John Evans (1814 – 1897)

Witness Post: John Evans

View from Hilltop

Running on foot from the middle of Cherry Creek to Hilltop is an ascent of about 500 feet. The elevation rise is modest but the view is great. Hilltop, from Cranmer Park, offers a surprising vista point in SE Denver. With its flagstone and sandstone plaza, the visitor’s gaze focuses west. Laid out before you above the rooftops and trees is an extraordinary view of the Rockies from the Front Range north to Boulder and south past Red Rocks Amphitheater. Pausing to inspect the sundial [1] and the mosaic tiles of the mountain peaks, this is a great place to stop, breathe deeply, and marvel at the mountains.

cranmer 1

Cranmer Park, Hilltop neighborhood, Denver

Cranmer Park features two stone carved plaques: one is dedicated to Prof. Asa Gray, the renowned American botanist, and the other is to Dr. John Evans, the second Governor of the Colorado Territory. Gray was an esteemed US scientist and adamant advocate for Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution. The plaque to Evans hails him as a medical doctor, railroad magnate, business entrepreneur, and persuasive politician. He was also the founder of two great universities — Northwestern University and the University of Denver. Arriving in Colorado in 1862, Evans was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln to protect the citizens and to civilize this wild part of the country. Both Gray and Evans have peaks in the Rockies named after them, and on a clear day the snow-packed peaks are easily identified from Cranmer Park on the western horizon.


Mount Evans Colorado

Our family has both an uncle and a first cousin named John Evans, so I was curious to see if there were any family ties to the Colorado Evans clan. With Evans’ ties to Abraham Lincoln, and my teaching at one of the many Lincoln High School’s it was hard not to seek a connection, even if it were tenuous. Anyone with a political relationship with Lincoln, who is nearly always listed among the great US presidents, seemed worth the research. Investigating the Evans family to see if there were any direct or indirect connection to us, I discovered no connection whatsoever. Oh, well. It was worth the time.

Independent of the Evans name, we have familial ties to the University of Denver (DU): my father-in-law, Anthony Ipsaro, earned a doctorate (Psy.D.) there and we have two daughters, Eleanor and Kathleen, who earned BA’s from DU. Ipsaro also left his extensive personal collection of books and monographs to the Penrose Library at DU. I had no idea that there may have been muzzle-blasts and flash points of anger over the legacy of John Evans and the two universities he founded.

As my mother, whose maiden name is Evans, used to warn: be careful what you wish for.

summer_concertsSummer Concert at University of Denver


2014 marked the 150th anniversary of the University of Denver (DU). This former Methodist college, founded as Colorado Seminary, is a thriving undergraduate (5,000 students) and graduate (6,000 students) university just south of Denver proper. Having hosted hundreds of convocations and one of the last US Presidential debates (2012), it is an extraordinary meeting place of higher learning with great emphasis at the graduate education. DU offers master’s and doctoral degrees in law, business, theology, engineering, social work, computer science, education, psychology, and many liberal arts and natural science disciplines. It is a university with a proud past and a bright future.

This Witness Post, which is about the Evans family, also explores a dark stain on the Evans legacy — the slaughter of 163 unarmed Native Americans under Evans’ protection. The Congress made a special inquiry (1863) into the incident, which the Native American claimed as genocide. Sadly, the inquiry was soon muddled in protracted legal proceedings and the results were ultimately inconclusive. Much of the blame fell on Evans, who was permanently marred with a sloppy cover-up.

The cover-up and botched proceedings led to the Presidents request for the resignation of Colorado Governor, John Evans. The conclusion? He had lied under oath, creating a taint (reminiscent of Watergate) on his governorship. Many of the facts may have been papered over and the events may have been brushed aside; however, if the stories are true, they create indelible black marks on DU’s 150-year legacy and John Evans’ namesake city, Evanston.


John Evans House, Ohio Historic Marker

John Evans’ Ohio Roots [2]

John Evans was born in Waynesville, Ohio, on March 9, 1814. He was the son of David and Rachel Evans, and grew up with the pacifist traditions of  the Quakers from Philadelphia. (The Evans family had moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio for David Evans to seek his fortune.) Life in Ohio was tough, as the Evans family homesteaded, farmed, raised a family and conducted other business affairs.

