American rule in fighting the “Indian wars” It resembled subsequent “lynch law,” with the Klan by night and “all-white juries” by day, in the American South (See Gilbert, Black Patriots and Loyalists, ch. 3 on the 1775 case of Thomas Jeremiah).

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Lincoln, however, as Evans says of him admiringly, was a careful man, seeking to get what he did right. He expressed this view to John G. Nicolay, Lincoln’s private secretary and co-member of a commission to “negotiate” the Treaty of Conejos with the Utes in 186. As they rode through Colorado together, Evans avowed that Lincoln would be remembered as equally important with Washington (he is, in fact, a greater figure than Washington in making the liberty of all citizens a reality through abolition and the 13th amendment and being assassinated for it).

“The secretary of that commission was John G. Nicolay, private secretary to Mr. Lincoln, who was here for a little outing, and he acted as secretary for the commission. He and I went down in my ambulance two hundred miles from here to Conejos in the San Luis Valley. We held the commission and made a treaty by which the Utes surrendered all except a part of this mountain country, retaining the Gunnison Valley [Evans would deal successfully only with the Utes who were actually willing to settle according to his fantasy]; this was sent on to Washington. Mr. Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Emancipation the first of January 1863. As Mr. Nicolay and I were riding down, we were discussing Mr. Lincoln, who was his patron and my personal friend, and I realized his astonishment when I told him that my judgment was that in history Mr. Lincoln would stand alone equal in reputation to Washington. He turned square around and said: “Now, do you think so.” I told him I certainly did.” (Evans’s interview with H.H. Bancroft, part II, p. 17)

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In contrast, in 1864, Evans was possessed by umbrage and racism as “an exterminator” (Major Edward Wynkoop’s apt phrase, upon defecting from “the party of exterminators” – see here). He would be remembered – though celebrated in Illinois and Colorado - quite differently from Lincoln

In the Bancroft interview, Evans’ revulsion at “wildness” and “savagery” is intense.

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Evans was a shrewd businessman and part 1 of the interview is concerned with his purchase of lots in Chicago and for the railways and his insistence on cautious, far-seeing financial management of the Methodist school – Garrett - which also became Northwestern in Evanston (Evans Town). Along with Chivington and Ralph Byers, publisher of the Rocky Mountain News, Evans played a similar role in the foundation of the Colorado Seminary which became the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver in 1859.

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Much of his business acumen went into making a fortune on railroads. The gold trails, the stage route, and in 1877, the Missouri Pacific would run through Sand Creek. Andy Reid, a lawyer and teacher at the DU law school specializing in the law affecting indigenous peoples, sent me the following account of the railway passing through the area cleared by the massacre:

“The fountain at the corner of Colfax and Broadway downtown [it was originally to be a memorial statue of a Lakota Sioux by Frederick William MacMonnies, a leading Beaux-Arts sculptor and American expatriate in Paris who had designed the main statue at the Columbian World’s Fair of 1893, celebrating the first Exterminator of the Americas. After protest from the racists who ran Denver, it became, in 1911, a statue to “Indian-killer” Kit Carson…see here) is the ‘Pioneer’ fountain and idolizes settler colonialism. It's purportedly (according to the plaques on the fountain) the western terminus of the ‘Smoky Hill Route’ which was the main route followed by thousands of gold prospectors and settlers from 1859 through the 1860s after the discovery of gold along Cherry Creek. The southern part of the route dipped down at Cheyenne Wells and hooked up to and followed the Big Sandy not far from where the Massacre took place during that historical period. Around 1864 it was replaced by a stage coach line that was then replaced by the Missouri Pacific Railroad in 1877.

The Cheyenne were directly in the way of all of this.”

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The massacre – driving the Cheyenne and Arapahoe out of Colorado (he temporarily tolerated only "Friday's band," otherwise not identified, among them, letter to Major S.G. Colley, US Ind Agent, Sept 29, 1864, ibid) was motivated by Evans’s intense fear and loathing of indigenous people as well as his interests as a railway magnate.

