Calls to rename Colorado’s peaks, valleys and creeks amplify with shifting cultural winds

Jason Blevins
The Colorado Sun
A climber admires the view from near the summit of Mt. Evans in Colorado. Mt. Evans, in the Mt. 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 Mt. Evan's West Ridge. Evans was originally named Mt. 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)

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.

MORE: It’s not just Colorado’s mountains: Outdoor industry brands, climbing routes also targeted for name changes

“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. 

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