John Evans, Others Culpable for Sand Creek Massacre

johnevansJohn Evans’s Culpability for Sand Creek Should Be Balanced with Acknowledgement of Indian Depredations & Raids

He was the founder of Northwestern University and the University of Denver. He also was a murderer. Colorado Territorial Gov. John Evans was not among the Colorado volunteers and regular U.S. Army troops who on Nov. 29, 1864, attacked and killed at least 130 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians camped along Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado Territory. But, his actions enabled Col. John Chivington to lead soldiers to massacre and desecrate the bodies of these Native Americans, mostly women, children and the elderly.

A University of Denver John Evans Study Committee released a report in early November 2014. It concluded: “John Evans’s pattern of neglect of his treaty-negotiating duties, his leadership failures, and his reckless decision-making in 1864 combine to clearly demonstrate a significant level of culpability for the Sand Creek Massacre.”

The report outlines in great deal (more than 100 pages) Evans’ actions and in actions that contributed to Chivington being able to raise an additional set of troops and gain authorization to fight Indians.

In a letter dated June 27, 1864, Gov. Evans instructed “friendly Arapahoes and Cheyennes … to go to Major Cooley, U.S. Indian Agent at Fort Lyons, who will give them provisions and show them a place of safety.” The letter also states, “The object of this is to prevent friendly Indians from being killed through mistake.”

Black Kettle and the other Arapahoe and Cheyenne chiefs who led their people to the campsite at Sand Creek followed Evans instructions precisely and specifically stated they sought peace. Chivington knew this from the conversations he had with officers at Fort Lyons the day before the attack.

It is difficult to appreciate John Evans’ accomplishments, including the founding of two universities given the atrocities committed at Sand Creek. In no way do I contend that his leadership was adequate or appropriate, even given the frontier environment in which the governor operated. However, it is ingenuous to ignore the provocations that incited the fear and hysteria in the citizenry of Denver. Prior to the massacre, there were a series of Indian depredations, killings and kidnappings of settlers.

The brutal murder of the Hungate family, a man, a woman and their young daughters on a ranch near present day Elizabeth, Colo., in early June of 1864, by Indians who were never caught, naturally stirred up fear in the residents of Denver. Freighters were killed and scalped, making it perilous to travel across Colorado’s eastern plains during this time.

Even as Black Kettle responded to the letter from Gov. John Evans seeking protection from the U.S. government, there were white captives, including Laura Roper and Danny Marble, living with the Cheyenne and Arapaho. Chief Black Kettle worked with Captain Wynkoop to secure the return of some of these captives, but others committed suicide or were never seen again.

There should be no lessening of culpability on the part of John Evans and Chivington for the shameful actions at Sand Creek. At the same time, the depredations and cruelty of Indians toward white settlers should not be ignored.


Marilyn Bay Wentz grew up on a farm near Eaton, Colo., not far from where her great-great grandparents homesteaded. She has written hundreds of news releases and articles for agricultural organizations and other clients. She and her family now live on the eastern plains, near Strasburg, Colo. She is the author of Prairie Grace, historical fiction depicting the events leading up to the Sand Creek Massacre from two very different points-of-view. To connect with Marilyn or subscribe to her blog, log on to




  1. David Scott
    Dec 5, 2014

    Thanks for your comment in The New Republic!

  2. Elnore Grow
    Jan 9, 2015

    I really enjoyed reading the book “Prairie Grace” and I learned alot. I commend Marilyn Wentz for doing all the research to find our history.
    Our history was not always happy and positive and we need to know that. Our young people need to know it as well. I will recommend this book for my book group and hope sometime we can have you be invited to one of the popular “Author’s Luncheons”.

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