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Learn about the Northwestern University's John Evans Study Committee Report!

 
Barbara Sternberg's Book about Anne Evans

Welcome to Anne Evans News - November 2014
by Barbara Edwards Sternberg

Anne Evans News – This Newsletter follows my Blog Post in which the general contents of this worthwhile Report of the John Evans Study Committee of Northwestern University were summarized. What follows here is a selection of important excerpts from it, and a discussion of its conclusions.(1) Some of these will meet with pretty unanimous approval, while some may prove quite controversial.
    I look forward to reporting to you about a similar Report from a study committee appointed by the University of Denverthat has just been issued. Look out for a Blog Post that will follow this Anne Evans News in the next couple of days, in which I will summarize the University of Denver Report, followed by an in-depth review and commentary in my next Anne Evans News.

 

Anne Evans BlogYou may now automatically receive my blog posts via RSS feed. My recent blog post introduced the subject of this Newsletter, Northwestern University's Report about John Evans and his role and culpability in the Sand Creek Massacre. Click here to see my blog posts.

Above image courtesy http://www.northwestern.edu/provost/committees/john-evans-study/study-committee-report.pdf

Northwestern University's John Evans Study Committee Issues Its Report  


Consequences of the Massacre

    The Introductory Chapter 1, after describing in detail the unbelievably brutal Massacre at Sand Creek on November 19, 1864, ends with a description of the "devastating consequences of the massacre for the victims (which) are impossible to overstate. Sand Creek was a deep wound that would never close...The slaughter became seared into the memory of the Cheyenne and Arapahos as one of many instances of betrayal, humiliation, and loss at the hands of the United States that continue to the present. Although the attack occurred almost 150 years ago, it remains a palpable ...force in these communities today, a reminder never to trust American authorities."
    "To help assuage such painful feelings among the living, while honoring the dead, since 1999 descendants of the Sand Creek Massacre victims, and people who sympathize with them, have participated in an annual Spiritual Healing Run/Walk in late November that extends from the massacre site to Denver."

The Report notes that, as far as the white settler population was concerned, "Far from ending the Indian threat, Sand Creek ignited an extended period of bitter warfare on a larger, costlier, and deadlier scale than before."
    The Report's authors state that, "the Sand Creek Massacre is a shameful stain on our country, on the social relationships that are the basis of our democracy, and on our aspirations to be a just society.” This is not just the retrospective view of Native Americans and their present-day sympathizers. General Nelson A. Miles, whose career stretches from the Civil War to the Spanish-American War and who became Commanding General of the U.S. Army on the strength of his exploits defeating Indians on the plains, observed in his memoirs, "The Sand Creek Massacre is perhaps the foulest and most unjustifiable crime in the annals of America."



Major Questions Facing the Study Committee
    "How could this happen?" the Report asks. "Beyond John Chivington and the men of the Third, what individuals, actions, and circumstances caused this atrocity? Who might have prevented it, but did not? What were the consequences?"
    "The subject of this Report is where John Evans (1814-1897) belongs in the answers to these questions." The Report notes that Evans was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln, in the spring of 1862, to be both the Second Territorial Governor of Colorado and its Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Evans served until the summer of 1865, when he resigned after a Congressional committee demanded his ouster because of the Sand Creek Massacre and Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson, followed suit."

Why Should Northwestern University be Interested - in 2014 - in a 150-year-old Massacre of Indians in Colorado?
    The Study Committee makes it clear that the "University's interest in Evans' relationship to Sand Creek stems from his prominent place in the institution's history. "
    "Evans was one of the nine civic-minded Methodists who gathered in 1850 for the purpose of establishing the University, and he was the central figure over the next few years in realizing their vision. In recognition of this, they named the town in which Northwestern is located after him. They also elected him president of the University's Board of Trustees...a position he held continuously for over forty years. Although Evans attended only a smattering of meetings in person following his departure for Colorado in 1862...he remained a significant presence as a donor and financial adviser. He was without question a warm friend of the University, which over the years has honored him more than any other person connected with the history of Northwestern."

Sand Creek Never Mentioned in Northwestern's Many Commemorations of Evans' Contributions
    "The glowing language of the University's commemorations of Evans and its complete silence regarding the horrifying massacre have aroused debate in recent years. Some students, faculty and other community members have expressed concern that 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 character assassination that judges a person in the past by the standards of the present."

