Smoke hangs in the air over mountains.
Wildfire smoke takes over Mount Evans Wilderness in August 2020 near Idaho Springs. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

One month after a federal board voted to change the name Mount Evans to Mount Blue Sky, four members of Colorado’s congressional delegation are introducing legislation to rename the wilderness area that surrounds the towering peak.

U.S. Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, and U.S. Reps. Joe Neguse and Brittany Pettersen, all Democrats, introduced a bill in Congress on Tuesday to change the name of the 75,000-acre Mount Evans Wilderness to Mount Blue Sky Wilderness.

The change aligns with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names’ September decision to formally rename the fourteener visible from Denver. Only Congress can authorize a change to the wilderness area’s name, the lawmakers said in a news release on Tuesday.

The legislation is scheduled to receive a hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources’ subcommittee on public lands, forests, and mining on Oct. 25. After that, the bill must pass in the House and Senate.

“Tribes and local communities led the process to rename Mount Blue Sky, an important step to address the atrocities committed against the Cheyenne and Arapaho people,” Sen. Bennet said in a written statement. “This legislation to rename the surrounding wilderness area is an important next step to reaffirm our commitment to tribes and honor their legacy.”

After years of negotiations involving dozens of meetings with hundreds of Coloradans, Native Americans, and local and state elected leaders, the Evans name was stripped from the 14,265-foot mountain that is visible from Denver.

Colorado’s board on geographic names had considered six proposals (far more than the usual one) to change the name of the peak that was renamed in 1895 to honor the disgraced territorial governor John Evans. Evans was forced to resign because of his leadership role in the Nov. 29, 1864, Sand Creek Massacre in which more than 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho people, mostly women, children and older adults, were murdered. 

Renaming the mountain was first proposed by the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes and The Wilderness Society, a Denver nonprofit working to protect public lands.

“No wilderness area, stream or mountain should offend, hurt or cause harm to any Coloradan,” said Jim Ramey, The Wilderness Society’s Colorado state director.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis in March asked the federal geographic naming board to go with Mount Blue Sky, which was recommended after two years of review by the Polis-created Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board.

“Renaming Mount Evans to Mount Blue Sky helped to honor and recognize the tribes and advocates who worked hard to create change,” Hickenlooper said in a written statement. “Now, renaming the wilderness area the peak overlooks is the logical next step.”

The proposed new name for the wilderness area about 40 miles west of Denver recognizes the Cheyenne people, whose annual ceremony of renewal of life is called Blue Sky, and the Arapaho people, who are also known as the Blue Sky People, the news release said.

A YouTube video of Native American elders who were working to educate the public about the massacre and preserve its history was shown during an October 2022 meeting held by the Colorado geographic renaming board, a year before the name change. Many people in the video said they heard about the Sand Creek Massacre in first-person accounts from family members. 

Most of the people featured in the video have died and have passed the torch to the Native American Coloradans who helped lead the conversations that eventually helped strip the former name.

“The Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes are excited about the introduction of the name change of the Mount Evans Wilderness area,” Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Governor Reggie Wassana said. “We thank all the Colorado congressional members for introducing the bill to help restore the wilderness area to a respectful and proper name.”

Tatiana Flowers is the equity and general assignment reporter for the Colorado Sun and her work is funded by a grant from the Colorado Trust. She has covered crime and courts plus education and health in Colorado, Connecticut, Israel and Morocco....