The Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board on Thursday conducted its most significant vote in its three-year history — a unanimous decision to recommend renaming Mount Evans, the most prominent fourteen overlooking Denver, as Mount Blue Sky.
The renaming comes just days before the 158th anniversary of the Sand Creek massacre. An exhibit showing the accounts of the surviving Cheyenne and Arapaho members – The Sand Creek Massacre: The Betrayal That Changed the People of Cheyenne and Arapaho Forever – opens Saturday at History Colorado.
The panel’s recommendation now goes to Gov. Jared Polis, who will decide whether to approve the name change, and then to the US federal Board on Geographic Names, which will make the final decision.
On November 29, 1864, more than 600 Colorado militia troops, led by Col. John Chivington, attacked a village of Cheyenne and Arapaho women, children, and elders on the banks of Sand Creek in Kiowa County. More than 230 tribesmen were slaughtered, and in the days that followed, Colorado soldiers paraded some of the remains through the streets of Denver.
The Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes camped at Sand Creek under a white peace flag from a treaty made just two months earlier with Colorado Gov. John Evans and Chivington known as the Camp Weld Council.
Native American tribes, particularly those associated with the Sand Creek massacre, have advocated a name change for some time.
The mountain, formerly known as Mount Rosalie or Mount Rosa, was renamed by an act of the Colorado General Assembly in 1895 after Evans, Colorado’s second territorial governor from 1863-1865. Evans had tasked Colorado troops with eliminating all Native American activity in eastern Colorado. An investigation into the massacre led to a demand for Evans’ resignation from US President Andrew Johnson on August 1, 1865.
Six names were considered for Mount Evans:
- Mount Cheyenne Arapaho, submitted to the Federal Naming Board in July 2018, though the proponent later withdrew it in favor of Mount Blue Sky;
- Mount Blue Sky, in recognition of the “Blue Sky” people, as the Arapaho are known, submitted November 2020;
- Mount Soule, to Capt. Acknowledging Silas Soule, the whistleblower who brought the Sand Creek massacre to Washington’s attention, filed in March 2019;
- Mount Rosalie, the mountain’s original name, named for Rosalie Osborne Ludlow, later wife of noted Colorado painter Alfred Bierstadt, also submitted in March 2019;
- Mount Evans, to recognize Evans’ daughter Anne, a Denver philanthropist, submitted April 2021; and
- Mount Sisty, an August 2022 submission recognizing Wilson Edward Sisty, founder of the Colorado Department of Wildlife and Fish (now the Colorado Department of Natural Resources).
Fred Mosqueda, a Southern Arapaho who has campaigned to erase the Evans name from Colorado’s tallest peak, said Thursday’s vote came as a surprise.
“I crossed my fingers and told my wife, ‘She’s going to call for a vote,'” Mosqueda told the Denver Gazette. “And they voted yes!”
Mosqueda is a direct descendant of Sand Creek survivors. His great-grandfather, Mixed Hair, was only 4 years old when his 6-year-old sister Jabene grabbed his hand when US Cavalry soldiers murdered their parents.
The fact that John Evans has been hailed as a hero since the 1860s has confused the Southern Arapaho and Cheyenne.
“Evans was in a place where, as territorial governor and Indian agent for the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribes, he could have given us a reservation here in Colorado. Instead, he took the path of genocide,” Mosqueda said on Friday.
“The renaming was a long, hard struggle. But this will be a healing process for everyone. This isn’t just for one tribe or people or the Cheyenne or the Arapaho, it’s for every living thing.”
But the name is not the first choice of all tribes associated with Sand Creek. Otto Braided Hair, a Northern Cheyenne tribal leader, had previously championed Mount Cheyenne-Arapaho. However, he was not present at Thursday night’s meeting, which took place on Zoom and drew more than 75 people.
“Mount Cheyenne-Arapaho is a name respectful of both tribes who called the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains home,” Braided Hair said through a spokesman on Friday. “While we understand that Blue Sky is a name often associated with the Arapaho people, traditional Cheyenne people use this name in sacred ceremonies that cannot be shared with the outside world.”
“The Mount Cheyenne-Arapaho name honors our ancestors and reminds the world that we are still here,” he added. “We want to remember and respect the ancestors — Cheyenne and Arapaho — who were killed at Sand Creek.”
Clear Creek commissioners signed off on the Mount Blue Sky name in March 2022.
This story is in progress and will be updated.