DENVER (KDVR) – The U.S. Board on Geographic Names has renamed Mount Evans as Mount Blue Sky, making the new name official during the Council of Geographic Names Authorities conference Friday afternoon.
The change was years in the making, gaining traction in 2020 as part of a widespread movement to address past atrocities.
During the meeting, officials had discussed six different options for the name of iconic 14,271 “fourteener” mountain peak.
“I think there’s an overwhelming agreement that the name has to be changed,” Chris Hammond, a member of the Domestic Names Committee, said.
“I do hope that whatever name we pick does start the healing process,” member Andrew Flora added.
Why was Mount Evans renamed?
Mount Evans was named after Colorado Territorial Gov. John Evans in 1895.
But attitudes toward Gov. Evans later soured due to his treatment of Native populations, and a push to rename the peak began gaining traction in recent years.
In June 1864, Evans had ordered all “friendly Indians of the plains” to relocate to “places of safety.” The next month, Evans issued a proclamation allowing Coloradans to “kill and destroy” any hostile Indian.
“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,” he wrote in an 1864 proclamation.
Months later in November, 600 troops attacked Cheyenne and Arapaho camps in a valley by Big Sandy Creek, killing more than 200 Native Americans, most of whom were women, children, or the elderly, according to the National Park Service. The attack became known as the Sand Creek Massacre, after which Evans was forced to resign from his role.
Why was ‘Mount Blue Sky’ chosen?
“It’s time to rename Mount Evans. There is no place to honor those who facilitated atrocities against Native Americans on America’s public lands,” said an official proposal from the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, along with The Wilderness Society.
Evans’ great-grandson Tom Hayden, as well as his sister, supported changing the name, according to the proposal.
The schedule for the meeting on Friday listed several other name options, including Mount Cheyenne-Arapaho, Mount Rosaly, Mount Sisty and Mount Soule. It also included an option to keep the name Mount Evans, but to change the commemoration to honor Evans’ daughter.
The name “Mount Blue Sky” was proposed in recognition of both tribes. The Arapaho were known as the Blue Sky People, and the Cheyenne have an annual renewal-of-life ceremony called Blue Sky, according to the proposal.
A years-long effort
In 2017, Denver resident Mark Olmstead started a petition on Change.org to rename Mount Evans. The next year, the Denver American Indian Commission declared its support of the idea, according to the proposal document.
In June 2020, Olmstead started another petition to change the name with input from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, and it quickly garnered thousands of signatures.
The next month, Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order to create the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board amid a widespread movement to address past atrocities.
The Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board unanimously voted for the change in November 2022, and Polis gave his official recommendation to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in March 2023.
During the vote at Friday’s meeting, a majority of the 15-person voting body were in favor of the name change, with only one opposing and three abstaining.