Monday, September 16, 2013

Additional evidence from John Evans' letters on his intent towerd Cheyennes and Arapahoes

I have recently been reading the copy of John Evans’ letterbook as Commissioner of Indian Affairs for Colorado (as Governor, he would sign all his letters Governor of C.T. – the Colorado Territory – and “Ex Officio Superintendant of Indian Affairs”) at the Colorado History archive. Given a distinction between Evans enabling Sand Creek as opposed to ordering it, the selections below demonstrate incitement to Chivington and justify a larger suspicion that he meant the slaughter at Sand Creek including children, i.e. the at there is no difference between Evans and the infamous statement by Chivington, reported by others: “nits make lice.” The letters amplify the three pivotal sentences of Evans' June 27th, 1864 Proclamation which are:

"The object of this is to prevent friendly Indians from being killed through mistake. None but those who intend to be friendly with the whites must come to these places. The families of those who have gone to war with the whites must be kept away from among the friendly Indians."

In his second August 11 Proclamation, Evans reiterates the message that all hostiles – and that means the people who came in to Denver at great risk and with whom he refused to make peace at Camp Weld, including warriors, women, children, the elderly - must be “killed and destroyed”:

“Now, therefore, I, John Evans, governor of Colorado Territory, do issue this my proclamation, authorizing all citizens of Colorado, either individually or in such parties as they may organize, to go in pursuit of all hostile Indians on the plains, scrupulously avoiding those who have responded to my said call to rendezvous at the points indicated; also, to kill and destroy, as enemies of the country, wherever they may be found, all such hostile Indians.”

The phrase about “scrupulously avoiding those who have responded to my call” for friendly Indians to go to specific Forts is rendered otiose by his June 11th statement that no “hostile” women, children or the elderly are to be allowed to escape the slaughter. (Cheyenne and Arapahoe warriors wanted to protect their own women and children, and a proposal to avoid crimes of war by having them come in with tribes designated friendly - the Cheyennes and Arapahoes at Fort Lyon were also friendly - would have fallen on deaf ears.)

Combined with the Camp Weld meeting in Denver, where Evans at first tried to avoid even seeing Black Kettle and the other chiefs who came in “through a fire” with Major Wynkoop to make peace – he had to be persuaded by Wynkoop to come to the meeting – this statement is again enabling and perhaps close to incitement. At that conference, Evans refused to make peace with them:

“My proposition to the friendly Indians has gone out; I shall be glad to have them all come in, under it. I have no new propositions to make. Another reason that I am not in a condition to make a treaty, is that war is begun, and the power to make a treaty of peace has passed from me to the Great War Chief.”

Chivington did not misunderstand the Governor. Evans disowns responsibility for making peace with these Cheyennes and Arapahoes, though not, as we will see below, making war on them.

This establishes, once again, that Evans enabled the massacre, and lends some credence to the harsher possibility that he ordered it. Recall Evans’ and Chivington’s constant, at least weekly personal contact as Methodists and Masons, not to mention as potential Republican candidates for Senate and Representative and as trustees of the Colorado Seminary - all in the tiny town of Denver - as well as, for example, over 25 communications from early July to mid-August, the most of any recipient in the letter book: the words at Camp Weld convey what their mutual understanding was.

Here are three of Evans' letters, the first to one of Evans’s scouts/spies on Indians, U.M. Curtis (not the General Samuel R. Curtis who was in command of American soldiers in the region and called for “chastising” Indians), no. 273 in Evans’ Letterbook:

“U.M Curtis, Esqr June 22, 1864
Indian Scout

You may inform them that they must not allow the families [sic] of those who are at war with the whites to come into these friendly camps or live in the places assigned to friendly Indians at any of the places referred to.

Those who do not heed these instructions [must?] take the terrible consequences, for those who fight the whites must be destroyed by the forces that will be brought against them. “

The second is to Major Colley in charge of supplies at Fort Lyon, no. 248 in Evans’ Letterbook:

“Major S.C. Colley June 16th, 1864
Fort Lyon, C.T.

You will immediately make necessary arrangements for the feeding and support of all the friendly Indians of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians at Fort Lyon and direct the friendly Comanches & Kiowas if any to return to [remain at?] Fort Larned.

The war is opened in earnest and upon our efforts to quiet the friendly as a nucleus for peace will depend its duration to some extent at least. You can send word to all the tribes to come as directed above, but do not allow the families of those at war to be introduced into the friendly camp.”