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Though vain, Evans had otherwise a conscience. He reports to Bancroft that he was among the original anti-alcohol people, enacting the first Prohibition law for four miles around the Garrett\Northwestern campus.

“Then the question was what they should name it and it was decided that they would name it Evanston [Evans Town] as a compliment to me for my activity in inaugurating the enterprise. The next year, that was in the winter of ’52-53, we made application for an amendment to the charter and got it through with some opposition. Judge Goodrich and the rest and the board of trustees made application for it, and it was the first prohibition act in all this United States [note the pride in the size of this America which this wealthy frontiersman had…]. It prohibited the manufacturing of or sale of intoxicating liquors within four miles of the institution. It gave us also immunity from taxation on property not to exceed ten thousand acres of land. I do not claim that I did this [the precision about reputation again reveals Evans' vanity…] but my associates and I did.“ (part I, p. 10)

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Despite being assigned by the Federal Government to supervise Indian Affairs, Evans’s conscience soon became paralyzed with regard to native americans. Here the sense of hurt and umbrage marks a transition. But that an otherwise “conscientious” man – an “official” and would be politician - can become a monster, one step at a time, is exemplified in his story. Evans is a kind of Arendt-like Eichmann; this interview reveals the “banality of evil”….

Evans was also more creative and, as a founder of educational\religious institutions, public-spirited than Eichmann. Yet even Eichmann was not condemned for special brutality in ethnic cleansing by the Nazis, whereas the Federal government, thanks to Silas Soule, Joseph Cramer and Major Edward Wynkoop, did hold hearings on Sand Creek and denounce Evans. Ethnic cleansing, sometimes at a slower pace, was ordinary (long afterwards, authorities sought to make indigenous people "whites," to eradicate their culture). But massacring the most determinedly friendly Indians – even among the brotherhood of ethnic cleansers - was a step beyond banality…

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In the second part of the interview, Evans describes his first, unsettling encounter with “savages.” An apologist for the settlers – white Denverites had illegally further displaced indigenous people who had already been forced into the Colorado territory by the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1851) – Evans’ othering and loathing can be heard in these words:

“Denver had a population of about one thousand when I came here and the census of the territory taken in 1860 gave it a little over thirty thousand. A great many had left by the time I got here and those who remained were scattered all over the territory around the mining camps. The Indians were considered friendly, their disposition being to beg and pilfer;…”

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No thought enters Evans’ mind about how the US government had stolen indigenous land, driven them out again and again, impoverished them. No thought enters about how those few he saw briefly in Denver were unusual; not the hunting tribes camped away from Denver on the plains.

Where was the begging?

Who did the stealing (“Indians run off horses…”)?

Evans looked down on them as the Indian Affairs Supervisor, charged with “giving them presents” (small amounts of food) and resettling them. The thief of a whole territory blames those who had but run off horses…

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“Their disposition being to beg and steal” – the disposition of an ignorant racist…

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“they [the Indians] had up to that time maintained peaceable relations. There had been war between the Plains Indians and the Mountain Indians from time immemorial [he does not recognize the small number of casualties; except for the Pawnees who sided with the United States government, many tribes would soon be united by the genocidal American onslaught…]. The first Sunday I spent in Denver I witnessed a war dance. The Sioux, the Arapahoes, and the Cheyennes which were all intermixed (plains Indians) had just come down from an expedition into South Park, during which they had killed a Ute, and they had his scalp [Evans would settle the "Tubeugache Utahs" - letter to Commissioner Wm. P. Dale, September 27, 1864, Colorado History Museum, John Evans notebook as commissioner of Indian affairs, no. 421 - led by Chief Ouray, as farmers and looking backward, saw them differently from the plains Indians; even they, would later be expelled to Utah and though even its naming for them did not mostly include...them]. They had a young squaw, who was dressed up in gorgeous attire with a big cape that hung down her person made out of Eagle’s feathers, and other feathers that were gaudy and red. The dance was down on Blake Street, which was the business part of the city at that time.”