Specific Charges given to the Study Committee
1. Northwestern's Provost Daniel Linzer appointed the committee of eight senior scholars, four from within and four from outside the University, "to examine in detail Evans role in the (Sand Creek) massacre."

2. "Linzer also asked the committee to try to determine whether any of Evans' wealth or his financial support to Northwestern was attributable to his policies and practices regarding Native Americans while he was in office."

Chapter Two: Life and Career of John Evans
    This is a historically careful account of John Evans background, achievements, successes and failures, from his birth on March 9, 1814 in Waynesville, Ohio to his death in Colorado.
    "When John Evans died on July 3, 1897, he was a much-admired figure. Not only streets and towns but also one of the highest peaks in the front range of the Rockies... had been named after him... Governor Alva Adams ordered that Evans’s body lie in state in the capitol for public viewing, and by many estimates his was the largest funeral in Colorado history. Spectators lined the streets on a blazing hot day as the casket proceeded to Riverside Cemetery, where he was buried according to Masonic ritual."
    While there is some general discussion in the Chapter about the relative balance, in Evans' many business enterprises, between serving the public good and his private enrichment, the Report's authors come down clearly on the side of a favorable evaluation.
    "In virtually all he did, he was an exceptionally ambitious, influential, and capable figure who consistently sought and frequently attained demanding positions of leadership. His combination of intelligence, ingenuity, hard work, and practicality place him in the best traditions of the self-made American achiever. As such, he sought to combine doing well with doing good, to make his worldly actions serve a broader and higher purpose than self-interest."
    Chapter Two ends with a painstaking accounting of all of Evans' financial gifts to Northwestern University. These were mainly in the form of real estate. The Report tallies up not only the value of the original gifts, but of the income derived from them by following Evans' stipulations that the properties be leased or rented and not sold.

Chapters Three and Four: Colorado Before Sand Creek and The Road to Sand Creek
    These two chapters are of exceptional interest to anyone interested in the historical developments in Colorado between 1700 and the 1860's. They document, in vivid detail, the succession of changes in the relationship between Native Americans and white U. S. governmental authorities. The first major change in what became Colorado Territory was the coming of Plains tribes - chiefly Arapaho and Cheyenne - as a result of their acquisition of horses, which gave them a much more efficient way to hunt buffalo... Then the arrival of white hunters - first of beaver and then buffalo - and traders, a time of relative cooperation and mutually advantageous trading between Indians and white newcomers. In the next phase, "... the settler presence and influence rose rapidly as America expanded to the Pacific in the 1840s. Finally, the discovery of gold in the eastern Rockies in 1858 brought a massive increase of newcomers, with calamitous effects on Native peoples."
    Chapter Four, The Road to Sand Creek, documents the efforts of Governor John Evans and others to find a way to protect "peaceful Indians" while supporting military and other efforts to subdue "hostile Indians.” This was in the tension of increasing strains between Indians, suffering from hunger, disease, and continuing loss of territory, and the settler population, which was well aware of the declining ability of government to protect them from Indian attacks - because all the regular troops had been withdrawn from Colorado to fight in the Civil War.
    The account of attempted negotiations to achieve some kind of peaceful settlement makes it clear that Evans was given an impossible task - as Governor to serve the interests of the growing settler population, and as Indian Affairs Commissioner to provide for the well-being of Indian tribal members living in the Territory. Nevertheless, the record of Evans' behavior during the crucial meeting between himself as Governor and a group of Arapaho tribal leaders at Camp Weld in September, 1864, initiated by Major Edward Wynkoop, at that time the military commander of Fort Lyon, was reprehensible. “Instead of being welcoming and open-minded, Evans had to be shamed into the Camp Weld meeting. Once it began, tone was hostile and his attitude resigned.”
    His major message to the tribal leaders was that he was no longer in charge of relationship with the Indians: if they wanted to make peace, they must go and surrender to the military. This is exactly what they did, and what landed them at the camp at Sand Creek where they were massacred.

