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 Society. 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 honor.
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 toward statehood.
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.
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 and capital. 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.