The third letter is to an Arapahoe leader Roman Nose (not to be confused with the Cheyenne warrior of the same name according to whites. This is the one letter in the whole book directly to a Native American leader. It spells out, particularly in the last paragraph and the P.S. (the only P.S. in all the letters) Evans’ barring of civilians/innocents among “hostiles” from avoiding massacre, no. 252 and 253 in Evans' Letterbook:

“Roman Nose
Arapahoe Chief

I want you and all of your band to come to the Cache La Poudre at once to meet me. When you get there report at Camp Collins and they will send me word.

I have got the authority to treat with you that I promised last fall.

Have all of your Head men along. I will send provisions as soon as I hear you are there.

Don’t let any of your young men go with the Cheyennes to fight us for they will be sure to hang.

If any of them will go make them take their families away from your village. We cannot have the families of hostile Indians in friendly camps.

Those Indians that remain friendly may rely upon the Government for ample provision and protection. I will see to it.

Any story that the Great Father is not friendly to those who keep Peace is false for he will take care of them. But, they must keep away from the hostile tribes.

John Evans. Gov., C.T.
& Ex Officio Supt. Ind. Affairs


Any Band of Cheyennes belonging on the North Platte who are friendly to the Whites and wish to keep peace and will exclude all hostile Indians and their families from their villages are directed to join Roman Nose’s Band on the Cache La Poudre for protection and care.”

Note that Evans’ instruction to exclude the families of hostile Indians is repeated three times – obsessively – in this sole note to an indigenous leader. When he says “kill and destroy” in his Proclamation of August 11, he means all of these Indians, without distinction of civilian and warrior. He thus violates the oldest understandings of the law of war (see Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, ch. 1-6; Alan Gilbert, Democratic Individuality, ch. 1).

So we are faced with the question about whether Evans only enabled the massacre or also directly incited it. Defeating the Plains Indians, who were warriors and on horse back, elusive when they could ride, was, seemingly, a much tougher task for the U.S. army than the ethnic cleansing of the East Coast which had proceeded since before the Revolution (roughly, for 250 years). Yet the Plains Indians were destroyed, the remnant cordoned on reservations (concentration camps) within 25 years.

Superior weapons made an important difference for the U.S. government side, but were not decisive. The crucial U.S. tactic, modeled on General Patrick Connor's massacre of Shoshonis at Bear River in Utah in January, 1863, depended on the fact that Native Americans had to settle with food, relatively immobile, for the winter. Their camps could then be ravaged by American soldiers. In such battles, soldiers were “safer” if they were not courageous like Silas Soule, but rather shot everything that moved. The so-called “battle” dead – these are actually all mainly surprise attacks and massacres; what made Sand Creek stand out as an anomaly was that the Cheyennes and Arapahoes were determinedly friendly – are often mostly women and children…

The Sand Creek massacre helped consolidate this “tactic.” Now someone who wanted to extenuate Evans might perhaps try the following argument to differentiate him from Chivington. Before Sand Creek, the tactic of killing “hostile” Indians camped for the winter, featuring the butchery of women and children, was not clearly understood (In other words, Evans did not quite know what he was ordering). After Sand Creek, for instance, at the Washita River in Oklahoma in 1868 where Black Kettle, trying again to make peace, and his wife were murdered by George Armstrong Custer, and in many other cases, massacring civilians was the US army’s approach. If the particular killing of friendly Indians by Chivington initiates the tactic, Evans then enabled such killing, and is evil in intent, but did not directly order it.

Further, such an extenuation might continue, since the U.S. military routinely practiced the killing of civilians down to the massacre of peaceful Christian ghost dancers at Wounded Knee in 1890, Evans does not really stand out for ordering the murder of children, women and the elderly. They all massacred the children of “hostile” Indians. Evans did not quite understand the rapacity which he was ordering. Thus, it is mainly Chivington who is responsible for the massacre of friendly Indians which so shocked Washington....

Even this semi-satire, however, is contradicted by prior evidence of the army burning out food supplies and attacking into the winter. For Kit Carson, working for General Carpenter of California, pursued this practice, initiated by General Connor, against the Navajo in New Mexico by burning out their peach orchards (they were farmers, settled on the land - Americans like John Evans supposedly required until they wanted the land… – and especially valued their orchards), killing their horses and other livestock, and destroying supplies from mid-summer into the winter in 1863.

But more importantly, there is a smoking gun about Evans’ understanding of the value of winter warfare at Camp Weld. He speaks about the usefulness of fighting the Cheyennes and Arapahoes in the winter as the “best time for me.” Note that he speaks with personal responsibility here for fighting the native americans and does not pawn it off, as he does any possibility of peace, on the military authorities. Thus, the claim that he might not have authority to make or cease to make war, as he saw it, is directly contradicted by his own manner of speaking at Camp Weld, recorded by his political and Indian Affairs aide, Simeon Whiteley:

“Gov. Evans--The fact that they have not been able to prevent their people from going to war in the past spring, when there was plenty of grass and game, makes me believe that they will not be able to make a peace which will last longer than until winter is past.

