Northwestern University Report on John Evans and the Sand Creek Massacre of 150 Years Ago


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


  1. Barbara Rumsey says:

    Barbara…..thank you for taking on this task. You already know my take on these investigations ….so I won’t bother repeating them.

    However, I wonder if Katherine Davis, Peg Hayden’s brother’s (Dave) who did a paper on Anne Evans mentioned in your book…..made any reference to Sand Creek or even Anne’s father, the Governor?

    When I think of other terrible massacres, the blame for the atrocities has always fallen on the military.

    And I am appalled that no one mentions Evans successful treaty with Chief Ouray.

    And I am also critical of the lack of empathy with the state of mind of Evans’ constituents living in Denver at the time….FEAR…..cognizant of the recent Hungate atrocity just down the road, the unnerving isolation, lack of competent US protection on and on plus all the other calamities : flood, fire, grasshopper plague…have I forgotten anything?

    Best of luck sorting all this out….

    • Barbara E. Sternberg says:

      Dear Barbara: Thank you for your knowledgeable and forthright comments on Sand Creek.
      It is clear, from the conclusions of Northwestern’s Study Committee on John Evans and Sand Creek, that they found he had absolutely no responsibility for the Massacre itself. I do concur with their comment on the fact that, for the rest of his life, Evans’ never publicly condemned the Massacre, though he continued to deny any personal responsibility for it, is difficult to understand. I hazard a (completely undocumented) guess that it may have been due to his unwillingness to give any fodder to his bitter political enemies.
      I agree completely with your listing of circumstances which, at the time, gave Colorado settlers and Denver residents valid reasons to be afraid of the nomadic Indian tribes of the Territory, especially the Cheyenne and Arapaho. And I do conclude that the Study Committee, in judging that John Evans displayed “grave moral failures” in some of his attitudes and actions towards representatives of those tribes, fell into the trap that they had been warned about at the beginning of their studies. Namely, the temptation to “subject Evans to the sort of character assassination that judges a person in the past by the standards of the present.”
      All the Best, Barbara
      [Barbara is a great-great-granddaughter of John and Margaret Evans]

  2. Catherine Bernier says:

    Thank you for sending on. Though I have known about the Sand Creek Massacre
    I haven’t read thoroughly about it in sometime. I’m looking forward to learning more about it again.

    • Barbara E. Sternberg says:

      Dear Kathi: Thank you for your comment on Sand Creek. In the next two newsletters, I am summing up the different sections of the Northwestern John Evans Study Committee Report on this tragic episode, and evaluating their conclusions. The Study Committee was to investigate whether John Evans, as Territorial Governor at the time of the Massacre, had any responsibility for it. Also, more broadly, whether any of his financial gifts made to the University in its early days, came from his profiting from the expulsion of Indians from Colorado Territory. And if so, did he have any responsibility as Governor, for that expulsion? Hope you will find it worthwhile to read them.
      All the Best,

  3. Barb Hadley says:

    Thanks, Barbara.

    As a graduate of Northwestern & fan of Anne Evans & acquaintance of some of the descendants of John Evans, the subject is of interest to me.


  4. LInda Pohle says:

    Leaving out this shameful chapter in John Evans life is inexcusable from a biographical perspective. While we should not judge him totally on his part in Sand Creek (hard as it is not to), we cannot judge him fully and accurately without including it.

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