On a cold November day in 1864, a military regiment in Colorado slaughtered hundreds of peacefully gathered Cheyenne and Arapaho men, women, and children in what is known as the Sand Creek Massacre.
While he did not directly lead the assault, Colorado’s then-territorial governor, John Evans, bears much responsibility for the massacre. Evans created the conditions that led to the assault, issuing orders to “all citizens of Colorado” to “kill and destroy” the territory’s indigenous people.
Multiple military and congressional tribunals found Evans culpable for the massacre and he was forced to resign in disgrace. Today, the State of Colorado recognizes 48 different tribes as having homelands within the state. Territorial Gov. Evans’ orders not only incited the Sand Creek Massacre, but also led to increased violence and aggression towards all indigenous people living within the territory.
One hundred and fifty-eight years later, amidst a national reckoning with America’s past, Evans is being recognized for what he was: a failed governor who authorized the indiscriminate murder of indigenous people and was responsible for one of the worst massacres in American history.
Yet today, Colorado still memorializes Gov. Evans through a mountain and wilderness area that bear his name. Stunning and rugged, standing over 14,000 feet tall, Mt. Evans towers over Colorado’s Front Range and dominates the Denver skyline. Mt. Evans is an incredible Colorado landmark that features important pieces of the state’s history. It’s also home to the Mt. Evans Wilderness Area.
However, the names on the mountain and wilderness area recognize a former politician who sought to “kill and destroy” the very people who had occupied these lands since time immemorial. America’s public lands are no place to honor perpetrators of atrocities against indigenous people.
The mountain deserves a name that honors its natural and cultural values, as well as the first inhabitants who considered its forested slopes as their homeland. This is why we are urging that Mt. Evans be renamed as Mt. Blue Sky.
The name signifies our indigenous connections — the Arapaho, who are known as the Blue Sky People, and the Cheyenne, who have an annual ceremony of renewal of life called Blue Sky.
The Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in collaboration with The Wilderness Society, have petitioned the Federal Board of Geographic Names to change the name of Mt. Evans to Mt. Blue Sky. In the coming year, the board, along with the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board, will consider our proposal. We hope that Colorado leaders will support our proposal to remove Gov. Evans’ name from the mountain and instead honor the very people he sought to destroy — the Cheyenne and Arapaho people.
Support for Mt. Blue Sky continues to grow among elected officials, tribal governments, and Front Range residents and organizations. Recently, both the Southern Ute and Ute mountain Ute Tribes submitted letters of support for Mt. Blue Sky. In March, the Clear Creek County Board of County Commissioners voted in support of Mt. Blue Sky.
Renaming Mt. Evans will not bring back the hundreds of Cheyenne and Arapaho men, women, and children who were savagely slaughtered at Sand Creek in 1864. Nor will renaming repair what the United States called “gross and wanton outrages” perpetrated against the Cheyenne and Arapaho at the hands of the government. No name can do that.
But changing the name of Mt. Evans from one that honors the facilitator of the Sand Creek Massacre to one that honors the Cheyenne and Arapaho people will bring some healing and will provide an opportunity to tell a more honest and inclusive story of Colorado’s past. Such a change is long overdue.
It’s time to honor the fallen at Sand Creek and their descendants who still thrive today by removing the stain of the name “Evans” from our public lands. It’s time to rename Mt. Evans.
Chester Whiteman (Cheyenne) and Fred Mosqueda (Arapaho) are coordinators for the Language and Culture Program of the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes. They live in Geary, Okla.
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