John Evans, the second
governor of the Colorado Territory from 1862-1865, was born in
Waynesville, Ohio, on March 9, 1814. In 1838 Evans graduated with an M.D.
from Clermont Academy.
Evans was instrumental in the creation of Indiana's first insane asylum
and school for the deaf. He moved to Chicago where he helped found Mercy
Hospital, edited the Medical and Surgical Journal, obtained a
professorship at Rush Medical College, and founded the Illinois Medical
Evans also researched the cholera epidemic of 1848 and 1849 which was
instrumental in developing congressional quarantine laws to prevent the
spread of this disease.
Investments into the Chicago & Fort Wayne Railroad
and the Chicago & Evanston Railroad made him not only wealthy, but allowed
him to become politically influential.
By 1852 John Evans was on the Chicago City Council
and founded the Illinois Republican Party where he not only ran for
Congress but also became a friend of Abraham Lincoln's.
Dr. John Evans was also one of the founders of
Northwestern University, where he chaired the Board of Trustees until his
death in 1887. The college town of Evanston, Illinois, was named in his
In 1861, President Lincoln offered Evans the
governorship of the Washington Territory, but he declined. One year later
Evans accepted the appointment of Territorial Governor of Colorado
succeeding William Gilpin.
With his background in railroads, Evans became
interested in the surveying done by Captain Edward L. Berthoud to develop
a railroad/wagon route from Denver to Salt Lake City. To facilitate the
creation of Colorado's first railroad the Territorial Legislature
incorporated the Colorado and Pacific Wagon, Telegraph and Railroad
Company to lure investors.
With Governor Evans on the bandwagon, federal
legislation was passed that created the Union Pacific Railroad Company;
yet this legislation did not become the catalyst for rail construction its
supporters hoped it would be. It was not until 1864 that President Lincoln
amended the bill to create the first transcontinental railroad. Not only
was this the fulfillment of Gilpin's vision and Evans' endorsements, but
it became one of the defining aspects of Denver's economy.
Working with Colonel John Chivington, another one
of Evans' accomplishments in Colorado was the creation of the Denver
Seminary, which is now Denver University. Like his position with
Northwestern University, Evans chaired the Denver Seminary Board of
Trustees until he died.
Two years into his administration (1864), Evans
and the Legislature received word that Congress had passed an act
providing for a Colorado State Government.
Governor Evans arranged for the election of
constitutional convention delegates, and oversaw five days of
deliberation. While the resulting constitution was satisfactory to the
delegates, the majority of the voting populace voted against this step
The next hurdle that Evans faced was the
controversy over the Seigniorage Act. Capitol Hill's greed was at the
heart of this mining legislation, or so it seemed to those dependent on
mineral resources. The two-pronged attack on the mining industry included
a tax on all mineral resources and the elimination of mine ownership.
Governor Evans and Congressman Hiram P. Bennet
successfully utilized their influence in order to defeat this popular
bill. The passage of this act would have destroyed the Colorado
Territory's economic base and caused a greater ideological split between
the Easterners and Westerners.
The most divisive issue during the Evans
administration was what has been termed the "Sand Creek Massacre." By 1864
the Plains Indians had virtually shut down most of Colorado's overland
trails, attacked travelers, and frightened the new settlers.
Major Edward Wynkoop, after an encounter with
Chief Black Kettle of the Southern Cheyenne tribe, attempted to discuss
peace on the banks of the Smoky Hill River. The success of this meeting
led to another one with Governor Evans who somewhat vaguely and
noncommittally agreed that these Native Americans should be protected
under the United States Flag.
Previously, Evans had established an
Indian-fighting regiment under Colonel John Chivington, who was eager to
teach the Indians a lesson. After Wynkoop was relieved of his peacemaking
duties, Major Scott Anthony took command of Fort Lyon. Colonel Chivington
assembled his troops and joined with others at Fort Lyon.
When the governor left the Territory for a visit
to Washington, Chivington shattered the fragile peace created by Wynkoop
by attacking a Cheyenne Indian camp at Sand Creek at dawn on November 29,
1864. Many women, children, and elderly were killed as a result of this
engagement, which created a feeling of indignation so strong in the East
that it prompted a congressional investigation.
As a result, Dr. John Evans lost his federal
appointment as governor and Chivington's enlistment had already expired
that September so he could not be dishonorably discharged. In addition,
Colorado's statehood was delayed, a circumstance that became the dominate
aspect of Colorado politics in the years following Sand Creek.
On July 27, 1864
Governor Evans of Colorado had offered an amnesty to the tribes. A
proclamation was sent forth declaring that all Indians who did not wish to
be killed could put themselves under army protection.
But, unknown to the Indians, he sent out a second
proclamation to the settlers of Colorado. This time he virtually invited
the citizenry to kill Indians, claiming that ‘most of the Indian tribes
are hostile and at war.’ Black Kettle, the peace seeking Cheyenne chief,
took up Evans on his original offer and proceeded towards Fort Lyons for
protection. They reported, as they were instructed, to a camp 40 miles
from the Fort. They settled along the bank of Sand Creek.
With this event ruining his political
career, Evans put all of his energy into the development of Colorado's
railroads. Evans, like Gilpin before him, saw Denver as the future hub of
the railroad industry. Evans secured the federal land grants and county
bonds to create a Union Pacific line from Cheyenne to Denver, a route that
opened on June 24, 1870.
Evans continued to be the main financier of Denver's
railroad empire until his death on July 2, 1897. The Denver & South Park,
the Denver & New Orleans, the Denver Texas & Gulf, the Kansas Pacific, and
the Boulder Valley lines were all made possible by Dr. John Evans' vision
Denver's claim as the commercial capitol of the
Rocky Mountain Empire could now be substantiated due to the energetic
efforts of Dr. John Evans.