From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):
Sand Creek Massacre at heartburn of proposals to rename 14,265-foot peak
Through the lens of the 21st century, Colorado will soon revisit a still-festering wound suffered during its founding in the 19th century. Three proposals have been submitted to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names to give the 14,265-foot mountain west of Denver a new handle to replace the existing name, Evans.
One proposal would rename it Mount Cheyenne Arapaho, a nod to the victims of the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864, when John Evans, the namesake, was both territorial governor and the federal government’s Indian agent for Colorado.
Mount Soule would honor Silas Soule, who commanded a company of the Colorado volunteers that attacked the peaceful encampment near today’s town of Eads, in southeastern Colorado. Soule withheld his soldiers from the attack and later testified against John Chivington, the commanding officer. Soule was assassinated in Denver the following April.
Rosalie, the third recommendation, would restore the name the mountain had prior to 1890. Rosalie Bierstadt was wife of the famous painter, Albert Bierstadt. Mount Bierstadt is connected to Evans, the former Rosalie, by a ridge. Colorado currently has no 14,000-foot peaks named after a woman.
The final authority for such proposals resides with U.S. Board of Geographic Names, but that body will be listening closely to the recommendations of the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board created recently by Gov. Jared Polis. The board is charged with making recommendations to the governor re changes and new names but also controversies regarding names of geographic features and certain public places.
“Names are important, not only because they signify what something is to us, but they reflect our values and our legacy, of who we are. In this you will play a critical role,” said Polis at the first meeting of the board last Thursday.
The board has 15 members, most of them state and local officials and representatives of historical and research institutions. They bring plenty of credentials, formal and otherwise, to the discussion, but those of the historian Patty Limerick stand out.
Limerick was consulted in the establishment of the Sand Creek National Historic Site in 2007. She also was involved in the renaming of a dormitory on the campus of the University of Colorado-Boulder. It had been named for David Nichols, a volunteer soldier at Sand Creek and an early proponent of what became the university. In 1989 it was renamed the Cheyenne Arapahoe Hall.
The Evans’s replacements are among 16 proposed name changes for mountains, reservoirs, and other features and one proposal to name a currently unnamed peak.
Many have to do with features that reflect attitudes of previous times. For example, there is a trio of Negros on the Western Slope (a creek, a mesa, and a draw) that have proposed new names, while in Chaffee County, Chinaman Gulch is proposed for a renaming as Trout Creek Gulch.
Jennifer Runyon, senior researcher with the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, suggested to Colorado’s new board members that some proposals will be easier than others. For example, a body of water east of Longmont is formally called Calkins Lake on federal maps, but locally it’s always called Union Reservoir.
Chinaman Gulch has some controversy. The local jurisdiction, Chaffee County, has opposed the name change, she said, believing that the name showed no disrespect. Too, the proposed revision, Trout Creek Gulch, would have introduced an inaccuracy, the Chaffee County commissioners said.
This is from the Sept. 22, 2020, issue of Big Pivots, a publication devoted to the energy and other transitions in Colorado. For a free subscription to the e-magazine, enter you name and e-mail address at BigPivots.com
Then there’s Squaw Mountain, the site of the some-time ski area west of Denver. A proposal has been submitted to call it Mount Mistanta, the anglicized name of the Cheyenne wife of William Bent, the trader in southeastern Colorado in the early 18th century.
Many features around the United States named squaw have been changed in recent years to reflect names used by Native Americans. Runyon cited new names from the Klamath, Paiute, Umatilla, and other tribes in their native tongues, as squaw is considered by many to be derogatory. But that belief is not universal, she observed. For example, the Navajo are proud of their squaw bread and their squaw dances, among other respectful uses of the word squaw.
The federal board prefers to “proceed cautiously and conservatively regarding name changes,” Runyon said. “There needs to be a compelling reason for the change.”
The board doesn’t go looking to change names. “We don’t even encourage name changes. We are here to help,” she said.
The federal board does not want to decide what is offensive. “That is quite subjective,” she said, citing the example of the various views of the word squaw.
