Below is an executive summary of the report on John Evans and the Sand Creek massacre, researched and written by a committee of scholars and historians (Richard Clemmer-Smith, Anthropology, Nancy Wadsworth, Political Science, David Halaas, former director of Colorado History and author of a powerful book on George Bent, Tink Tinker, Iliff School of Theology, Billy Stratton, English and author of the fine Buried in Shades of Night, Steve Fisher, the University archivist and historian, and me) and reflecting a collective consensus about Evans. Our committee has met now for nearly two years, and in the past year, with 6 descendants of the Cheyennes and Arapahos who died at Sand Creek. The report underlines a mass of evidence which suggests that while Evans may not have known about Chivington's attack on these Native Americans beforehand (there is no direct evidence that he did), John Evans, and John Evans almost by himself, created the conditions for an attack on indigenous people who were under the protection of the military, who had made every effort to achieve peace, and plausibly thought themselves at peace. As one of several innovations in research, the report places Governor Evans in the context of comparative evidence about how Supervisors of Indians Affairs in Utah and Nevada dealt with indigenous people which makes Evans's campaign from 1863 for war against the Cheyennes and Arapahos stand out. In this context, that he did the opposite of his office, advocating war - and as Governor, even declaring it, something he had no authority to do - stands out. Evans was, in these respects, alone among military and civilian officials who were, by contrast, concerned, at minimum, to wage the Civil War and did not want a dangerous, general war on a second front, or, as in the case of Commissioner of Indian Affairs Dole, wanted to extend a treaty to all the tribes (note: the peaceful policy here also meant to cordon indigenous people onto small, inarable reservations and change their way of life, by compulsion, to farmers - there was no decent party toward indigenous people in the American elite, just a lesser evil). The authors of this report hope to promote a public discussion including with the Northwestern report of last spring, about whether someone like Evans should be so honored in Colorado, and most importantly, to acknowledge fully the founding crime against indigenous people - dissipate what I call a Founding Amnesia - and make a decent place for the descendants of the Cheyennes and Arapahos, both in our university and in the society as a whole. We cannot have a serious, multiracial democracy in the 21st century, one in which each person is respected for herself, without acknowledging and beginning to move forward from this ghastly history.
I also include below Chancellor Rebecca Chopp's thoughtful and moving statement about the release of this report.
A .pdf of the full report can be downloaded here and is worth reading carefully (to make sure the link works, I also give it in full: https://portfolio.du.edu/evcomm). There are also links to the Committee's recommendations and to an appendix, a powerful essay on Sand Creek and Evans written for our Committee and Northwestern's by Gary Roberts.
This report is the outcome of a yearlong inquiry by the University of Denver John Evans Study Committee, a volunteer group of faculty, outside historians, descendant community representatives, and students and alumni representing the DU Native American community, into the role of the University of Denver’s founder in the Sand Creek Massacre of November 29, 1864. The findings are offered, in part, as a supplement, but also a response to a similar inquiry conducted by Northwestern University, also founded by John Evans. We submit the present document not as an academic trial of Evans in absentia according to today’s legal standards and conceptions of human rights, but rather in the spirit of an effort to assess a legacy that neither university has, until this year, made the effort to understand. Such a task requires that the decisions and actions that John Evans undertook be situated in the context of the ideas, policies, expectations, and principles of territorial leadership evident in the mid-nineteenth century American West.
In his role as territorial governor from 1862 until his forced resignation in the spring of 1865 John Evans held the position as the top civil and political official in Colorado Territory. This position was coterminous with the assignment as Ex Officio Superintendent of Indian Affairs. After a review of the roles and duties and responsibilities attendant to the superintendency, we compare the circumstances Evans faced and the leadership he evinced with that of contemporaneous officials in two adjacent territories, Nevada and Utah. This is followed by an analysis of Evans’s leadership in the crucial period of late-1863 until the massacre in November 1864. We attend in particular to the nature and direct impact of the two proclamations he issued as governor; his actions at the Camp Weld Council in September, wherein Native leaders attempted to broker a peace; and his decisions to surrender territorial authority to the military in the late summer of 1864.