Chapter Five - The Aftermath
    This chapter is a gripping and disturbing account of the immediate and longer term reactions to the Sand Creek Massacre.
    In Denver, the immediate reaction, motivated by Chivington's false and inflated account of the event, was one of celebration. The Rocky Mountain News published Chivington's report under a headline that exulted, “Great Battle with Indians! The Savages Dispersed! 500 INDIANS KILLED.”2 A few days later, the paper announced that the colonel was back in Denver, “looking fine as usual, though a little fiercer than formerly, and no wonder.” The News crowed, “Let cowardly snakes and fault-finders carp and slander as they will, the Colonel, as a commander is a credit to Colorado and the West.” The Third, after all, had “taken a prominent part in the most effective expedition against the Indians ever planned and carried out.”
    “But by the last days of 1864, braggadocio turned to indignation as news came of accusations being made in Washington. Unnamed ‘high officials’ were saying that the Indians had been killed after surrendering and that many of the dead were women and children… On January 10, 1865, the House of Representatives directed the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War (JCCW) to investigate.” The following day, a military inquiry into the Sand Creek engagement was ordered. A few weeks later, a second joint Congressional Committee was created to report on “the conditions of the Indian tribes” (CCIT) This was to be “a comprehensive examination of the situation of the Indian tribes, including treatment by the civil and military authorities of the United States.”

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Northwestern Report (continued)

John Evans Testimony before the Congressional Committee (JCCW)
    No-one reading the minutes of Evans' testimony before this Committee can help being surprised and disappointed in the nature of his answers to the Committee's questions - especially those directly concerned with the Massacre. Evans started his testimony with an account of his dealings with the tribes from the time he took over the governorship: his unsuccessful attempts to get the Arapaho and Cheyenne to accept the terms of the Fort Wise Treaty, which drastically reduced the size of their reservation from the boundaries proposed in the earlier Fort Laramie Treaty; the handicaps imposed on him by the withdrawal of all Colorado military forces to fight in the Civil War; the resentment of the Plains tribes at the appropriation of more and more of their traditional lands for settlement; the rising tide of fear among the settlers of Indian raids on their homesteads. He described his relatively greater success in negotiations with the Ute tribes.
    But when it came time to answer questions about his relationship to the actual massacre, Evans retreated into vague answers and half-truths, except in his steadfast denial of any personal role in, or responsibility for, Sand Creek. In this hearing - and for the rest of his life - he never publicly condemned the massacre, nor those who took part in it.
    In their Report, the JCCW members observed pointedly that Evans’s appearance before them “was characterized by such prevarication and shuffling as has been shown by no witness they have examined in the four years they have been engaged in their investigations.” In their judgment, he had been so evasive “for the evident purpose of avoiding the admission that he was fully aware that the Indians massacred so brutally at Sand Creek were then, and had been, actuated by the most friendly feelings towards the whites, and had done all in their power to restrain those less friendly disposed.” The committee tersely recommended “that Governor Evans, of Colorado Territory, should be immediately removed from office.”
    It should be noted here that John Evans fully expected that he would have another hearing before this Congressional Committee, after he had a chance to return to Colorado from Washington (where he was when the Massacre occurred) and hear more directly what exactly had happened. The chance never came. Evans' major supporter in Washington, Abraham Lincoln, was assassinated. He was succeeded by Andrew Johnson who - beset by multiple national problems - demanded and received Evans resignation in the summer of 1865.

Chapter Six: Conclusions
1. The major conclusion of the Northwestern John Evans Study Committee is that “No known evidence exists that John Evans helped plan the Sand Creek Massacre or had any knowledge of it in advance. The extant evidence suggests that he did not consider the Indians of Sand Creek to be a threat and that he would have opposed the attack that took place.” The Report marshals convincing evidence for this conclusion.

2. “John Evans, despite his efforts to preserve peace, clearly failed in his duty to the tribes.” In reading the Committee's evidence presented to support this conclusion, my main impression is of the impossibility of Evans' succeeding in this task. The primary obstacles being first, the conflict and confusion between the various government agencies and the military in charge of policy towards Native Americans, and secondly, the inconvenient fact that the American concept of the best use of land created no space in Colorado for Native Americans to have large reservations, where buffalo and other animals roamed. For John Evans, as for most Americans of the time, land was to be used. Whether for raising crops, pasturing cattle, cutting lumber, mining, building railroads or building cities, it was perceived as an economic asset.