For education the family sent John to the district ‘normal school’ in Waynesville, Ohio, but he demonstrated an independent streak and returned to Pennsylvania to find his calling. He wanted to attend a school that allowed him to pursue a profession. Admitted to Clermont Academy, a boys’ boarding school near Germantown, PA, he set his mind on studying medicine.

Pursuit of Medicine for Social Welfare

Back in Ohio after graduation, John Evans accepted no money from his father. Using his meager personal savings and gifts from friends of the family, he matriculated at Cincinnati College (later Lynn Medical School) where, through diligent study and hard work, he attained his M.D. in the class of 1838.

Upon graduation, his father gave John a pony, a saddle and ten dollars. With these three assets John rode west until he reached Attica, Illinois, where he first set up his practice. He returned briefly to his native Ohio village in 1839, staying long enough to court and marry Hannah Canby, the daughter of a prominent physician.

The young couple was well-received back in Attica, and they soon won a wide community of admirers. In his early medical career, Evans veered away from obstetrics and focused his attention to the deaf, blind and mentally ill patients. His interests in social welfare for marginalized citizens became a prominent part of his professional calling. He was particularly concerned with Indiana’s treatment of mentally ill patients, many of whom were committed to insane asylums.[3] Shortly after some years of state-wide asylum reform efforts, Evans was appointed as the superintendent of the Indiana Central State Hospital in Indianapolis.

Beyond medicine, John and Hannah Evans wanted to raise a family. In 1844 they became parents with the birth of a daughter, Josephine. Their daughter grew up as an only child from their marriage, and following Protestant / American traditions, Josephine stayed close to the family until marriage.

Many of the patients of Dr. Evans, having little cold, hard cash to their names, paid their medical bills with bushels of corn, potatoes, and other cash crops. Since there was no easy way to turn the bartered payment to currency, he had to take his “payment” by boat or barge down the Wabash River, to the Ohio, to the Mississippi. At ports near the Mississippi delta he was able to negotiate with vendors and convert the goods to cash. Many of the transactions took place in the markets of New Orleans. On these trips downriver and back, Evans learned lessons of transportation and money that would stand by him for the rest of his life.


Boats from the Ohio River to the Mississippi and New Orleans

Methodist Principles with Quaker Roots

A few years prior to parenthood, John and Hannah Evans converted from Quakerism to Methodist, making their proclamation of faith in 1840. The couple raised Josephine devoutly in the Methodist traditions. Evans believed in the supremacy of spiritual values and he held and expressed surprisingly strong opinions for a laymen. Exclaiming his new found ecclesiastical Christianity, Evans wanted to worship God by ‘righting human wrongs.’ In his community Evans helped establish the Methodist Book Concern and the Northwestern Christian Advocate, the latter was a publication of the Methodist Church of Chicago. Evans always established strong ties with the pastors and ministers of his church congregations, a practice he maintained throughout his life. He seemed to believe that the discipline exhibited by the men of the church were equal to those of any well-trained member of an army. There seemed little or no distinction between a soldier for Christ and a protector for the people.[4]

On one trip down the Mississippi River in 1842, Evans wrote a letter to his wife Hannah, decrying the evils of slavery. He knew, from his Evans family history, that his grandfather had been a landowner and slaveholder in North Carolina. His grandfather married a Quaker and had a change of heart about human bondage; soon thereafter, the grandfather freed his slaves and left the North Carolina for better opportunities in Pennsylvania.

John Evans’ abolitionist flames were fanned by his many trips up and down river, through slave territory, on the way to New Orleans. Returning to Illinois, Evans became an ardent supporter of Abraham Lincoln, who was an astute lawyer from Springfield. Lincoln was also know as an articulate, common sense politician and an eloquent propagandist for the abolition of slavery.


Abraham Lincoln

Distinction in Medical Circles

Evans’ fame spread regionally, when in 1845 he was elected to a medical chair at the Rush Medical School in Chicago. He accepted the position and worked part-time in both Indianapolis and Chicago, commuting via stage coach back and forth, before moving his family and practice permanently to the Windy City in 1848. Evans stayed at Rush for a total of eleven years (1845 – 1856).

As a Chicago resident, Evans became prominently identified with the Republican Party in Illinois state politics. He also developed ties with the state medical organizations of Indiana and Illinois, which were the precursors of the American Medical Association (AMA).