We conclude that John Evans’s pattern of neglect of his treaty-negotiating duties, his leadership failures, and his reckless decision-making in 1864 combine to clearly demonstrate a significant level of culpability for the Sand Creek Massacre. While not of the same character, Evans’s culpability is comparable in degree to that of Colonel John Chivington, the military commander who personally planned and carried out the massacre. Evans’s actions and influence, more than those of any other political official in Colorado Territory, created the conditions in which the massacre was highly likely. Evans abrogated his duties as superintendent, fanned the flames of war when he could have dampened them, cultivated an unusually interdependent relationship with the military, and rejected clear opportunities to engage in peaceful negotiations with the Native peoples under his jurisdiction. Furthermore, he successfully lobbied the War Department for the deployment of a federalized regiment, consisting largely of undertrained, undisciplined volunteer soldiers who executed the worst of the atrocities during the massacre.
It is certainly difficult for the University of Denver and the surrounding Colorado community to confront this history. John Evans was a man of many proud accomplishments, a visionary leader whose indispensable influence shaped the university, the city of Denver, and the state of Colorado. This committee’s hope is that by understanding our founder’s role in this catastrophic event we can unite as a community and begin to forge a new relationship to the past for the benefit of the public good. We offer this report as an initial step to promote empathy and healing, for those of us who have inherited this complex legacy, but also for the Arapaho and Cheyenne people, who have displayed an active sense of presence in the face of victimization and, lest we forget, on whose ancestral lands our campus sits."
"To the University of Denver campus community:
One hundred and fifty years ago, on Nov. 29, 1864, at an area known as Sand Creek, near the present-day town of Eads, Colo., a group of U.S. militia attacked and killed an estimated 160 women, children and elderly members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. The massacre occurred when John Evans, founder of the University of Denver and of Northwestern University in Illinois, was serving both as governor of the Colorado Territory and as territorial superintendent of Indian affairs.
Over the past year, the University of Denver has been learning about and commemorating this tragic event and its relationship—past, present and future—to the University. To engage the University community, to promote whatever healing is possible and to deepen our relationship with the Cheyenne and Arapaho descendants, we have sponsored public lectures, a documentary screening, exhibits and special healing ceremonies in addition to our annual Spring Powwow and Diversity Summit.
The coming weeks bring additional opportunities to learn and engage, including:
A public lecture by Henrietta Mann, noted Southern Cheyenne scholar and elder, from 10:30–noon on Nov. 11 (Anderson Academic Commons, Loft)
A Native American literature course featuring a panel discussion with Cheyenne and Arapaho descendants on Nov. 13 & 14 (Nov. 13, 6-8 p.m. Sturm Hall 134; Nov. 14, 4 p.m. Sturm Hall 379; Nov. 14, 6 p.m. Sturm Hall 254)
The Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run, scheduled for Nov. 29–Dec. 3
A few months ago, a group of 11 DU faculty members organized the University of Denver John Evans Study Committee and conducted an independent inquiry regarding Evans’ role in the massacre. Today, the committee released its report. (Northwestern issued its report regarding the massacre last spring; it is available here.)
The DU report focuses on events directly leading up to the massacre at Sand Creek and compares Evans’ leadership as superintendent of Indian affairs with that of those holding similar positions in Utah and Nevada. The DU report concludes that John Evans was culpable for the Sand Creek Massacre. That is a quite different finding from what appears in the Northwestern University report. There is much to be learned from reading and discussing these reports together, and I encourage you to take the time to read both.
The DU committee hopes its report will promote healing by understanding our founder’s role in this catastrophic event—thereby uniting us as a community and helping us to forge new relationships to the past for the benefit of the public good.
The DU committee made a number of recommendations for the University’s consideration. Some of these recommendations are currently being pursued:
Create public forums to discuss the history of Sand Creek
Support the Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run
Consult with tribes regarding memorial plans
As a community, we will work through the report and its recommendations, and we will review ideas and suggestions from a variety of groups and individuals.
The Sand Creek Massacre is a tragic event in the history of the University, the city of Denver and the state of Colorado. We embrace our obligation to learn about it, to learn from it, and to carry those lessons forward as we continue to realize our vision of being a great private university dedicated to the public good.
Chancellor, University of Denver"