Sand Creek Reports Part 2 - Was John Evans Culpable for the Sand Creek Massacre?

Barbara Sternberg's Book about Anne Evans

Welcome to Anne Evans News 
Sand Creek Reports Pt 2  December 16, 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 Newsletter (Sand Creek Reports Pt 2) covers the differences between the Northwestern University John Evans Report and the more recent Report by a Denver University John Evans Study Committee ( 

Look out for the next Anne Evans News, Sand Creek Reports Pt 3 that continues the discussion and comment on the findings of of the DU Committee's recommendations, and describe its suggestions about what actions should be taken as a result of the Committee's findings. Part 4 will review the flurry of speeches, articles and ceremonies which marked the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre. 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 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. 


The DU Report rather grudgingly agrees with the Northwestern finding that Governor Evans cannot be held responsible for the Massacre itself. This was Chivington's responsibility alone.

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."

Here, the DU Committee definitely disagrees. They conclude that, throughout his brief tenure as Governor, John Evans' "inability to scale back suspicion and hostility toward the Cheyennes and Arapahos in order to ensure their security and rights" and his "outright rejection of conciliation" show that he failed in his duties as Colorado's Superintendent of Indian Affairs.

The DU Report quotes some of the 2013 observations by author Gary Roberts (3) relating to Evans' culpability for the Massacre. Committee members concur in Roberts' opinion that, because of Evans' consistent promotion of "the inevitability of an Indian war..." he was "responsible. more than any other, for creating the atmosphere for Sand Creek, and therefore being "by design or weakness ...deeply culpable for the Sand Creek Massacre."

The Northwestern Report, like the DU Report, comments on the strange fact that John Evans never, till the day he died, condemned the Massacre. In his testimony before two Congressional Committees, "he refused to censure what the troops had done. Instead he tried to cast doubt on whether their actions had been as unjustified or as severe as others claimed."

Both Reports note a significant quotation from Evans, in an interview with historian Hebert Bancroft about 20 years after the Massacre. "...the benefit to Colorado, of that massacre, as they call it, was very great, for it ridded the plains of the Indians, for there was a sentiment that Indians ought not to be in the midst of the community. It relieved us very much of the roaming tribes of Indians."  

John Evans Courtesy History Colorado
Image courtesy

Sand Creek Reports Pt 2 (continued)

One paragraph of the DU Report (p. 89) asks the rather convoluted question, "What did Evans do that he thought would...rid the settler colonists of the roaming Indians; and make the Sand Creek massacre merely the culmination of a series of actions that would make it a logical conclusion to his vision as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Territory of Colorado?" its answer to the question reads more like a mystical poem by T. S. Eliot than a historian's conclusion. "There, between the idea and the reality, the motion and the act, is the shadow that seems to appear as a resolutely logical progression of events that lead inexorably to the answer we seek."

In sum, the DU Report finds Governor John Evans bears a heavy responsibility for the Sand Creek Massacre in the following areas:

  1. As Superintendent if Indian Affairs, Evans abrogated his duties.

  2. Evans used his position of territorial leadership to accelerate war, rather than to apply every effort to promote peace.

  3. In his role as governor (but without the legal authority to do so), Evans authorized the kind of indiscriminate violence that would invariably lead to the slaughter of noncombatants. In effect, through his lobbying for, receipt of, and support for the 3rd Regiment, Evans did the equivalent of handing Colonel Chivington a loaded gun.

  4. That he (Evans) would have opposed the attack at Sand Creek if there had been any suggestion of "hostiles" in the camp is belied by Evans's entire pattern of actions in 1864.

  5. Evans was not just (as the Northwestern Report said.) "one of several individuals who, in serving a flawed and poorly implemented Indian policy, helped create a situation that made the Sand Creek Massacre possible." Rather, he was the top political authority in the Territory and central to creating the conditions in which the massacre was possible and even likely.

In disagreement with the Northwestern Report, which says the Evans' conduct "after the Sand Creek Massacre" reveals "a deep moral failure", the DU Study Committee finds that it is his conduct before the massacre that does so. It is not his response to the Sand Creek Massacre that was "reprehensibly obtuse and self-interested," reflecting "indifference to the suffering inflicted on Cheyennes and Arapahos," It is all the actions he took, and the attitude he maintained before the massacre that not only reflected "indifference to the suffering inflicted on the Cheyennes and Arapahos" but promoted the suffering.

(Part 3. will comment on the DU Committee's recommendations, and describe its suggestions about what actions should be taken as a result of the Committee's findings. Part 4 will review the flurry of speeches, articles and ceremonies which marked the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre.)

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