Group raises awareness of NU founder’s role in Sand Creek Massacre

Ciara McCarthy

The Northwestern University-Native American and Indigenous Students Association decided Friday to host an informational event by the end of this year to raise awareness about NU founder John Evans and his role in the Sand Creek Massacre, when a U.S. militia murdered between 70 and 163 Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians, most women and children, in Colorado in 1864.

NU-NAISA is a new student group that formed last quarter to support Native Americans on campus and to work toward developing a Native American Studies department.

The decision was made during a meeting of the Northwestern University Memory Project, a new initiative started by Weinberg junior Adam Mendel and NU-NAISA.

Mendel, a member of NU-NAISA, opened the meeting by asking if any of the 20 attendees knew about Evans. Very few did, and Mendel proceeded to discuss Evans and his role in the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864.

Although Evans did not actively participate in the massacre, he served as governor of the Colorado Territory and was the superintendent of Indian affairs at the time of the incident.

John Low, a visiting history professor, said Evans’ main objective was to expand railroad lines throughout the territory of Colorado. Evans saw the Indians as obstacles to railroad expansion and gave Colonel John Chivington the mandate to clear them from the area. In the aftermath of the massacre, Evans awarded all the cavalrymen involved in the killings medals of honor, Low said.

However, there remains some debate about what part Evans played in the massacre.

Craig Moore, a representative of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, said he was hesitant to place full blame on John Evans.

“There’s no direct evidence of his exact role,” Moore said. “Chivington was the one who bore the responsibility, there’s no doubt about that.”

Mendel and others at the meeting, however, were more confident in Evans’ guilt.

“John Evans’ policies directly influenced and led to the Sand Creek Massacre,” Mendel said, referring to the hostile attitude Evans had toward Native Americans and the federal government’s subsequent request that Evans resign for his policies.

Evans did step down from his position as governor in the aftermath of the massacre. NU did not take action, and Evans, one of the school’s primary benefactors, continued to served as president of the University’s Board of Trustees until 1894.

Mendel then read aloud the John Evans’ Alumni Center biography of Evans, which omits any mention of the massacre and Evans’ role in the event. Mendel pointed out the existence of that alumni center, the Evans Room in Norris University Center and Founders’ Day, all of which he called “memorials to a man who committed a truly atrocious event.”

Evanston is also named after Evans.

Mendel said he first learned about the Sand Creek Massacre through a class and was inspired to start the initiative by African American Studies Prof. John Marquez, who has researched Evans and his participation in the massacre.

“I think that Northwestern needs to recognize its past,” Mendel said. “You can’t apologize for something like that, but you can acknowledge what happened.”

At Friday’s event, Weinberg junior Paul Jackson discussed the idea of memory and its significance for the NU community.

“If you don’t know what’s wrong with John Evans, you don’t know what’s wrong with what John Evans did,” he said, suggesting attendees spread the word about Evans’ participation in the massacre.

Sociology Prof. Gary Fine then led the discussion. Fine was appointed the title of John Evans Professor of Sociology in 2004, at which time he learned the history of his title’s namesake.

“John Evans is morally and politically responsible for the single worst act of genocide in American history,” he said.

Fine said NU suggested could follow the example set by Brown University, whose president Ruth Simmons appointed a Committee on Slavery and Justice to research the Brown family and its role in the New England slave trade.

Following Fine’s remarks, Mendel began a discussion on what steps students and the University should take. Students discussed various ideas, including a memorial or a monument remembering the Sand Creek Massacre, a scholarship fund for Arapaho and Cheyenne students and increased research and study of the Sand Creek Massacre.

Weinberg junior Kaley Stroup said although she knew relatively little about Evans and the Sand Creek Massacre prior to the meeting, she wanted to continue working with the group to raise awareness of his life.

“It was great to see so many people from different parts of campus come together to discuss this important issue,” she said.

Fine said he is looking forward to the future of the Memory Project, citing the passion of students present at the meeting and their focus on implementing practical solutions.

“I’ve been waiting for a community of students – a community of activists – to say, ‘This matters to us,'” Fine said. “I give enormous credit to those here.”

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