Tuesday, September 25, 2012

John Evans

John Evans was, at least within the scope of Colorado history, a big cheese.

Originally from Ohio, he was a political mover and shaker long before he crossed the border into this fair mountain state. He was a teaching physician who founded two hospitals (Indiana Central State Hospital in Indianapolis, and Lakeside Hospital in Chicago, later known as Mercy Hospital). He founded the Illinois Medical Society and the Illinois Republican Party, he was a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, and he helped found Northwestern University and was elected the first president of its Board of Trustees.

Because of his ties with the Lincoln presidency Evans was appointed the second governor of the Colorado Territory in 1862. Evans was a force to be reckoned with in the early years of the Colorado Territory. He had a personal background and a financial interest in railroads and a rail connection from Colorado through the mountains to Salt Lake City was high on his list of goals. The territorial legislature under Evans was quick to incorporate the Colorado and Pacific Wagon, Telegraph, and Railroad Company as a lure to bring investors to the area. While this didn't have the immediately desired effects of creating an extensive rail network throughout the west, pressure from territorial governments did lead to the passing of legislation that led to the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad.

While resident in Colorado Evans was also an important figure in the founding of the University of Denver, then known as Denver Seminary, which began life as a private Methodist college. To share a bizarre factoid, the University of Denver is still listed as "Denver Seminary" on all of its business and tax documents since the official name of the institution has never been changed. The Washington Park neighborhood developed around the University of Denver and was known, at the time, as South Denver, a separate city entirely. Evan's relationship with the university and the neighborhood that sprang up around it weren't always rosy though. Evans planned to open an 80-acre stock yard in South Denver, on land that would now fall between Logan and Clarkson, and Mississippi and Florida. His plan was to use the stock yard as a stagin area for Texas cattle that he would then transport around the country with the newly developed rail system. Residents of South Denver fought him on this matter and they were successful in stopping the development of the stockyard.

John Evans political career is marred by one of Colorado's most well known political gaffes and wartime tragedies. It was Evan's great misfortune to be in charge of the territory during the Sand Creek massacre. There is far more information on the Wikipedia page for the Sand Creek Massacre, but the long and short of it is that Colonel John Chivington, placed in charge of an Indian-fighting regiment of the territorial militia under Evan's authority, attacked a Cheyenne Indian camp on November 29, 1864. The massacre was so brutal, and so unprovoked, that it prompted a huge surge of anger and indignation, eventually leading to a Congressional inquiry. As a result of all this Evan's political career came screeching to a halt. Chivington had already been released form the Army by the time the Congressional inquiry was taking pace so he was not eligible for the dishonorable discharge that politicians in Washington D.C. felt he deserved.

Following his rather forced withdrawal from politics, Evans put his energy into developing Colorado's rail system. He was largely responsible for obtaining the land grants and resources necessary to develop the Union Pacific rail line from Cheyenne to Denver. Completed in 1870, this rail line opened Colorado to a huge tide of commerce, settlers, industry, and tourism. Evans remained the Colorado rail network's greatest financier until his death in 1897.

Getting There By Bike...
There are a lot of sites that are related to John Evans. The Rio Grande Railroad gave Evans a bell from e Rio Grande steam engine. The bell is located on the DU campus and you can walk right up and ring it since it still has the clapper inside. 
You could also ride your bike to either Evans, Colorado, or to Mt. Evans, both of which are named after him. If you felt like a really long trek you could go to Evanston, Illinois which was also named in his honor.
If you choose to visit the site of the Sand Creek massacre, it's located at Big Sandy Creek which is administered by the National Park Service who preserves the area as a historic monument.

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