Archive for Governor John Evans

There have been several new entries in the public debate about the role of Anne Evans’ father, Territorial Governor John Evans, in the Sand Creek Massacre 150 years ago, and about the degree of his responsibility for the subsequent removal of the Arapahos and Cheyennes from Colorado Territory.


  • Report of the John Evans Study Committee, University of Denver, was issued in November 2014.
  • Colorado’s Land Grab: On the 150th Anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre, Colorado Admits the Eastern Half of the State was Build on the Coerced Cession of the Arapaho and Cheyenne Homelands. Headline of an article in the Denver Post (November 23, 2014) by Gregory Hobbs, a Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court.
  • Several discussions on television about the Sand Creek Massacre and the degree of Territorial Governor John Evans’ responsibility for it.
  • Sand Creek: The Civil War’s Forgotten Tragedy – Article in The Smithsonian Magazine, December 2014


Those of you who have read my book about the life of Anne Evans may remember that a question about Anne and the Sand Creek Massacre was raised early (p. 7). In a discussion about the challenges of writing the story of someone who ordered all her personal papers destroyed after her death, I mention several “mysteries” that were difficult to resolve, because of the the lack of adequate documentation. One of these: “Was there any truth to the conjecture (advanced by several historians) that her concern for the well-being of the Indians of New Mexico arose out of guilt for the Sand Creek Massacre, which occurred during Governor Evans’ term of office?”

Weighing all the indirect evidence available to me, I concluded that the answer to this question was “No.”

But I did include in the book an entire chapter (p. 66-80) on Sand Creek and After. This was as part of the life story of Anne’s father, John Evans, in the discussion of Anne’s family background. I was therefore very intrigued when both Northwestern University and the University of Denver decided in 1913 to form Study Committees. These were to search for answers to questions raised by students and others about both Universities’ consistent portrayals of Evans – a prominent founder and early benefactor of both institutions – as a heroic figure, making many contributions toward the the public good. Never a mention of the infamous Sand Creek Massacre, which occurred on his watch as Governor of Territorial Colorado, and which ended his tenure in that position.


1. Did Territorial Governor John Evans bear any responsibility for the Sand Creek Massacre? If so, what exact policies and actions of his as Governor contributed to that horrendous event?

2. Were any of the generous financial gifts that both universities received from John Evans derived from the long term results of the Massacre – the removal of the Plains Indians from Colorado Territory and the inheritance of those lands by American immigrants and settlers?

3. To the extent that the Universities’ Study Committees found Evans responsible, and that some of his financial success resulted from the Massacre and its aftermath, what measures should the institutions now take to atone for their 150-year silence and their profiting from the historical results of the Infamous Sand Creek Massacre?

DU-Report-CoverI have reported on the results of the Northwestern University Study Committee’s investigations in a recent Anne Evans News: In the next newsletter, I will summarize the evaluations of the University of Denver’s Committee with its more sweeping criticisms of Evans’ policies and actions and its recommendations.


Both the Denver Post article of November 25, 2014, (Colorado’s Land Grab) and the Smithsonian’s “Sand Creek: The Civil War’s Forgotten Tragedy,” raise the national issue of the uglier aspect of the Civil War.

We remember the Civil War as a war of liberation. But is also became a war of conquest, to destroy and dispossess Native Americans.” So asserts Tony Horwitz, author of the Smithsonian article.

COLORADO’S LAND GRAB: On the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre, Colorado admits the eastern half of the state was built on the coerced concession of the Arapaho and Cheyenne homelands.” (Article by Gregory Hobbs in the Denver Post.)

This direct linkage of the battles of the Civil War, fought with the noble intent to outlaw slavery, with the simultaneous battles against Native American tribes, aimed at conquest and the expropriation of their lands, was new and disturbing to me.

But it has the ring of truth. And it does raise the question: How far could the actions of any one man – e.g. John Evans, the Territorial Governor of Colorado – really be responsible for an overwhelming tide of history? A tide that was based on attitudes – towards land use and tenure, individuals and community, held by the surging masses of immigrants – that were totally incompatible with the beliefs about relationships between earth, nature, and tribal community, held by Native Americans.

The University of Denver’s Study Committee’s contributions to this important, and far from simple, discussion of the significance of the Sand Creek Massacre, will be the subject of the next Newsletter.

I spent the entire day last Sunday reading.

  • Reading this 113-page report on John Evans’ relationship to the Sand Creek Massacre, issued at the end of May, and also related news coverage of the document.
  • I also investigated the status of a similar enquiry being conducted by the University of Denver and learned that the DU Report report has not yet been issued.
  • Finally, since the Massacre was instigated by Colonel Chivington, a prominent Methodist Minister, and since Governor Evans himself was a devout Methodist, I reviewed the actions of the Methodist Church in relation to the massacre, and, more broadly, their attempts to have an honest confrontation with official Methodist attitudes towards Native American populations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Why a Report on This Subject So Many Years Later?

