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Sand Creek painting

History & Traditions

Sand Creek

The University of Denver was founded in 1864. On Nov. 29 of the same year, at an area known as Sand Creek near the present-day town of Eads, Colo., a group of U.S. militia attacked and killed an estimated 160 women, children and elderly members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. The massacre occurred when John Evans, founder of the University of Denver and of Northwestern University in Illinois, was serving both as governor of the Colorado Territory and as territorial superintendent of Indian affairs.

Healing and Education

The Sand Creek Massacre is a tragic event in the history of the University, the city of Denver and the state of Colorado. We embrace our obligation to learn about it, to learn from it, and to carry those lessons forward as we continue to realize our vision of being a great private university dedicated to the public good.

DU has focused on a variety of scholarly activities related to the Sand Creek Massacre and how best to continue our relationships with Cheyenne and Arapaho descendants. These activities included sponsored documentary screenings, public lectures, exhibits, and special healing ceremonies, in conjunction with annual campus events such as the Spring Powwow and Diversity Summit.

In 2015 the DU created a Task Force on Native American Inclusivity to advise the University on the next steps to take toward fulfilling its mission to serve the public good relative to Native communities. A year later, the task force released a set of strategic recommendations for actions the University can take and outcomes that can be measured.

Read the report from the Task Force on Native American Inclusivity: Sustainable Development of a Native American Community Presence at the University of Denver (PDF)

the john evans study committee report

Beginning in 2013, a group of 11 DU faculty members organized the University of Denver John Evans Study Committee and conducted an independent inquiry regarding Evans' role in the massacre. Read the committee's full report.

The report was produced by a volunteer group of faculty, similar to the provost-appointed committee at Northwestern University, the other institution founded by John Evans. The Northwestern report (PDF) was released in May 2014. Much can be learned from reading both reports together.

The DU report focuses on events directly leading up to the massacre at Sand Creek and compares Evans' leadership as superintendent of Indian affairs with that of those holding similar positions in Utah and Nevada. The DU report concludes that John Evans was culpable for the Sand Creek Massacre.

The DU committee hopes its report will promote healing by clarifying our founder's role in this catastrophic event—thereby uniting us as a community and helping us to forge new relationships to the past for the benefit of the public good.

more information

I Will Not Say

Caroline Goodwin

Caroline Goodwin, poet and great-great-granddaughter of John Evans, wrote the poem "i will not say" after discovering her family's connection with the Sand Creek Massacre.

"I am exploring my conflicted feelings with my own ancestors," she said. "I wanted to offer something to express my experience and relationship. The power structures in our cultures minimize responsibility. 150 years isn't a long time and we can't discredit the survivors' stories by just saying we should move forward. We share this history and if we can't say it was a crime against humanity, there can't be healing."

 i will not say

september 25, 2014

for the descendants of the survivors

of sand creek


i will not say it wasn't him       governor john evans   my 

great-great-grandfather   because i believe his hand

drove every hoofbeat      every

breath taken and moving east


i will not say it happened in the past      will not

pretend the dust does not keep coming up

into our eyes      the yarrow and juniper

and sagebrush     november 29 1864


i will not claim to understand the shadow

cast by his face into the mountains and names

because those who have hurt me

live down the street and have apologized

in my language


i will not say i haven't built my house of shame

haven't looked into the glass for answers

my heart filled with grass

my living daughters searching the forest

for their mother      for their mother's light


i will not say i have the right to speak      my voice

blended with the living ghosts

with the split tongue      the hollowest reeds


or even that hope is coming at us from somewhere 

on someone's back, on someone's wings


-Caroline Goodwin