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George Gore’s bloody legacy could soon be erased from Colorado’s mountains, replaced with a nod to the Utes

A Summit County resolution would rename the Gore Range, which spans four Colorado counties, the Nuchu Range, the pick of Ute tribal leaders

Spires above the Willow Lakes inside the Gore Range near Silverthorne. An effort to change the name of the Gore Range could find traction as momentum to rename geographic locations grows. (Hugh Carey, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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Few people have good things to say about George Gore. 

But the Irish aristocrat who left a bloody trail of thousands of animals shot for sport and left to rot across the West during a three-year campaign left his mark in Colorado, with his name adorning one of Colorado’s most pristine mountain ranges as well as a creek, lake, pass, canyon and trail. 

And Gore’s legacy could soon be returned to its bloody roots as a growing chorus in Eagle, Grand, Routt and Summit counties clamor to purge the baronet’s name from the state, starting with the Gore Range. Summit County’s commissioners last week passed their second resolution to change the name of the Gore Range, but this time they offered a replacement: Nuchu Range. 

Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, who first wrote a resolution to erase the bloodthirsty Gore name in 2017, said it took long discussions with leaders from the Northern Ute, Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes to come up with the name Nuchu Range, which means “Ute’s Range.”

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“I think this is a perfect name since tribal leaders picked it and because it claims the range for the Ute people,” said Leon Littlebird, a Summit County musician of Navajo descent who has spent three years campaigning to jettison the Gore name from central Colorado’s toothy range. “The Utes called them the Shining Mountains. This name (Nuchu), seems it is a possessive form of that. I like it a lot. Been a long time coming.”

Leon Littlebird, third generation Coloradan, with the Gore Range reflected on his windows Friday, July 10, 2020, at his home in Silverthorne. (Hugh Carey, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Momentum is building to finally change the name, as well as other names across Colorado. Gov. Jared Polis in July formed a 15-member Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board, which disbanded four years ago. The board meets for the first time this week and will discuss proposals for name changes.

“Names are important not only because they signify what something is but our values and our legacy of who we are,” Polis said on Thursday as the board held its first meeting, urging members to give “thoughtful attention” to names that “honor our past, reflects our present and aspires to an even brighter future.” 

The new board’s to-do list will likely include some of the 16 proposed name changes for Colorado already included on the U.S. Board on Geographic Names’ action list, which includes changing the name of Mount Evans and Squaw Mountain in Clear Creek County. 

The nation’s recent focus on racial inequality has spurred an introspective analysis that has left Washington, D.C.’s football team nameless, California’s Squaw Valley ski area headed for a new identity and the names of climbing and mountaineering routes rapidly shifting. The cultural movement is spilling over into peaks, valleys, streams and lakes named after unsavory characters. 

“I’m feeling very hopeful. I do think people are much more sensitive to improper names and I think this one is actually easy compared to a lot of the others,” Stiegelmeier said. “The only reason to be against it is sentimentality. I hear it all the time. ‘I grew up hiking in the Gore Range.’ Me, too. It will still be the beautiful range that it is, but it will have a more meaningful and appropriate name.”

For more than 70 years, the Board on Geographic Names has followed a policy that no natural feature can be named after a living person. And any honoree whose name is assigned to a natural feature must have had a direct or long-term association with the feature and “must have made notable civic contributions.

George Gore never visited the Gore Range. And he definitely took more than he gave, with estimates that he killed 4,000 bison, 1,500 elk, 2,000 deer, 1,500 antelope, 500 bears and hundreds of smaller game animals and birds on his 1854-56 sweep through Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. 

“So in some ways I think it’s easier to do this name change because the Gore Range was improperly named in the first place,” Stiegelmeier said. 

Changing the Gore name requires an act of Congress, because the Gore Range is inside the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. Changing names within wilderness is not without precedent. In 2019, a group of Telluride climbers successfully lobbied Congress to rename two 13er peaks in the San Juan Range after San Miguel County climbers Charlie Fowler and Christine Boskoff as part of a conservation law

MORE: It took an act of Congress to get two Colorado peaks named for renowned alpinist couple who died while climbing in Tibet

Still, the Gore name is widespread in Eagle, Summit, Routt and Grand counties, including Gore Creek, Black Gore Creek, Gore Pass, Gore Lake, Gore Canyon and Gore Mountain, several streets named Gore and dozens of businesses with the name on their shingle. Of course, those businesses would not be part of any name change on U.S. Geological Survey maps. And changes to local roads would involve towns and counties. 

Pastor Allen Pulliam and his wife, Denise, discussed the possibility of changing the name of Kremmling’s Gore Range Baptist Church, which they have run since 1979. The shift seemed like it would be “a humongous hassle for us,” Denise Pulliam said. 

She tells a story about her brother attending a Scottish festival where he shared his last name — Dalrymple — with a fellow attendee. 

“The guy looked at him with murder in his eyes because apparently some Dalrymples sided with England or something,” Pulliam said. “For me, living here all these years, changing the name from Gore, it’s like ‘eh.’ I’m not sure I care that much. Whoever allowed Gore into the country made a bad mistake. I wonder what his name is?”

Spires above the Willow Lakes inside the Gore Range on Sept. 17, 2017 near Silverthorne. (Hugh Carey, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Tim Parker feels the same way. He’s run Gore Creek Properties in Vail for 25 years. He hasn’t heard discussion of possibly ejecting the Gore name from the Vail Valley. 

“I don’t really know how I feel about it, to be honest,” he said. “They sure seem to be changing so many things these days. It seems kind of ridiculous, taking down statues and getting rid of our history. But to tell you the truth, my business is named after a creek, not that guy. I don’t really know much about him. I guess if I had to vote, I would vote for the name to stay the same. Not for my business, but more because it’s become a part of our story here in Vail.”

Vail Town Councilwoman Kim Langmaid raised the issue of the Gore Range name change at the council’s last session. Langmaid, the founder of the Walking Mountain Science Center that once was named the Gore Range Natural Science School, supports the change to Nuchu Range. She says Gore’s reputation “is so contrary” to Vail’s environmental stewardship values. 

“He laid waste to animals that could have been meals for the settlers and miners and others trying to eke out a living from the land,” said Langmaid, who said the change of Gore Creek would be a separate proposal with the Board on Geographic Names. 

Langmaid said business owners using the Gore name would have to make their own decision, but this could be a chance for a rebranding. 

“People want change,” she said. “To rename our home mountain range out of recognition and respect for the Ute people who’ve lived here for thousands of years is the right move. Gore never stepped foot in these mountains, and it was a mistake that his name ended up sticking.”

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