“I walked over there from my hotel and this squaw had a stick about 8 feet long and on the end of it was the scalp of this Ute [note the repetition, indicating Evans’ fascination/obsession with the macabre trophy] and the other Indians formed a ring around her and danced around her while she waved that scalp, and they beat their tom-toms and danced around her in the street. [part II, pp. 12-13] I had never seen a war dance and that was quite a novel sight because it impressed me with the savagery of the Indians.”

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Their savagery was the focus of Evans’s judgment.

A gaze that never looks at, let alone asks question about itself. A patriarchal, genocidal gaze…

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“I was the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Ex Officio.“ That concludes this episode.

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Given his fear and being a man of force, a representative of the massive government in Washington, Evans hastily commanded a big cannon to be shot off the next day in the presence of the indigenous people to intimidate them. This was a standard US measure, done often in the American capital for all the chiefs the “great white Father” had invited in. For instance, the display of American weapons and numberless soldiers and settlers convinced Little Crow of the Santee Sioux that there would be no point in fighting the white man; unfortunately, the continued settlement, aggression and starvation in Minnesota made his intent on peace – as Moketevato’s (Black Kettle’s) in Colorado and again, along the Washita River in Oklahoma – an unreal option.

Despite their best efforts, both men would be murdered by settlers/”soldiers.”

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“The next day they [the Indians] camped down below town. I told the commander of the post that it would be a good idea to get a big cannon and let them hear it go off.”

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Evans’ long ago and routine Quakerism – his religiosity, once again, seems largely an inherited and unreflective thing, something to be thought well of about, calculated or modified for external, political reasons - then comes to the fore.

“I had a conference with them and told them how wrong and foolish it was to fight among themselves. I was brought up a Quaker and a sympathizer with the Indians [this is a central part of Evans’ rationalization, to himself and others, of the Sand Creek massacre – “I am friendly to them; I tried to discourage violence between tribes; I responded only to savagery; surely, I, I could not be a mass murderer, a butcher of children…”], and in opposition to their spending time fighting, so I gave them a lecture.”

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Note that he was a Patriarch talking to “children,” not a man interested in finding out what indigenous people thought, especially of the invading white forces that he headed. Cannon first, lecture second…

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“They did not object to the shooting, but from my speech they got it into their heads that I was on the side of the Utes. They did not set me down as an enemy exactly but they suspected me.”

Evans perhaps identified with the Ute who was scalped. As the Commission with John Nicolay indicated, Evans would make an effort as Governor to settle these Utes agriculturally, and befriend Chief Ouray for whom Ouray, Colorado is named. That none of this occurs to him in retrospect shows how thin a connection there may be between being a religious leader and self-examination or spiritual struggle. In many ways, though a pioneering institution builder, Evans was a conventional bureaucrat a la Eichmann.

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“A deputation of Utes came down about that time and held a conference in my office, which still stands in West Denver. I was trying to get them to quit fighting and make peace. One of the most exciting scenes I ever witnessed was during that conference. Some of the Arapahoe Indians went along the street and the Utes saw them out of the window, and there was the most intense excitement among them. I told them they certainly must not do anything of that kind in town; it was wrong and then I proposed to make peace again. They said the best thing that could be done with an Arapahoe or a Cheyenne was to kill him.”

Note that in rationalization, Evans paints the "savages" as at each others’ throats, himself as peace-maker. Interestingly, in a litany of business dealings and helping Garrett/Northwestern and participating in Know-nothing and Republican politics, these are among the few pictures he draws, stories he tells (2 on a single page).

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“After the battle of Apache Canyon the troops came home under Major Wynkoop [who sided with Evans and Chivington at that point as part of “the party of Exterminators” – see here], who was promoted to the rank of Major and Chivington who was promoted to the rank of Colonel. That winter of 1862 I got permission from the commissioner of Indian affairs to send a deputation of these wild Indians to Washington and the East (pp. 13-14). They were perfectly wild and had no idea of the East nor much intercourse with the whites, excepting what they got during the Californian emigration ten years before, and the Pikes peak emigration a few years before.”

The words “wild” and “savage” are shibboleths for Evans, in retrospect, against the accusatory memory of the massacre of friendly Indians, man, woman and child, for which he had been fired even by a Federal Government which intended to “clear” the West...

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