By Logan Smith
DENVER (CBS4) – John Evans was Colorado’s second governor back when it was a territory and not yet a state. Colorado’s fourteenth highest peak is named after him. That may be changing.
Evans’ sterling reputation as successful politician, financier of Denver’s railroads, and founder of the University of Denver is increasingly overshadowed by his association with the one of the region’s — if not the nation’s — darkest moments.
It’s known today as the Sand Creek Massacre.
In 1864, during Evans’s tenure, Colorado volunteers soldiers and U.S. Calvary attacked a riverside encampment of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians. The early morning surprise attack continued despite truce flags by Chief Left Hand (a.k.a. Chief Niwot) and Chief Black Kettle. Nearly half of those killed were women and children, many as they fled.
The incident “created a feeling of indignation so strong in the East that it prompted a congressional investigation,” according to Colorado state archives. “As a result, Dr. John Evans lost his federal appointment as governor. … In addition, Colorado’s statehood was delayed.”
Nov. 29 is the anniversary of the incident.
Sunday, following the submission of an application to change the name of Mount Evans, government agencies are batting about the idea.
Kate Tynan-Ridgeway, a Denver elementary school teacher, filed paperwork in June asking the U.S. Board On Geographic Names to consider renaming the peak to Mount Cheyenne Arapaho. The board forwarded the documentation to the City and County of Denver’s Parks and Recreation Department, which manages adjacent property at Summit Lake Park, and asked for a response.
“We hope to respond to their request before the end of the year,” Denver Parks and Rec spokesperson Cynthia Karvaski told CBS4 Sunday.
Mount Evans, at 14,265 feet elevation, was officially named in 1895. Its higher reaches contain the highest road in North America.
The proposed name change mirrors other action taken by Colorado municipalities to remove honors previously bestowed to those deemed responsible for the Sand Creek Massacre.
In 2004, Longmont changed the name of Chivington Drive — which had been named after Colonel John Chivington, the commander who carried out the attack at Sand Creek — to Sunrise Drive.
In 2015, Colorado State University renamed its Pingree Park area the CSU Mountain Park Campus. It’s earlier name recognized George Pingree, a government scout and planner of the Sand Creek Massacre as well as a staunch defender of Chivington.
Yet, other places in Colorado, so far untouched by present-day Colorado’s evolving judgement of its own past, continue to pay tribute to history.
Denver’s Evans Avenue and the Town of Evans still bear the former territorial governor’s name.
The National Park Service established the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in 2007.
Less than 10 miles away lies the Town of Chivington which honors the man who perpetrated the attack.
“The legacy of Sand Creek surrounds American society even as sites like the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site seek to heal the wounds of the massacre,” states the NPS’s website.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect credit for the photo that shows Mount Evans. The correct credit on the photo is Dawn Wilson Photography.
Logan Smith is an assignment desk editor at CBS4 with more than 30 years of journalism experience in print and television media.