In Chicago, Evans became a staunch supporter of women’s rights. He felt the poor treatment of women was second in injustice only to the mistreatment of African American men. At Rush Medical College he hired and promoted women at every opportunity. Rush became one of the first medical schools in the country to admit women and offer M.D. degrees to both genders.

Evans served as the editor of the Medical & Surgical Journal of the region. One important monograph he published (1848 – 1849) warned physicians and the public of the dangers of Asiatic Cholera. An epidemic had broken out in Chicago, and Evans urged for a national cholera quarantine, so that the lines of sickness could be stopped in their tracks. Evans studied the spread of the disease and knew that it traveled from person to person along the roads, rail lines, and rivers. He also helped establish best practices at the Illinois hospitals. Evans’ insistence on best practices helped set national standards in the protection against communicable diseases. During this period Evans was the founder of Illinois General Hospital, later renamed Mercy Hospital, after the Sisters’ of Mercy, who hired the doctors and nurses, while they managed patient care.


Mercy Hospital, 10th and Prairie Ave., Chicago

Hannah Evans died in 1850 at the age of 36. John and Josephine mourned her passing, though little is mentioned in public records.

Three years later, John Evans married Margaret Patton Gray, the daughter of a prosperous attorney from Bowdoinham, Maine. They had three children: William G. Evans (b. 1857), Evan E. Evans (b. 1863), and Annie N. Evans (b. 1871). Josephine was a teenager by the time her half-brother William was born and she was in her late 20’s and married to Samuel Elbert [5], when Annie arrived.

Railroad Magnate

Evans set aside time in the 1850’s to promote the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago Railroad Company, where he served as the managing director. He helped steer the railroad’s finances and deftly lobbied for and won a right-of-way for the railroad into downtown Chicago, near valuable real estate. For a tidy sum of $35,000 he bought a depot and a 40-acre railroad yard. Showing his financial acumen, one year later Evans sold a one-half interest in the depot and yard to the Burlington & Quincy Railroad for $140,000. Proving the lasting influence of his choices, today Chicago’s Union Station stands on the site Evans secured for the line.

pitts ft wayne

Unlike Jay Gould, who notoriously manipulated many railroad stocks for his own ill-gotten gains, Evans saw the steam engine and the rail lines as invaluable public utilities. For the rest of his life, he appreciated the power of connecting the country by rail and he participated in the construction and ownership of rail lines, whenever the opportunity presented itself, and no matter whose land was crossed.

Moving to Colorado later in his life, Evans created a political environment that was conducive to land seizure for the purposes of creating railroads to the Pacific, fulfilling the concept of Manifest Destiny and a coast-to-coast commercial rail network.

University Builder in Chicago

In the early 1860’s Evans turned some of his attention back to education. With Rush Medical School flourishing in Chicago, he wanted this city with 28,000 citizens to reform it’s preparatory schools. In 1862 Evans served as a member of the Chicago City Council and introduced an ordinance to appoint a superintendent of schools. That ordinance paved the way for the first high schools in Chicago.


In the next few years he expanded his vision to found a great university. The City Council considered sites in Chicago, Cicero, Oak Park, and a parcel of land Evans had purchased north of Chicago and near the lakefront of Lake Michigan, which became known as Evanston. Dr. Evans implored his colleagues on the Chicago City Council in the following speech:

“There is no other cause to which you can more profitably lend your influence, your labor and your means, than that of Christian education by aiding in founding a university. We may do good by improving the country, by defending it in a righteous cause, by serving it in the councils of legislation on the bench or in the forum, but these labors are more or less transient, and the impress we make is temporary, but when we found an institution to mold minds and characters for good, that will continue its operations and accumulate influence from generation to generation through all coming time, we have done the very highest and noblest service to our country and our race, of which we are capable. . . “

In 1851 Evans was elected by his Chicago peers to became the first President of the Board of Trustees at this soon-to-be-built university north of Chicago. Since it was to be in the Northwest Territory of the US, they named it Northwestern University. Following Methodists’ principles, from the beginning, the university held non-sectarian leanings. Evans held the leadership role as trustee of Northwestern for 42 years, returning for board meetings by train from other places he lived.[6]


Territorial Governor

Evans had enormous personal capacity and his interests and acquaintances extended across many disciplines. His friends and political accomplices included Dr. N.S. Davis (medicine), Bishop Matthew Simpson (religion), Orrington Lunt (education), Dorothea Dix (care of the insane), Frances Willard (prohibition), Susan B. Anthony (women suffrage), Abraham Lincoln (anti-slavery movement) and many others. It was the relationship with his Republican Party ally, Abraham Lincoln, however, that most changed and defined his later life.