And in no case does the U.S. Board of Geographic Names want to approve changes without local input. The commissioners of Clear Creek County, where Squaw Mountain is located, have said they didn’t want a change, although there’s evidence that recommendation may be revisited. The local jurisdiction will now be working with the new state board.
No proposal has been submitted to the federal board to rename the Gore Range, although that idea has flared sporadically in public discussions in Summit and Eagle counties in recent years. The range is named for an Irish baronet, George Gore, who led a large hunting expedition to Middle Park in 1864 and to the pass west of Kremmling that bears his name. Gore’s expedition was known for its wanton butchery of wildlife.
However, the new state board can take proposals directly from the public, Runyon said.
The Sand Creek Massacre occurred a decade after Gore’s gluttony, and the butchery astounded many even at the time. A 675-man force under the command of Col. John Chivington, most of them from the new city of Denver, charged into a camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho in the bed of Sand Creek at dawn on Nov. 29, 1864. The natives believed they had been offered protection from attack because of their declared intentions to be at peace. About two-thirds of those killed were women and children, and many of the bodies were mutilated.
In 2014, Northwestern University in Evansville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, and the University of Denver, both issued reports examining their connection to the massacre, as both universities had been founded by Evans.
“No known evidence indicates that John Evans helped plan the Sand Creek Massacre or had any knowledge of it in advance,” the Northwestern University report concluded. “The extant evidence suggests that he did not consider the Indians at Sand Creek to be a threat and that he would have opposed the attack that took place.”
If lacking blood directly staining his legacy, Evans was among “several individuals who, in serving a flawed and poorly implemented federal Indian policy, helped create a situation that made the Sand Creek massacre possible. In this regard, the most critical of his errors was to his failure to fulfill his responsibility as superintendent of Indian affairs to represent the best interests of Native peoples in Colorado.”
To compound that failure, the panel from Northwestern University said, Evans refused to fess up to the errors of his past, either immediately afterward or decades later. He never did criticize the massacre.
The University of Denver report, issued six months later, differed in that the study group included direct descendants of the Sand Creek massacre. It goes a small step further than the report from Northwestern in finding a “pattern of neglect of (Evans’s) treaty-negotiating duties, his leadership failures, and his reckless decision-making in 1864.”
5280, the magazine, succinctly summarized the legacy of Evans in a 2019 story. “History’s heroes don’t always age well,” it said when reporting the first official renaming proposal to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names.
There’s much to fuss over in all this naming and renaming. For example, Evans has a second mountain named after him, if not quite as high or prominent, in Lake County, near Fremont Pass. And it might be noted that there’s already an Arapaho Peak, west of Boulder.
Sand Creek has become sort of personal to me. My great-grandparents homesteaded on Colorado’s far eastern tier in the late 1880s, two decades after the Cheyenne, Pawnee, Sioux, and the others had been chased off. Today, some of my ability to wander around Colorado, poking my nose into historical artifacts such as Sand Creek, comes from that working of the landscape by my antecedents.
I’ve been to the massacre site at Sand Creek two or three times for the post-dawn November remembrances convened by Cheyenne people from Montana and elsewhere. The participants then travel to Denver, to pay respects to Silas Soule at his grave in Riverside Cemetery along the banks of the South Platte River. (I am guessing there’s no similar ritual at the grave of John Evans, which is in the same cemetery). The next stop is the tribute to Soule in a building at 15th and Arapahoe, the approximate site of his assassination. Then they march on to the State Capitol.
In 2014, in a rumination on Sand Creek on the 150th anniversary, I wrote an essay published in the Boulder Daily Camera that suggested that the highway between Eads and Denver be given an honorary name. We have the 10th Mountain Division Memorial Highway between Minturn and Leadville, the Ronald Reagan Highway for I-25 as it passes through Colorado Springs, and many more.
Why not the Black Kettle Memorial Highway, I proposed then, which would have honored the Cheyenne chief who took many risks in the months before Sand Creek and at Sand Creek itself in an effort to achieve a peace. He was later killed by soldiers under the command of General George Armstrong Custer.
Of course, I think the Cheyenne and Arapahoe should have the largest say in what becomes of Mt. Evans, if anything. This is sure to be an interesting discussion…
Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303.463.8630.