Dec
02

Sand Creek – A Live Issue on the National Scene

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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.

Northwestern-Study-Cover

  • 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

WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH THE STORY OF ANNE EVANS?

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.

TASKS OF THE UNIVERSITY STUDY COMMITTEES

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: http://tinyurl.com/northwesternjohnevansreport. 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.

NATIONAL DISCUSSION OF THE SAND CREEK MASSACRE RESULTS IN A MORE SEARCHING EVALUATION OF THE SYSTEMATIC EXPROPRIATION OF NATIVE AMERICAN LANDS AND DESTRUCTION OF THEIR WAY OF LIFE.

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.

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