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Welcome to Anne Evans News - December 10, 2014
by Barbara Edwards Sternberg

Anne Evans News – This follows my November Newsletter in which the Report of the John Evans Study Committee of Northwestern University was excerpted with a discussion of its conclusions. Herein is a summary and discussion about a similar Report from a study committee appointed by the University of Denverthat was issued November 3, 2014 ( Look out for the next Anne Evans News that continues the discussion and offers an in-depth review and commentary.

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: Sand creek massacre | Brent Learned, Cheyenne and
Arapaho descendant
. Courtesy

University of Denver John Evans Study Committee Issues Its Report  

THE REPORT OF THE DENVER UNIVERSITY JOHN EVANS STUDY COMMITTEE, issued in November, runs to 97 pages, with an additional 5 pages devoted to the Committee's recommendations. The members of the Study Committee were fully aware of the content of the earlier Report issued by the Northwestern University Study Committee, which had substantially the same mandate as the DU Committee. I summarized the major contents of that Report in an earlier Newsletter. So here I am assuming that readers are familiar with the general facts about John Evans and his role in the events leading up to Sand Creek; with the findings of the Congressional and military investigations following the Massacre; with Evans being forced to resign the governorship, and with his attitude for the rest of his life towards the Massacre. The long term result of the Massacre - and the subsequent war with the tribes - was the total removal of the Cheyenne and Arapaho from their lands in Colorado, and the exploitation of the economic potential of these lands by immigrants and settlers.

The members of the DU Study Committee consciously avoided detailed repetition of the Northwestern factual findings about the complex of Governor Evans' actions, and other developments, leading up to the Massacre. They focused on areas not considered by the earlier Report.


One of these is an explanation of the legal claims to land ownership by Indian tribes, as decided by the U. S. Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice John Marshall. The claims are spelled out in three decisions, authored by Marshall and therefore known as the Marshall Trilogy, which were handed down between 1823 and 1832. These decisions amount to an ultimately devastating position for the tribes:

  • Native nations or tribes have official recognition that is distinct from the U.S. government. (Native people who are not members of a recognized nation or tribe are neither Indians nor tribes.)

  • Tribes are domestic dependent nations with no international status.

  • Each nation or tribe has territorial integrity.

  • No nation or tribe has the power to sell land to private individuals. That power is reserved to the federal government, who owns the land on which Indians are wards.

  • The people of each tribe or nation have beneficial use of the territory they occupy only until the United States decides to buy it, or seizes it in a war of conquest. Once the U.S. has it, native title to that land is extinguished.

  • Because the United States is a Christian country, under god (emphasis added) and because the United States is an industrial society of agriculturalists, merchants, and manufacturers, it therefore has a right, on abstract principles, to expel hunters like the Indians from the territory they possess, or to contract their limits (the first corollary here is that the United States has the power to do this, unilaterally, any time it wants; the second is that all Indians are hunters even if they are not.)

  • The U.S. inherited the exclusive right to acquire Indian land from the colonial powers that discovered the Indians. (The corollary is that if the colonial powers had not discovered Indians, they would not exist.)

  • International law does not apply to Indians.

Images of University of Denver courtesy

University of Denver Report (continued)


The second area covered by the DU Report, and not by the earlier Northwestern University Report, is that of a comparison of the performance of Gov. Evans, in his relationship with the Plains Indians of Colorado, with that of the contemporary Governors of Nevada and Utah Territories. The Report's comparison is distinctly unfavorable to Evans, finding the Governors of the other two Territories more diligent in the pursuit of accommodation with their Indian tribes and in attempts to resolve issues of conflict with them through treaties.

My knowledge of the details of the history of Utah and Nevada is not sufficient for me to be able to judge whether the stresses of the situations confronting the three Governors were comparable enough to validate the comparison made by the authors of the DU Report. I do think it almost impossible for a comfortable 21st century scholar to realistically put themselves into the mindset of a mid-nineteenth century Denver resident or isolated settler out on the plains. Or, for that matter, to understand the desperate situation of members of the Plains Indian tribes, weakened by European diseases (for which they had no immune defenses) and suffering from hunger due to shrinking hunting territories and declining numbers of buffalo and other game animals.

What is clear is that an irresistible tide of history was running against the Native peoples of the United States. The task for a Territorial Governor - of reconciling his duties to the settler population with obligations as Indian Commissioner to act in the best interests of the Native peoples of the Territory - was an impossible one. The federal government, which claimed ownership of all the land in the United States, was going to side with with its rapidly increasing European immigrant population when it came to the granting of title to land. Treaties signed with Native tribes over land ownership were doomed to be renegotiated away, in the interests of settlers hungry for land. Such was the assignment given to Governor Evans: to persuade Cheyenne and Arapaho leaders to accept a major reduction in the land allocated to them in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 by accepting the terms of the Fort Wise treaty of 1861. Only a few tribal leaders had signed the new treaty at the time Evans assumed the governorship.

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