White Antelope--I will answer that after a time.

Gov. Evans--The time when you can make war best, is in the summer time; when I can make war best, is in the winter. You, so far have had the advantage; my time is just coming. “

Evans here understands completely the point of destroying Indian camps in the winter and speaks menacingly. If anything, Chivington learned the point from him. This is what Evans really thinks, even though he is weaselly or contradictory about not having the authority to make peace at the same meeting. Listen again:

“The time when you can make war best, is in the summer time; when I can make war best, is in the winter. You, so far have had the advantage; my time is just coming. “

Evans had always been fearful of “savages” (see his 1888 description to H.H. Bancroft of his first encounter with them here). But with his panic to the Indian Commissioner Dole in Washington and General Samuel Curtis who doubted that the slaughter of the Hungates – the only actual murders in Colorado in the run-up to Sand Creek – were a sign of “general Indian war on the plains” became increasingly lurid in his characterization of Native Americans as “infernal.” Evans was possessed by a kind of racial repulsion, a shuddering, something not just tactical. This was a third aspect of why he enabled\incited Sand Creek. He really lost any distinction between seeking those guilty of crimes (the Hungate murders – a distinction he had previously in these letters, but not at all about this case…), warriors on the Plains, innocents and the infernal. When Wynkoop says that he defected from “the party of exterminators,” that is, of Evans and Chivington - Wynkoop has previously ordered his men to kill any Indian on sight and berated those who brought in One Eye with the message from Black Kettle and his companion - this gut feeling is what he meant. On June 16, Evans gives words to the mercilessness of the massacre, letter no. 250:

"Major Gen. Curtis June 16, 1864
Fort Leavenworth

I am sorry to inform you that there is a defect in our militia law and it is difficult to act under it.

I have a few good small companies organized but they will not do for other than home defense.

The Indian alliance is so strong that I am sure our settlements on our lines of communication cannot be protected without force.

I have applied for authority to raise a Regiment of 100 day men. I have also asked Gen’l Carlton to aid on the Arkansas and below. It is very important that Col. Chivington operate with his command on these infernal Indians

…I have ordered Camps for friendly Indians at Fort Lyon, Ft. Larned and on the Cache La Poudre and hope all the friendly bands of the Sioux may come to For Larimie, then as we whip and destroy others will join them and we will bring it to a close.

This requires (vigorous?) war and it can be expected soon.

I enclose copies of letters to show you that this is the programme set forth in my communications last fall and that it is daily becoming more and more formidable. As we are at home powerless but to defend and almost so even for that purpose we rely upon you to put down this hostile alliance of the infernal barbarians.

We of course only having a part of the country involved cannot, except under your orders go out to fight these Indians.

I appeal to you to consider our situation and to protect our lines of communication and our settlements by whipping these Indians.”

Evans is a Methodist leader, and one should take these words about “infernal barbarians,” along with the ban on “hostile” women and children seeking protection as a sentiment of murderous racist – demonic - repulsion. The idea of Chivington “operating” on these “infernal” creatures again seems to mean – Sand Creek - what it says.

In a telegram of June 12th to General Curtis, Evans adds the phrase Rebels to this characterization. The emotion is both intense and opportunist (he is trying to gain Curtis’s military support). The incitement, once again, is to a desperate and final struggle in which hostile Indians are exterminated down to children, No. 255 listed as "Telegram" in the Letterbook:

"Major Gen Curtis June 12th, 1864
Ft. Leavenworth

Three separate messengers came during last night from settlements 10 and 20 miles East. Indians supposed in large force murdering settlers burning Houses and capturing horses. Last company of troops left yesterday for Lyons now near Indians. Have requested them to scout.

For God sake order this company of troops to go after these Rebel Red [skins]. Militia unmounted and scattered.

John Evans, Gov., C.T. “

Evans both had the physical/emotion repulsion toward the infernal barbarians and tactically, used hysteria about this, along with the analogy of the Rebels, to persuade Curtis to let him mobilize the Federal troops, the “hundred daysters,” who perpetrated the massacre. His repulsion toward all “hostile Indians” led to his menacing assertion that the winter, when the Arapahoes and Cheyennes are camped (and more so at Sand Creek because they had assumed they had peace), is “my time.”

At the Tokyo war crimes trials of 1946 (85 years later, but capturing a basic human sense about evils in war), the American-led tribunal executed generals who had failed to command their soldiers not to commit war crimes. John Evans actually instructed Chivington to commit war crimes, and, in addition, against friendly Indians.

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