Lincoln was elected President of the US in 1860. After his inauguration in March, 1861, Lincoln asked Evans to consider becoming the Governor of the Washington Territory. Evans turned down the offer, but a year later accepted another of Lincoln’s offers: to be the Governor of the Territory of Colorado. In 1862, Evans promptly moved his family from Chicago to Denver.

Along with the title of Governor, Evans bore the moniker of Superintendent of Indian Affairs, a title which he seems to have taken less seriously than Governor. The Superintendent was an extension of the Department of the Interior, which handed off responsibility to the Territorial Governors to be resident safe keepers of the Native American Tribes. It would be this second title and his manipulation of the truth that would mark Evans for life as a blood-stained politician.


University Builder in Colorado

Denver was a town of about 3,000 inhabitants, when Evans moved there is 1862. He immediately contacted the Methodist Conference in Colorado to found a Methodist seminary in the city. He made fast friends with Methodist minister, Rev. John Chivington, who helped further the religious cause. After a few starts and stops, by 1864 Evans was able to secure funding for a permanent seminary in Denver called Colorado Seminary.

The other Protestant groups in Denver wanted to start a university to compete with the Methodists. Evans urged citizens in the territory to focus on funding one great institution, to be named Union Evangelical University, rather than two or three inferior ones. He lobbied in the faith communities all over Denver, appealing to an array of ecumenical groups: Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Baptists. Evans appeared before the Denver Board of Trade in one of his appeals and is reported to have said:

“A well-founded university lives as long as the country in which it is founded lives. It lives for ages. Its influence runs through all time …. Why, there is nothing in all a man’s lifetime that he can do that will be so permanent in its beneficial results as founding an institution of learning that will live on, and work, year after year, age after age, after he is laid in the grave.”


Evans Memorial Chapel, University of Denver

Despite his efforts to approve the school, the funding for Union Evangelical University was rejected. It would take another 15 years, before the original Colorado Seminary gained enough traction to overcome that early defeat. Evans had generously donated much of the land, and stopped the sale of already owned property, to preserve and protect the school that became known as the University of Denver. (Evans reluctantly agreed to let go of the name “Seminary,” which ruffled the faithful-feathers of Denver citizens.) And in a stroke of pure philanthropy, he matched dollar-for-dollar all contributions made by other donors to the University. Evans served as the Board President of Colorado Seminary (DU) from 1864 to 1879 and was succeeded by his son, William G. Evans, in that leadership role.


His educational legacy is extraordinary: in a period that spanned 34 years, Evans attempted to found four universities, including one he had called Oreopolis, on the border of Iowa and Nebraska, which never materialized. He also tried to persuade the merger of two other universities. In all of these educational pursuits, Dr. Evans let his assets do the talking. He donated his time, talent, real estate, influence, reputation and considerable cash to each enterprise. If the hallmark of a great director or trustee is their contribution to the institution, Evans gave generously of his wealth, wisdom and work.

Fateful Appointment

In 1864, two years after taking his family to Denver, Gov. Evans appointed his new-found Methodist friend and neighbor, Rev. John Chivington, to be the Colonel of the Colorado Volunteers. In what would become a fateful set of instructions, Evans had written to Col. Chivington urging him to “quiet” the Native American Indians, who were camped not far from some White settlements in the east and central parts of the Territory. After giving Chivington his orders, Evans went to Washington, DC to meet with government officials.


Col. John Chivington

On a cold day in November, 1864 Col. Chivington took a cavalry of 800 armed troops and rode out to Sand Creek to seek peace with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, who were camped there. The Indians were led by Chief Black Kettle. A few months before the Calvary dispatch, Evans had chastised Black Kettle for not coming to see him sooner to prevent potential hostility. Obviously, Chief Black Kettle and Gov. Evans had, as Cool Hand Luke would say, ‘a failure to communicate.’

