John Evans (governor)

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John Evans
John Evans.gif
2nd Governor of the Territory of Colorado
In office
Preceded by William Gilpin
Succeeded by Alexander Cummings
Personal details
Born March 9, 1814
near Waynesville, Ohio
Died July 2, 1897(1897-07-02) (aged 83)
Denver, Colorado

John Evans (March 9, 1814 – July 2, 1897) was an American politician, physician, founder of various hospitals and medical associations, railroad promoter, Governor of the Territory of Colorado, and namesake of Evanston, Illinois, Evanston, Wyoming, Evans, Colorado,[1] Mount Evans, Colorado, and Evansburg, Pennsylvania. He is most noted for being one of the founders of both Northwestern University and the University of Denver. The John Evans professorships, the highest honours bestowed on faculty members at both Northwestern University and the University of Denver, are named for him. The roles of John Evans and John Chivington as the co-architects of one of the worst acts of genocide committed against Native Americans, the Sand Creek Massacre, has become more widely known in recent years.


Evans was born in Waynesville, Ohio[2] to David Evans and Rachel Burnett. After starting his studies in medicine in Philadelphia at Clermont Academy, he graduated with a degree in medicine from Cincinnati College in 1838. He then moved to Attica, Indiana, where he practiced medicine and helped found the Indiana Central State Hospital in Indianapolis. He was appointed its first superintendent.

He married, first (1838), Hannah Canby (1813–1850) and, second (1853), Margaret P. Gray (1830–1906). Hannah Canby Evans and three of their sons are buried in the old cemetery in Attica. He later moved to Chicago, where he helped found Lakeside Hospital, later named Mercy Hospital, and was responsible for bringing the Sisters of Mercy to staff the new Mercy Hospital. He also founded the Illinois Medical Society,[3] and taught at Rush Medical College.

His wealth garnered him a fair amount of political power. He founded the Illinois Republican Party and became a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln. He sold much of his Chicago holdings prior to a trip to England. While away, the property he sold was lost in the Great Chicago Fire. In 1851 he was one of the group of Methodists who founded Northwestern University, and was elected the first president of its Board of Trustees.[4]

Sand Creek Massacre[edit]

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln appointed John Evans the second Governor of the Territory of Colorado on March 31, 1862. Governor Evans and his good friend the Reverend John Chivington founded the Territory's first college, the Colorado Seminary, which later became the University of Denver. In 1864 Governor Evans appointed the Reverend Chivington as Colonel of the Colorado Volunteers, and Chivington led 800 cavalry troopers in an attack on a group of Cheyenne and Arapaho Native Americans. Chivington and his men knew of the unarmed band of Cheyenne and Arapaho led by Black Kettle, seeking peace talks, camped along Sand Creek in the east central part of the Territory.

On November 28, 1864, Colonel Chivington ordered his men to attack the encampment killing about 53 unarmed men and 110 women and children and wounding many more. Most of the dead were mutilated and the troops took back "souvenirs" from the massacre, including body parts of their victims. Governor Evans decorated Chivington and his men for their "valor in subduing the savages" and fought off rumors of an unprovoked massacre.[5]

The attack became known as the "Chivington Massacre," but is today referred to as the "Sand Creek Massacre." Once the attack became known, it was widely condemned at the time.

As governor of the Colorado Territory, John Evans was implicated in creating the conditions for the massacre to occur. In August 1864, Evans had issued a proclamation authorizing “all citizens of Colorado . . . to go in pursuit of all hostile Indians [and] kill and destroy all enemies of the country.” Evans ordered that so-called “friendly” “Indians” should present themselves to various forts for their “safety and protection,” and those who did not were “hostile” and should be “pursued and destroyed.”[6]

Two U.S. Congressional committees and one military committee were formed to investigate the massacre. Eventually, in 1865, guilt on the part of the U.S. Government was admitted.[7]

Evans testified before the committees and was accused of lying to cover up his involvement. Noted Temperance leader and reformer Frances Willard’s brother, Oliver Willard, who served as pastor at the Methodist Episcopal Church in Denver from 1862-1866, was friends with and supporters of both John Evans and John Chivington, who led the attack. Evans and Chivington were members of the Denver church.

On July 18, 1865, President Andrew Johnson asked Governor Evans to resign because of his attempt to cover up the Sand Creek Massacre. Evans resigned as Governor, but he remained popular in the Colorado Territory for his perceived toughness in dealing with the "enemies" of the Territory. Dr. Evans continued to serve as the Chairman of the Colorado Seminary Board of Trustees until his death on July 2, 1897.

In February 2013, Northwestern University formed a committee to investigate John Evans' involvement with the massacre and to determine whether the financial support he gave to the university came from the policies and practices he pursued as governor.[8] The committee's report was released in June 2014. The University of Denver released a report in November 2014 which holds Evans culpable for the massacre.[9]


John Evans was the father-in-law of Samuel Hitt Elbert, the sixth Governor of Colorado Territory from 1873 to 1874. Mount Evans is named in Evans honor, and Mount Elbert is named in honor of his son-in-law.

In World War II, the United States liberty ship SS John Evans was named in his honor.

John Evans' grave marker in Denver's Riverside Cemetery

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. p. 122. 
  2. ^ "John Evans". Colorado State Archives. Retrieved 2012-12-07. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Currey, J. Seymour (1918). Chicago: Its History and Its Builders (Vol. II). Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company. pp. 327–331. 
  5. ^ Rebecca Joyce Frey, Genocide and International Justice. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009. 256.
  6. ^ Proclamation by Colorado Territory Governor John Evans, August 11, 1864, reprinted in Nancy Gentile Ford, Issues of War and Peace. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002, 138-139.
  7. ^ "Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site Study Act of 1998," Public Law 105–243, 105th Congress
  8. ^ Huppke, Rex. "Northwestern to probe founder's link to Indian massacre". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  9. ^ University of Denver John Evans Study Report

External links[edit]