A towering mountain southwest of Denver has, after years of requests, been given a new name.
The 14,258-foot mountain, which is Colorado’s 14th highest peak, had been named after John Evans — the second territorial governor of Colorado.
The disturbing problem is that Evans also authorized the massacre of more than 225 Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal members in what is now known as the Sand Creek Massacre. The “barbarism” of the attack, in which mostly women and children were murdered and mutilated, is one of “the most emotionally charged and controversial events in American history,” the National Park Service (NPS) explains.
Last week, however, what had been known as Mount Evans was officially renamed Mount Blue Sky, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Board of Geographic Names announced.
The name “Mount Blue Sky” is especially significant because “the Arapaho were known as the Blue Sky people and the Cheyenne have an annual ceremony of renewal of life called ‘Blue Sky,’” according to the petition to rename the mountain submitted by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.
“It is a huge step, not only for the Cheyenne and Arapaho people, but also for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Southern Ute Tribe, Northern Arapaho Tribe, Northern Cheyenne Tribe, and other allies who worked diligently to begin the healing process, bringing honor to a monumental and majestic mountain,” Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Governor Reggie Wassana said in a statement.
The Sand Creek Massacre
Following orders, the Arapaho and Cheyenne Tribes settled at an encampment by Big Sandy Creek near Fort Lyon, Colorado. Most of the roughly 750 people at the camp were women, children, and elderly members of the Tribes.
Although commanding officer Colonel Chivington was not given orders to leave Denver, members of the 1st Colorado Infantry Regiment of Volunteers and 3rd Regiment of Colorado Cavalry Volunteers took up positions near the encampment on November 29, 1864. The soldiers then began firing at the Arapaho and Cheyenne lodges around 6:30 a.m.
“Over the course of 8 hours, the American troops killed around 230 Arapaho and Cheyenne people composed mostly of women, children, and the elderly,” according to the NPS. “During the afternoon and following day, the soldiers wandered over the field committing atrocities on the dead before departing the scene on December 1st.”
A Long-Requested Change
The petition submitted by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes to rename the mountain begins with a quote from the 1864 Proclamation by Governor John Evans:
“I, John Evans, governor of Colorado Territory, do issue this my proclamation, authorizing all citizens of Colorado, either individually or in such parties as they may organize, to go in pursuit of all hostile Indians on the plains… to kill and destroy, as enemies of the country, wherever they may be found, all such hostile Indians.”
While considering numerous proposals, the Board of Geographic Names received input from dozens of interested associations and organizations, as well as support for the name “Mount Blue Sky” from nearly 75 organizations and hundreds of individuals, the board reports. Upon Tribal request, it also held two Tribal consultations in June.
“Names matter: How we identify our public lands is an important opportunity to be inclusive and welcoming, and to make a lasting impact for future generations.” Michael Brain, principal deputy assistant secretary for Water and Science, said in a statement. “The process undertaken by the Board on Geographic Names is an important part of the federal government’s commitment to Tribes and ensuring that all voices are heard. Each proposal is thoroughly reviewed and researched while gathering input from a variety of groups and individuals.”