Looking at the biography of John Evans, with hindsight, he does not seem to be the type of person to advocate the massacre of Native Americans. Consider his pacifist Quaker roots and Methodist conversion, his medical training and educational bent, his abolitionist politics and respect for women … all of these affirmations lead one to the conclusion that this is a man of fairness and civility. He does not seem the type of politician with a hair-trigger who would condone the mass annihilation of unarmed Indians. But the massacre happened anyway. He was not there, but he was in charge. Was he, therefore, as the governmental authority in Colorado, responsible?  What should be the costs of his errors in judgment?  Has he paid enough for the sins caused by his orders?

And what actually happened at Sand Creek, anyway? And why?


Sand Creek Massacre (150 years ago)

On November 28, 1864, Colonel John Chivington and his militia approached Sand Creek. The nomadic Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian families were milling around their teepees, gathering wood, tending their fires and talking. The Governor had left Chivington with orders to ‘quiet the savages’ and Chivington seemed to know how he would execute those orders. Feeling compelled to teach the Indians a lesson and to protect the Whites in the territory, the Colonel ordered his troops to attack the encampment at Sand Creek the next day.

The Native Americans were unarmed and offered little to no resistance to the militia. In the armed attack, that lasted over the next day and a half, Chivington’s troops killed 53 men and 110 women and children. Most bodies of the dead were further mutilated beyond recognition by the militia. Another undisclosed number of Native Americans were wounded and in need of medical care.

Gov. Evans, who was still in Washington, DC, at the time of the attack, distanced himself from the actual assault and aftermath, taking no blame or credit for the attack. However, upon his return to Colorado, the Governor Evans decorated Col. Chivington and his men for their “valor in subduing the savages.” Evans went out of his way to bury his orders to “quiet the Indians” and he expunged those references in his correspondence files. As a final white-washing of the facts, with some deft spin control, the battle itself became known as the “Chivington Massacre.”

To this day, the Sand Creek Massacre remains as one of the deadliest and most indelible attacks on Native Americans by the US Government.


Chief Black Kettle of the Arapaho

The Massacre and Headline Risk

In early 2014 Northwestern and the University of Denver selected committees of historians and archivist from across the country who researched “the facts” around the Sand Creek Massacre, because of the heinous nature of the slaughter. They knew of the serious headline risk, if the committees continued to whitewash the Massacre. They were also keenly aware, with the 150th anniversary approaching, there was reputational harm that could be done to the name Evans and the wealth he created and donated to benefit both schools. These reports are detailed and heavily annotated. Their authoritative body of their work stands on its own, as an accounting of the facts.[7]

The truth of those further ramifications, however, appears much more nuanced and harder to decipher.

The Cover-Up

Two US Congressional committees were formed to study the “Chivington Massacre,” which was widely condemned in political circles at the time. As Governor of the Colorado Territory, John Evans was implicated in the inquiry for creating an environment of brutality toward and violence against the Native Americans under his protection in the jurisdiction. Eventually in 1865, many months into the Congressional inquiry, the US Government admitted guilt for its participation in the murders of the 163 Native American Indians and the injuries to many others.

Evans testified before both Congressional committees, misled the inquisitors, and was accused of lying to cover-up his involvement in the massacre. Evans may have personally fought off rumors of instigating and directing the unprovoked massacre; however, less than eight months later, with Lincoln having been assassinated and Andrew Johnson as President, Evans unceremoniously resigned from his post as Governor.

The egregious attack on Chief Black Kettle and the Native Americans was seen as a public embarrassment to the new President and Johnson wanted a change in leadership in Colorado promptly. The letter Evans received from the State Department read in part: “Circumstances connected with the public interest make it desirable that the resignation should reach here without delay.” [8]

Sand Creek Massacre

Sand Creek Massacre (Eugene Ridgely, Sr. on elk hide)

Questions About Reparations

So why has the brouhaha taken so long to foment? Why wait for the sesquicentennial for a vetting of this horrific event?


John Evans (Why? plaque at Sand Creek Massacre site)

Looking at the issues around this news, there could be some serious implications to Northwestern and DU on their gift acceptance policies. The research into the killings has had a chilling effect on the sesquicentennial celebrations. Its a bit like Congressmen calling to reopen investigations into the embassy attack and deaths in Benghazi. As Hillary Clinton protests, “What difference does it make?”