3. The Committee could find no moral justification for the fact that Evans never condemned the Sand Creek Massacre, but indeed seemed at times to justify it by its results. About an 1884 interview with historian Bancroft, they wrote, “And, while Evans once more asserted that he had nothing to do with the events at Sand Creek, he cited the fact that this war resulted in the removal of all the [I]ndians from Colorado, except the Utes up in the mountains...So the benefit to Colorado, of that massacre, as they call it, was very great, for it ridded the plains of the [I]ndians, for there was a sentiment that the [I]ndians ought not to be left in the midst of the community. It relieved us very much of the roaming tribes of [I]ndians.”

4. The Report clearly states that Evans did not profit from the Sand Creek Massacre. "It cost him his highly advantageous position as territorial governor, and it contributed to his failure to win admission to the Union for Colorado and a seat in the U. S. Senate for himself. Had the massacre never occurred, he probably would have become senator and positioned to make even more money than he did in the years ahead. His stormy tenure as governor also appears to have put a strain on his marriage that persuaded him to abandon his ambitions for political office, though he remained active in public life."

5. The authors of the Report conclude that In the longer term, however, Evans’ investments in land and railroads clearly benefited, as he conceded in the Bancroft interview of 1884, from the development that the removal of Indians from eastern Colorado encouraged. As to how that affected the University's gifts from Evans, they state: "Although quantifying the portion of John Evans's substantial contributions to Northwestern that resulted from his policies towards Native peoples is difficult, such a connection existed. The University should recognize that, just as Evans profited from the development of the western and regional economies in the late nineteenth century, so did Northwestern University and many other institutions."

6. Finally, the Report sharply criticizes Northwestern University's history of presenting John Evans as a totally worthy founder of the institution. They say that "the University participated in and perpetuated a collective amnesia that not just disconnected John Evans from the (Sand Creek) massacre but erased it entirely...In doing so, the University has ignored a deplorable aspect of Evans's career that exposed a deep flaw in his moral character...At the same time Northwestern has neglected its and every other university's fundamental commitment to discovering and discussing the truth, including about itself."


 

7. What actions does the John Evans Study Committee recommend that Northwestern University should take on the basis of its Report? "...by taking steps that are in keeping with its leadership role in society as an institution of higher learning. These include increasing the access of Native Americans to a Northwestern education and of all Northwestern students to the study of Native American history and cultures." Recommendations in this area will be forthcoming from a second committee announced in November of 2013. Its task is to identify things that Northwestern University can do now to make the University a more welcoming place for Native Americans.

My Comments on this Study Committee Report
    I am surprised that, after all their criticism of Northwestern's uniformly laudatory portrayals of John Evans over the years, the Report's authors make no suggestions as to exactly how, from now on, the University should include information about the Sand Creek Massacre in their references to Evans.
    I find it hard to concur in their opinion that their well-documented study of John Evans' behavior prior to, and after, the massacre "revealed a deplorable aspect of Evans' career that exposed a deep flaw in his moral character." It appears to me that what their research mainly shows is that he was a man of his time - a believer in individual responsibility, in developing the land, working hard, looking to include both his own well-being and the public good in his enterprises. And that he was placed in an impossible position between all the governmental agencies that had jurisdiction over Indian policies, and in being responsible, as Governor, for the well-being of the increasing American population and, as Indian Commissioner, for the well-being of the Native Americans in the Territory.
    In concert with the Study Committee's finding, I too am puzzled by the fact that Evans never publicly condemned the Sand Creek Massacre and often rationalized it as having had some kind of beneficial result - in that it led ultimately to the desirable removal of the Plains Indian tribes from Colorado. But this insensitivity to the utterly different values of Native American cultures, and to their great suffering, was undoubtedly characteristic of all but a few in his times. The Committee found no documentation to explain Evans' stand and neither did I, in my research. But I suspect that it had something to do with his not wanting to give any fodder for attacks by his bitter political enemies.
    In summary, I found this Report well worth reading for anyone interested in Colorado's history.
    As I said above, I look forward to reporting to you about a similar Report from a study committee appointed by the University of Denver, that has just been issued. Look out for a Blog Post that will follow this Anne Evans News in the next couple of days, in which I will summarize the University of Denver Report, followed by an in-depth review and commentary in my next Anne Evans News.

(1) All the items in quotation marks are from the John Evans Study Committee's Report, which is easily available to read or to download as a pdf from Northwestern University’s Northwestern Evans Report available to read or to download as a pdf from Northwestern University's website. The sources of the 'quotes within quotes' can be found in the Report itself.

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