Review DU Sand Creek Report's Final Chapters - Sand Creek Reports Part 3

Barbara Sternberg's Book about Anne Evans

Welcome to Anne Evans News 
Sand Creek Reports Pt 3  December 22, 2014
by Barbara Edwards Sternberg

Anne Evans News – This follows my December 10 Newsletter, in which the Report of the John Evans Study Committee of the University of Denver was excerpted with a discussion of its conclusions. 

This is the third of four Anne Evans News about the Sand Creek Reports. Herein I review the two final chapters in the DU Report: Conclusion to the Main Body of the Report, and Recommendations of the University of Denver John Evans Committee ( 

Look out for the next Anne Evans News, Sand Creek Reports Pt 4 that will review the flurry of speeches, articles and ceremonies which marked the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre, and offers a review and commentary.

Anne Evans BlogYou may now automatically receive my blog posts via RSS feed. My recent blog post introduced 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. 


I'm still amazed that there is one question no one commenting on the Sand Creek Massacre seems to be raising, and that is: Why not pressure the United States Government to pay the reparations promised in 1865, and apparently never paid? (I have read claims that the US Government did pay some reparations to the tribal chiefs, and am seeking documentation to this effect.)

The DU Report authors concur in finding that, in dealing with the group of Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs in 1863, who came to plead for Evans to work for peaceful relations with their tribes, his attitude was "small-minded," preoccupied with his personal reputation,..."condescending and sometimes uncomprehending." Even though they acknowledge that Evans was "consistently honest and hard-working" they concluded that he did not act "in a manner that befitted an official with a federal duty to look out for the tribes..." However, the Northwestern Report concluded "that such a failure may be excusable."

The first of these Chapters makes for curious reading. It seems to be an attempt to soften the accusations against Evans. Opening with an account of Evans' expectations of himself in coming to Colorado "hopeful that he could make a positive impact," the Report notes that he was a man "of recognized intelligence, ambition, inventiveness, and will; many of his close contemporaries regarded him as deeply humanitarian and a true miracle-maker when he put his mind to something." It goes on to assert that Evans "never imagined he would become embroiled in a massacre that would live in infamy as one of the worst atrocities in United States history - no small distinction in a settler colonial society that often prefers to 'forget' the human and environmental costs of its achievements."

"The Sand Creek Massacre is unique in American history." But not because it was a massacre of Native people, and not because it was an attack on people who had made every effort make peace with both the civilian and the military authorities. It is unique for three reasons. Because three federal investigations found the deeds committed at Sand Creek to be "profound violations of nineteenth standards of diplomacy and warfare." Then because the "inquiries let to the ouster of a standing territorial governor." Finally, because Sand Creek is "the lone military campaign against Native people that the United States government officially recognizes as a massacre."

The next paragraph is what one of my high school English teachers would have called "a masterpiece of circumlocution." It starts with "Evans could not have anticipated such dreadful infamy, and he certainly cannot be held responsible for it from the grave. Nor has the intention of this committee been to defame his reputation." The next, strangely ungrammatical, sentence, says "We do believe the evidence amply supports finding Evans seriously culpability for helping creating the circumstances that led to the Sand Creek Massacre." And the paragraph concludes with this ambivalent caveat: "But we must never invest so much in the question of culpability that we lose sight of the broad, complex picture which surrounds both Evans' decisions in the 1860's, and our conditions as today's occupants of what had been Cheyenne and Arapaho homelands."

"As an educational community that has inherited Evans's positive legacies along with his deadly decisions, we have the opportunity to face this history honestly. It is impossible now to celebrate the founder with the amnesia we have shown in the past, but we can see him - and perhaps ourselves - more accurately situated in the complexity of history." (emphasis added) The paragraph notes that the Massacre and its aftermath "changed the course of existence for Arapahos, Cheyennes and many other people who lived in...Colorado...Even so, these are resilient people, today part of dynamic, persistent cultures despite all they have endured." 

The paragraph ends with this damning conclusion: "Understanding the story of John Evans and the Sand Creek Massacre offers a rare opportunity to call upon our moral, intellectual, and spiritual resources to understand how ordinary leaders can, under the influence of exclusionist, supremacist worldviews, and wielding the tools of conquerors, justify horrendous atrocities."

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Images of University of Denver courtesy

Sand Creek Reports Pt 3 (continued)

Authors of the University of Denver Report
The official list of Authors of the Report lists six names as full members - four DU Professors, one former State Historian now Consultant to the Northern Cheyenne, one Native American Professor from the Iliff School of Theology and one additional DU Professor, the Denver University Historian, listed as Consultant to the Committee. However, the introductory Summary of the Committee's Findings, amplifies this list, stating that "This report is the outcome of a yearlong inquiry by the University of Denver Study Committee, a volunteer group of faculty, outside historians, descendant community representatives, and students and alumni representing the DU Native American community."  

This Summary clarifies the task of this group of authors. "The findings are offered, in part, as a supplement, but also a response to a similar inquiry conducted by Northwestern University, also founded by John Evans. We submit the present document not as an academic trial of Evans in absentia according to today's legal standards and conceptions of human rights, but rather in the spirit of an effort to understand a legacy that neither university has, until this year, made the effort to understand. Such a task requires that the decisions and actions that John Evans undertook be situated in the context of the ideas, policies, expectations, and principles of territorial leadership evident in the mid-nineteenth century American West."

Authors of the John Evans Study Committee Recommendations
Although this separate part of the Report is subtitled "Authored by the members of the DU John Evans Study Committee" its official membership differs from the formal listing of the authors of the main body of the Report. The Recommendations Committee had 21 members. The professor from Iliff and all five DU Professors on the original study list are included, with one added, and the University Historian is now a full member. In addition, there are four members of the DU Native Student Alliance, one member of the DU Native Alumni Association, and six direct descendant representatives from Wyoming, Montana and Oklahoma.

This last segment of the DU Report consists of one page of background rationale and two pages of wide-ranging recommendations.

Background rationale:

  • The DU Report offers the University "an opportunity to provide a model of transparency, accountability, and transformation for institutions that have directly or indirectly profited from the displacement of the indigenous communities whose lands they occupy."

  • "Though we can trace the specific atrocity of the Sand Creek Massacre to our own foundation as an is but one example of many tragic events that have been written out of our books and memory...When any people fail to grapple with the dark sides of its collective past, it falls prey to mythology. In the United States, one persistent strain of historical mythology has been to shroud...troubling realities in the language of triumph, divinely ordained missions and a progress that overrides the violence in its wake." It is time, the Committee says, to consider how Sand Creek and other tragedies impact not just the tribes and descendants affected by acts of genocide, but for all of us in the here and now. we all need to heal from the "Sand Creek Massacre and other historic and many other historic and contemporary indigenous massacres and land thefts (which) exemplify an egregious injustice that sacrificed hundreds of lives for the sake of western expansion, consumption, and greed."

Specific Recommendations
Truth Telling and Public Dialogue

  • Publish, in print and online, the entire Report. Disseminate it widely among the entire Denver University community and the general public

  • Create an official Memorandum of Agreement between DU and the Sovereign Nations of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana, the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming, and the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma.

  • Sponsor open, facilitated public forums, on campus and off, to allow interested parties to respond to, critique, and discuss the report.

Quotes from Denver University John Evans Study Committee Report (

(Part 4 will review the flurry of speeches, articles and ceremonies which marked the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre, and conclude with my commentary.)

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