It makes a huge difference. For example, let’s say that the former Governor of Colorado, wanting to whitewash some stories about his sordid past gave some generous gifts to the schools which he founded, or he left the universities in his will (all of which occurred). What should Northwestern and University of Denver do if they discover that the gifts came directly (or indirectly) from racist policies and practices perpetrated by Evans? What if the genocide of Native Americans created great financials gains for Evans? He held enormous influence and interest in railroads. Through eminent domain many right-of-ways took property away from the Native Americans and gave it to the railroad companies, and Evans was a promoter of and investor in railroads. He turned around and gave those spoils to his favored institutions.

Should the statute of limitations put these issues to rest, or, does each University have an obligation to calculate what those gifts would be worth in today’s dollars? Since much of Northwestern rests on land given by the Evans family to the institution, what arrangements should be made for those gifts?  Will Northwestern change the name of the city that surrounds it? Not likely. Still, some sticky questions indeed, as far as reparations to the Native American tribes go.


Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians

With some careful investigation, the records is not historically simple. Instead it is a complex mix of Civil War prejudices and ‘Manifest Destiny’ policy resolutions that collided at the foothills of the Rockies. In its efforts to hear all sides, beyond the historical research, Northwestern University has held some open forums to hear from historians, Native Americans, and other interested parties in the discussion as to what the university should do about it. There are blood stains on the hands of many in this calamity well beyond Chivington and Evans.

There will be no public lynchings, but there will be debts to pay. The payment may be in fair treatment of Native Americans as full members of Northwestern and University of Denver from this moment forward. As the tides of integration and racial quotas ebb, it will be interesting to see what happens to the enrollment policies of these two great universities.


Andrew Johnson, Executive Director of the American Indian Center, Chicago

Another set of questions arises around the rights of the white settlers to their own safety. Many of these cases have favored the predominant white culture and railroaded justice away from the Native American Indian Tribes. The Indians don’t own the land, right? Most Indian creation myths start with Mother Earth. No one owns the earth; the land is for all.

According to letters from Governor Evans to the Secretary of War, Stanton, the alliance in the Colorado Territory among the Sioux, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche, Apache, Utes and Arapaho was unraveling and ammunition and troops were needed to strengthen the defenses to protect the white settlers. The problems were occurring in the Indians’ sacred hunting grounds and homelands. The land, Mother Earth, has been sacred for eternity. The list of broken treaties with the Native Tribes is long, and so are the injustices attached to the carving up of the least desirable parcels of Mother Earth for Indian Reservations.


National Historic Marker at Site of the Sand Creek Massacre

From the perspective of a Territorial Governor, from whom did Evans take his closest council? Relying on his close Methodist friend, Reverend Chivington, was an obvious error in judgment. What did it take to keep the peace in the deep South? The West?

As Lincoln himself knew, everything important comes with a price. The measure of a statesman, or for any man for that matter, is the degree to which he weighs the facts, uses his judgement, and makes decisions that offer the most collective good for others.


John Evans

Multiple Codas

One coda to the life of John Evans, often overlooked in the textbooks, was the fact that he lied under oath and resigned in disgrace from the office of Governor of the Colorado Territory. The massacre of many Native American Indians from a confrontation at Sand Creek became the political maelstrom whose fierce winds swept him from power.

Another remediated coda is that despite the fallout from the Sand Creek Massacre, Evans remained a very popular citizen in Colorado long after the massacre. White citizens revered him for his courage and for staunchly protecting the immigrant people of Colorado. He was honored by residents of Denver and throughout the Territory for his perceived toughness in dealing with “the enemy.”

Evans remained a resident of Colorado for the rest of his life, traveling back and forth from Denver to Chicago by train to attend board meetings at Northwestern. He seemed to have fully restored his reputation as a “good doctor” who had a penchant for education, innovation, railroads, politics, philanthropy, and entrepreneurship. He remained an active steward caring for the under-served and was a Trustee on the Boards of his beloved Colorado Seminary and Northwestern University for as long as they would have him.

Evans died on July 2, 1897, at the age of 83.

Today, throughout Colorado, John Evans has city streets, mountain peaks, and small towns named in his honor. (The highest mountain road in the US goes to the top of Mount Evans.) There are engraved plaques praising his accomplishments in city parks (like Cranmer Park) all over the region. And he is always listed among the legendary founders of the Centennial State.