John Evans, Courtesy History Colorado

John Evans, Courtesy History Colorado

Anne Evans’ father, John Evans (1814-1897), was a major founder of Northwestern University in 1851, when he lived in Chicago. John Evans was a significant influence on, and donor to, the institution for the rest of his life. He was appointed by Abraham Lincoln as the Second Territorial Governor of Colorado in 1862. He was forced to resign from that position in 1865 after Congressional and military enquiries into the brutal – and totally unjustified – 1864 massacre of a peaceful group of members of Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes camped at Sand Creek. One Congressional Committee, dissatisfied with Evans’ indecisive answers to their questions (he was in Washington when the massacre occurred) recommended that Evans be removed as Governor. After the assassination of Lincoln, the new President Andrew Johnson requested Evans’ resignation. Evans complied on August 4, 1865.

The Sand Creek Massacre, 150 years later, is still an unhealed wound.


Northwestern University’s Always Glowing Account of Evans’ Life, Achievements, and Contributions

lincolnevansproc300x242In recent years, some students, faculty and other community members have raised questions about the University’s complete silence regarding the massacre that abruptly ended Evans career as Governor. Some questioned whether “the University has glorified someone who does not deserve such treatment. Conversely, others have wondered whether the critics are subjecting Evans to the sort of a historical character assassination that judges a person in the past by the standards of the present.” (1)

Appointment of Study Committee

In the winter of 2013, Northwestern University’s Provost, Dan Linzer, appointed a committee of nine scholars – five from the faculty of Northwestern and four from other universities – “to examine in detail Evans’s role in the massacre.” Provost Linzer also asked the committee to try to determine “whether any of Evans’s wealth or his financial support to Northwestern was attributable to his policies and practices regarding Native Americans in Colorado while he was in office.” (ibid p. 2). The Committee was to issue its report by June, 1914.

Overview of the Report

The Report is a scholarly – and readable – document. It consists of 91 pages of text, plus extensive Chapter notes, bibliographical lists, links to Key Documents and Websites, and Acknowledgements.

The six chapters of text are: The Introduction, Chapter 1, which describes in detail the incomprehensible Massacre, characterized by one contemporary General as “perhaps the foulest and least justifiable crime in the annals of America.” (ibid p. 9) The Chapter describes briefly John Evans’ major contributions to the University, why its site – the town of Evanston – is named after him, and poses the questions before the Study Committee: about why the Massacre is never mentioned in University accounts of Evans’ life, and what exactly was his role, and degree of responsibility, for the tragic event.

Chapter 2 summarizes Evans’ life and relationship to Northwestern. Chapter 3 is about the historical background to the Massacre, a concise but thorough presentation. Chapter 4 details the course of events, during Evans time as governor, that led up to the massacre. Chapter 5 describes the aftermath of the massacre – the public outrage, the enquiries, and the Governor’s resignation. Chapter 6 details the Committee’s conclusions.

This is a brief summary of the report’s contents. The next Newsletter (or two!) will be devoted to its content and, especially, to a discussion of its conclusions.

1. Report of the John Evans Study Committee, Northwestern University, May 2014, p. 2
2. Ibid, p. 10

Amid all its recent coverage of the rebirth of Denver’s Union Station, with its “$54 million addition of “a hotel, shops, restaurants and bars” (1), the Denver Post made a little excursion into our city’s early history. They reminded readers that, more than a century before the 1980’s, when the city “was choking on a brown cloud of pollution and struggling with a decaying downtown and a sputtering economy,”(2) a gleeful leader in a rival city had pronounced Denver “too dead to bury.”(3)

The year was 1865, and Denver’s leaders had lost the battle to have the transcontinental railroad routed over the mountains and through their city. The Union Pacific Railroad understandably took the easier course through Cheyenne, Wyoming. Denver’s economy, already adversely affected by the Civil War and the stagnation of gold mining, plunged into what could have been a death spiral. Population declined, business dwindled. The dire economic times forced the Colorado Seminary, forerunner of the University of Denver – which had opened with high hopes in 1864 – to close its doors.

