John Evans (governor)

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John Evans
John Evans.gif
2nd Governor of the Territory of Colorado
In office
March 26, 1862 – October 17, 1865
Preceded byWilliam Gilpin
Succeeded byAlexander Cummings
Personal details
BornMarch 9, 1814
near Waynesville, Ohio
DiedJuly 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] and Mount Evans, Colorado.

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 honors 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 massacres committed against Native Americans, the Sand Creek Massacre, have 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, his neighbor when they both lived in Illinois, 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 band of Cheyenne and Arapaho led by Black Kettle, who had reported to Fort Lyon as ordered by Evans but left when there were no provisions for them there. Black Kettle and his group then camped along Sand Creek in the east central part of the Territory. This area was within Arapahoe and Cheyenne territory according to the Fort Wise Treaty of 1861.

The entire population of Denver feared that tribes were gathering to over run Denver, which was a real possibility with most men of fighting age being caught up in the civil war. An order by Evans to shoot on sight any member of any tribe had been approved by Lincoln.

On November 29, 1864, Colonel Chivington ordered his men to attack the encampment, killing about 53 unarmed men and 110 women and children and wounding many more. Governor Evans decorated Chivington and his men for their "valor in subduing the savages." [5]

The attack became known as the Battle of Sand Creek, but is today referred to as the Sand Creek Massacre. Once the attack became known it was initially praised, but as the details of the slaughter emerged it was later widely condemned.

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." Because of the lack of the ability to defend Denver because of the men fighting in the civil war, 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 after Evans' friend President Lincoln, who had been kept fully informed until his death, because of political pressure 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.


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

External links[edit]