Native American Coda

Not surprisingly, Evans does not share the same star-studded reputation among the Native Americans. His coda is different among them. For some unknown reason, he had “sand in his eyes” so to speak, when it came to the rights and privileges of the Native People. Despite his life-long history of uplifting women, African Americans, the insane, the blind, and the deaf, his legacy of deep understanding and societal welfare excluded the Native Indian Tribes. His Congressional testimonials in the Sand Creek Massacre point to his strong feelings that the White settlers needed his protection, and that personal mandate excluded the Indians. Evans had a glaring blind spot: a sclerotic vision favoring the White West. The Indians were the cholera, the cancer, the enemy. Evans believed that the Indians culture lay, as John H. Morgan, the Indian anthropologist, proclaimed, somewhere short of civilization, between barbarism and savagery. Ironically it was Evans who became the most barbaric and savage of those in the Colorado Territory.

Such a shameful coda for an otherwise remarkable man.

???????????????????????????????John Evans’ simple gravestone




[1]  The current sundial at Cranmer Park is the second one to exist at this location in the Park. The first was donated in 1941 by longtime Manager of Denver Parks, George E. Cranmer, for whom the Park is named. It was destroyed by vandals who exploded dynamite under it in 1965. The replacement sundial was installed in 1966 after a successful city-wide fundraising effort.

CDXXCRANMER_AO [2] Most of the history of John Evans is gleaned from articles and writings on the internet, most notably from three references: 1)  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Evans_(governor)  2)  http://www.geni.com/people/Dr-John-Evans-2nd-Territorial-Governor-of-Colorado/6000000010925081078  and 3) https://archive.org/stream/johnevans181418900scot/johnevans181418900scot_djvu.txt

[3]  Evans visited model mental health hospitals on the East Coast, all at his own expense. Called lunatic and insane asylums at that time, Evans lobbied the Indiana legislature for changes in the standard of care. He also urged the legislature to mandate architectural changes to safeguard the patients. Showing the wide breadth of his interests and knowledge, Evans had studied the structural similarities and differences among hospitals for the insane. Apparently he noticed that many of the older state hospitals had burned to the ground. He recommended that the building codes include better firewalls (extra-thick walls) to safeguard the patients from the dangers of death by incineration of these marginalized patients.  http://books.google.com/books?id=bg13QcMSsq8C&pg=PA553&lpg=PA553&dq=hannah+canby+evans+1838&source=bl&ots=ahMUEgUWos&sig=XVQbHXmuwsY5TQjJKRkaaUs-3FA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=nKygU9_yJYTyoASz64CwCQ&ved=0CEUQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=hannah%20canby%20evans%201838&f=false

[4] This assertion is based on the fact that when he was assigned to the Colorado Territory, Evans chose a religious leader, Rev. John Chivington, to head the troops on the territorial borders and in his direct domain. It seems a curious choice, when there must have been militarily trained men with vast experience communicating with the Native Americans to choose from at the same time. Picking a person to protect the citizens is a tricky matter, and Evans seems, in light of the wide swath of blood that spilled, to have chosen poorly. “The Chivington Massacre” was his political downfall. The blow-back occurring in Colorado and Illinois 150 years after the original incident, shows the lingering tail of genocide in the US.

[5] Elbert became a very influential politician in his own right. He helped set aside 3 million acres of Indian land for the formation of railroads, mineral rights, and timber.  The tallest peak in the Colorado Rockies, Mount Elbert, is named for him.

[6] It was during Evans’ forty-two year tenure with Northwestern University, the period after he had resigned as Governor of the Colorado Territory, that the current controversy focuses. This puts the date at approximately 13 years after he had founded the University in Evanston. Those years create a time gap that offers some Illinois residents comfort. The University has the spotlight on the gifts of cash, stock, real estate, and gifts-in-kind that came to the endowment and to the University directly from John Evans and the Evans family. The same process is being conducted at DU, though the separation of time and place cannot be used as a defense; it happened on Evans’ watch in Colorado, while he was getting DU up and functioning.

[7] A search of the web in 2014 brings up a large assortment of news articles, essays, testimonials, editorials and authoritative reports on the Sand Creek Massacre, the US Congressional hearings, and the aftermath.  http://www.northbynorthwestern.com/story/john-evans-study-committee-releases-report/  http://www.northwestern.edu/provost/committees/john-evans-study/study-committee-report.pdf  All interested readers should seek independent information, filter it as they deem appropriate and attempt her or his own conclusion. The resolution that satisfies all parties has yet to appear.

[8] Handwritten letter identified on the internet from the US Department of State to John Evans, Esquire, July 18, 1865.


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