Denver - Union StationThe city’s economic turnaround was largely due to the stubborn and persistent efforts of one man, John Evans. At the time, Evans was embroiled in his own serious troubles following the October,1864 Sand Creek Massacre, the issue over which he lost his position as Colorado’s Territorial Governor. Nevertheless, when “a representative of the Union Pacific came to Denver…in 1867 to suggest that the businessmen of Denver should form a railroad company and build a line to Cheyenne with help from the Union Pacific, there was an immediate response from men like David Moffat, John Evans and William Byers.”(4)

In my book, I describe the almost superhuman efforts of John Evans to assure the success of this venture, involving “an overwhelming series of financial organizations and reorganizations, contracts with construction companies, and congressional lobbying to secure land grants. At one point, with no prospects and construction at a complete standstill, Evans resigned as president of the board of directors and signed a contract to build the railroad and pay off its debts. At the beginning of 1870, Evans again became President of the Denver Pacific Railroad, and was on hand at the Denver Depot. when the tracks finally reached the city on June 23, 1870.“(5)

The first incarnation of the Denver Union Station opened in 1881 – described as an Italianate structure with two stories and an 180-foot tower. The center section burned in 1894, and the entire structure was razed in 1914 to make room for the new neoclassical station which opened in 1917.

1 Jaffe, Mark, “Denver’s renovated Union Station has been a 30-year barn-raising,” Denver Post, Business Section, pg 1 Sunday, July 13, 2014.
2 Ibid
3 Ibid
4 Sternberg, Barbara E. with Jennifer Boone and Evelyn Waldron. Anne Evans – A Pioneer in Colorado’s Cultural History: THE THINGS THAT LAST WHEN GOLD IS GONE. Evergreen: Buffalo Park Press with Center for Colorado and the West Auraria Library. 2011. pg 77.
5 Ibid. pp 77-78

The Unity at the Heart of All Religions

Another of the articles written by Anne Evans for the Theosophical Quarterly, which surfaced after the publication of my biography, was about the life and teachings of the founder of Methodism, that religious denomination so fervently embraced by her parents, Governor John and Evans and his wife, Margaret.

In this article, as in several covered in my book (On Norse Mythology, The Eastern Church, The Foundation of the Moravian Church and The Bhagavad-Gita) and others discovered after the book’s publication (George Fox, Quaker, and The Snake Dance, A Religious Ceremonial) Anne Evans was developing the theosophical theme of the essential unity at the heart of all religions.

Her article, John Wesley and the Methodists, was published in July of 1909. Although Anne Evans knew that many books had already been written about “John Wesley and the great Methodist movement” her intention was to “draw special attention…to the tenets of Methodism which were most markedly theosophic.

One of the Rare Women of All Time

Image from John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life:

Image from John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life:

John Wesley was born in England in 1703 and died in 1791. Anne Evans declared that he “was mainly the child of his mother, Susannah Wesley, one of the rare women of all time, in whom a tendency to ponder deeply on spiritual matters, to judge independently and then stand steadfast, was a characteristic both inherited and early developed.” Her father, a prominent clergyman, had been “severely persecuted for his refusal to conform to the established (Anglican) church.

Susannah established the routines of family life for the eight Wesley children, starting with one hour of meditation daily, solitary except for the very youngest. This practice, according to Anne Evans, “developed a beautiful power of concentration” in all the children, so that Mrs. Wesley was able to teach each one to read in a few days. “She began always, on the morning of the fifth birthday, which was solemnly set aside and guarded from interruption, that the alphabet might be mastered before evening, once and forever!

Strange Happenings at the Wesley House

Two happenings during John’s childhood influenced the man he grew up to be. The first was “an almost miraculous escape from the burning rectory.” This “gave him a singular sense of divine immanence and protection, which perhaps fathered the vein of credulity, the faith in powers unseen, always a striking factor in the man’s temperament.” This characteristic was accentuated by a series of curious phenomena, which came to be known as “the Wesley noises,” and which occurred in the Wesley family home while John was still a boy. These happenings were described in letters from various members of the family, from neighbors and from servants.

The noises continued for a period of two months, were usually heard in the late afternoon or evening, and began with a sound of whistling wind about the house, with a clattering of the windows and a ringing of all the brass and iron in the room. There were rappings which grew louder and more insistent when any effort was made to drown them by a counter-irritant of noise…doors were clapped or thrown open; the mastiff barked loudly at it the first day, but ever afterward ran trembling and whining for human protection … They dubbed it “old Jeffrey” and treated it with a bored toleration, even when it declared Jacobite propensities by never allowing the King to be prayed for, or when it upheaved the bed on which two of the daughters were card-playing … The phenomena were all trivial enough, seemingly with small purpose or result yet as they undoubtedly established faith in themselves as marvels of the supernatural world, they may be accredited with serving the same purpose as the phenomena of the early theosophist, or as other miraculous signs vouchsafed to prophets and leaders. They helped break down the tendency to incredulity and skepticism which John Wesley shared as a child of his age, and opened a channel through which much other worldly wisdom might freely enter.” (emphasis mine.)

In the next blog, we’ll follow John Wesley’s education at a prestigious boarding school and Oxford University, and his ill-fated years in the American colonies.

