Shifting cultural winds amplify calls to rename Colorado’s peaks, valleys and creeks |

Shifting cultural winds amplify calls to rename Colorado’s peaks, valleys and creeks

Mount Evans, Squaw Mountain and Chinaman Gulch are among the geographic landmarks that are being eyed for renaming

A climber admires the view from near the summit of Mount Evans in Colorado. Mount Evans, in the Mount Evans Wilderness, is 14,265' in elevation and the 12th highest peak in Colorado. Although a paved road, State Highway 103,climbs the mountain and stops just below the summit there are many challenging routes for climbers. This photo was taken after an ascent on Mount Evan's West Ridge. Evans was originally named Mount Rosalie but was changed to Evans in 1895 for John Evans, the 2nd governor of Colorado who resigned for his part in the Sand Creek Massacre. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun) Mount Evans, named after a disgraced territorial governor of Colorado, is highest on the list of peaks that could be renamed amid a sweeping call to change offensive or disrespectful names from Colorado's peaks, valleys, creeks and mesas.
Dean Krakel / Special to The Colorado Sun

The statues are falling. The old guard is rapidly fading. And the names, they are a-changin’.

As centuries of embedded discrimination erupt in sea-to-plain calls for change, an atlas of geographic locations has appeared in the crosshairs. In Colorado, a host of peaks, valleys, creeks and mesas are poised for renaming as Gov. Jared Polis revives an idled panel tasked with studying renaming requests. 

And those pleas are increasingly urgent as BIPOC Americans — Black, Indigenous and people of color — find their voices finally resonating in a rapidly shifting culture.

Highest on the list — literally — is a call to change the name of Mount Evans, named for Colorado’s second territorial governor who resigned in the aftermath of a cavalry-led massacre of nearly 200 Arapaho and Cheyenne tribal members at Sand Creek in 1864.

Squaw Mountain and Squaw Pass, both in Clear Creek County, are high on the list, too, as are features in Delta County named by Mexican settlers who labeled a mesa and a creek with the Spanish word for the color black, or “negro.”

“There was no ill intent involved, but as time moves on and languages change and adapt, this is the world we live in and I don’t think anyone out here disagreed that it needed to change,” said Delta County Commissioner Don Suppes, whose board used a contest among local high schoolers to choose Clay Creek and Clay Mesa as the new names for the features labeled on U.S. Geological Survey maps.

The USGS’s Board of Geographic Names has about a dozen proposed name changes for Colorado on its most recent action list. The list includes changing Clear Creek County’s Mount Evans to Mount Cheyenne Arapaho and Squaw Mountain to Mount Mistanta, in tribute to the Southern Cheyenne translator also known as Owl Woman, who was a liaison between her tribe and the settlers around Bent’s Fort in La Junta, which was owned by her husband, William Bent. 

The federally proposed name changes include changing Chaffee County’s Chinaman Gulch to Trout Creek Gulch. Jefferson County’s Redskin Creek would become Ute Creek and Redskin Mountain would become Mount Jerome, after Irene Jerome Hood, an influential Victorian-era artist and photographer from nearby Buffalo Creek. Jefferson County’s Cimarron Peak also is suggested for a name change, with a note that “cimarrón” is a Spanish word for untamed and, dating back to the 1500s, it was used in the Caribbean to describe fugitive slaves.

To read the rest of the Colorado Sun article, click here.

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