After over a year of preparation and research, the John Evans Study Committee released a 113-page report that details its historical investigation into the Northwestern co-founder’s involvement with the Sand Creek Massacre. The report calls on the University to acknowledge the ways in which the institution benefited from Evans’ involvement in Native American relocation in the Colorado Territory.
“John Evans deserves institutional recognition for his central and indispensable contributions to the establishment of Northwestern and its development through its early decades, but the University has ignored his significant moral failures before and after Sand Creek,” read the report. “This oversight goes against the fundamental purposes of a university and Northwestern’s own best traditions, and it should be corrected.”
The report was commissioned in response to a 2013 petition from the Native American and Indigenous Student Association. In October, the committee held an open forum with the Northwestern community. While the study committee has been quiet until the report’s release, the University announced in April the creation of a task force that will offer recommendations for action based on the report’s conclusions.
On Feb. 15, 2013, the University announced the formation of the committee, headed by English professor Carl Smith. A team of seven scholars, four from the University, three from elsewhere, have spent the past year examining historical documents to determine Evans’ involvement with the Sand Creek Massacre and forced Native American relocation in Colorado. The study also assesses the extent to which Evans profited from these events, and how the University might have benefited.
Although the committee was not tasked with offering recommendations to account for any missteps on behalf of the University, the conclusion nonetheless calls on the University to no longer “gloss over” Evans and the Sand Creek Massacre.
“The most significant way in which the University can move to correct this is by taking steps that are in keeping with its leadership role in society as an institution of higher learning,” the report read. “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.”
The report claims “no known evidence indicates that John Evans helped plan the Sand Creek Massacre or had any knowledge of it in advance.” Also, it says there is circumstantial evidence that suggests Evans was not connected to the massacre.
“Although Evan’s statements show that he favored using deadly force against hostile Indians, he always described military action even against legitimately dangerous bands as a matter of ‘punishing’ them in order to make them agree to peace on American terms, not as an end in itself,” the report read. “Evans never favored killing Indians for its own sake or regardless of age or gender. He was in fundamental disagreement with [Col. John] Chivington in this regard.”
It goes on to say that Evans did not profit politically or financially from the Sand Creek Massacre. Since Evans was forced to resign as a result of Sand Creek, he may have lost financially and politically.
Nonetheless, the report condemns Evans for his implementation of federal policy toward Native Americans in Colorado, claiming that he “helped create a situation that made the Sand Creek Massacre possible.” Though he denied a role in the massacre, “he refused to acknowledge, let alone criticize, what had happened, even going so far as to defend and rationalize it.”The report says that regardless of his degree of responsibility, his response was “reprehensibly obtuse and self-interested.”
The report names “his failure to fulfill his responsibility as superintendent of Indian affairs to represent the best interests of native people in Colorado” as his most critical error. His most significant failures occurred in his response to skirmishes in the spring of 1864 and his conduct during and after the Camp Weld meeting that September. At Camp Weld, Evans did not reciprocate the Indians’ peaceful spirit and instead “rebuked Black Kettle and others for not coming in sooner.”
For an in-depth look at John Evans and his troubled history with Native Americans, get your hands on a copy of NBN Spring magazine today.