(All quotes are from Anne Evans’ article John Wesley and the Methodists, in the Theosophical Quarterly of July, 1909 Vol.7, No.1, P. 50-58)

This is the second in a four part blog post about Anne Evans’ journey with theosophy. All quotes are from an article written by Anne Evans in 1909.* The article came to light after the publication of my biography about Anne Evans.

Those of you who have read my historical biography of Anne Evans may remember that a major challenge to the writing arose early in the research: Anne Evans ordered all her personal materials destroyed when she died. This made very difficult the task of finding answers to some questions essential to understanding this dynamic woman leader in Denver’s cultural development. One such question: why did this daughter of two devout Methodists, who made unique and indispensable contributions to the establishment of Methodist churches in Colorado – and to the establishment and growth of the University of Denver, originally a Methodist foundation – not herself affiliate with a Methodist Church in Denver as an adult? Why, instead, did she “take the road less travelled by” and become a member of the Theosophical Society in America?


Anne Evans, 1940, Denver Public Library Western History Collection

In a 1909 article that has come to light since the book’s publication, Anne Evans tells us exactly why. She says that, when she returned to live in Denver after completing her education in Paris, Berlin and at the Art Students’ League in New York, “The attitude of my most clear-thinking friends was either that of scientific materialism or of agnosticism, and I looked upon myself as a weak and mild specimen of the latter class.” By scientific materialism, she makes it clear that she is referring to the evolutionary theories of Darwin and Huxley.

Considering that many school boards throughout the country are still under pressure to avoid the teaching of evolution or, at the very least, to offer parallel courses in “creation science”, Anne Evans’ remarks about this issue are quite startling. “It was past the time when that great wave of enthusiasm for the new-shorn and naked truth could have swept me quite off my feet; the active fighting days were over; to proclaim oneself an evolutionist and a religious doubter was but following the line of least resistance, instead of calling for the courage and independence it once had demanded. Darwin and Huxley were too victorious to need recruits…” (And this was almost 100 years ago.)

However, she goes on to explain that for her, agnosticism lacked an important ingredient that “religionists” had: “a stiffer springboard from which to leap into unselfish action, as well as a more assured resting-place.” She also admits to “loving the concrete body of worship and adoration which I had occasionally sensed.” But still, the viewpoint of the Christian churches “as presented to me seemed wofully (sic) lacking in reason.” So for many years she simply avoided discussing religious beliefs with her devout friends, whether they were Roman Catholics, Christian Scientists or members of any other denomination. “Since to them these subjects were evidently vital, it would have been discourteous to exhibit my apathy and distrust.

Her attitude towards the Theosophical Society at the time was even more skeptical. “The Society then existed on the dim horizon of my thoughts as a body of fanatics, charlatans and dupes, engaged in a profitless and foolish enterprise. Far from meaning Divine wisdom, the word theosophy was vaguely indicative of clairvoyance, spiritualism and legerdemain…” The steps by which Anne Evans’ attitude towards theosophy was transformed are the subject of my next two blogs.

The article referred to is Why I joined the Theosophical Society, in the Theosophical Quarterly, January 1909, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 220-224.

This is the first in a series of four blog posts about Anne Evans’ journey with theosophy. All quotes are from an article written by Anne Evans in 1909.* The article, “Why I Joined the Theosophical Society” came to light after the publication of my book on Anne Evans.

The recently discovered article by Anne Evans, written more than a hundred years ago, is an exciting addition to what we know about this influential but almost forgotten cultural leader in the history of Denver. As most of you know by now, writing the story of her life was complicated by the fact that she ordered all her personal papers destroyed at her death. So finding what amounts to a five-page spiritual biography, expressed in her own words, is a treasure indeed.

Anne wrote well. She was honest in telling about her own spiritual development, often funny at her own expense. In writing about her personal evolution she reveals both her doubts about traditional Christian beliefs and her admiration for the support that they offer to their adherents. She describes her delight in discovering the wisdom of Eastern texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and the the publications of the Vedanta Society. And she talks about her initial friendship with a growing number of friends who were Theosophists, her attendance at their simple gatherings, her path of learning about their beliefs through defending them against prejudiced critics, and her eventual decision to join their ranks.

Anne Evans Article: "Why I Joined the Theosophical Society"

Why I joined the Theosophical Society, in the Theosophical Quarterly, January 1909, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 220-224.

Because I think that this article is a rare insight into Anne Evans’ character and motivations, I’m going to devote the next three blogs to discussing in more detail Why I Joined the Theosophical Society.

*Anne Evans, Why I Joined the Theosophical Society, in the Theosophical Quarterly, January 1909, Vol. 6, No. 3. 220-224.

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