Historic Reclaiming: Infamous Mountain Renamed Mount Blue Sky in Honor of Indigenous Tribes

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In the chill of an 1864 November dawn, a ghastly event unfolded as over 200 members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes—mostly women and children—were ruthlessly butchered in one of the most horrific bloodbaths in America’s annals. For a nauseating 128 years, the man credited by historians for sanctioning this violent act unexpectedly had the honor of a mountain—an infamous one, located on Indigenous land—carrying his name.

Yet, this is no longer the case.

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In a historic shift symbolic of a quest for justice and healing, Mount Blue Sky, erstwhile Mount Evans, embraced its new identity following a momentous Friday resolution by the US Board of Geographic Names. This news was shared with the public by the US Department of the Interior in an official brief.

Dominating the backdrop of the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests as well as the Pike and San Isabel National Forests, the mountain holds its lofty head 14,258 feet above the ground. It is the fourteenth highest peak in Colorado, its stature speaking volumes of the grant history it has borne witness to.

The new moniker, Mount Blue Sky, is particularly significant; the Arapaho were recognized as the ‘Blue Sky people’, while the Cheyenne annually partake in an invigorating ceremony of life renewal known as ‘Blue Sky’. This symbolic renaming was proposed by the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes in a heartfelt plea.

Governor Reggie Wassana of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes sees it as a significant stride not only for their people, but also for the Northern Arapaho Tribe, Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Southern Ute Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and other allies who worked tirelessly to precipitate the healing process and bestow honor upon this majestic mountain.

The name change comes after years of deliberation involving the board’s Domestic Names Committee, Tribal governments, local, county, and state authorities, nearly 75 organizations, and hundreds of individuals. The name change reflects an evolving respectful attitude towards these lands, as underscored by Michael Brain, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science, when he noted the importance of the naming of our public lands towards an inclusive, welcoming future for advanced generations.

The aftermath of the unwarranted attack has haunted generations and is described by the US National Park Service as “one of the most disturbing tragedies of the American West.” The tribes, who have lived on the Great Plains for centuries, were already under intense pressure due to American colonists encroaching upon their land, limiting their hunting territory, and ominously shadowing them with the looming threat of military aggression.

Chief Black Kettle of Cheyenne’s ceaseless peace-seeking negotiations with then territorial Governor John Evans and the American colonists’ military pedestals his efforts to shield his tribespeople against harm, although these ended up being futile.

The 1864 Proclamation by Governor John Evans that signaled the governmental sanction of the massacre was quoted in the renaming petition. It authorized all citizens of Colorado to “go in pursuit of all hostile Indians on the plains…to kill and destroy… wherever they may be found.”

In compliance with instructions, a group of nearly 750 tribal members —which included mostly women, children, and the elderly— moved to an encampment near Fort Lyon by the Big Sandy Creek. They awaited further peace negotiations, and a promise to seek shelter and supplies at Fort Lyon.

Their wait was cruelly ended on November 29, when American soldiers attacked them without provocation. By the culmination of the bloody onslaught, 230 innocent and unsuspecting tribal members lay murdered. The following day, the soldiers loitered around the gruesome scene, committing even more heinous acts on those already dead.

An eyewitness testimony to these atrocities was recorded by a soldier who described the horrific scene in front of Congress— women, infants, and warriors alike, mutilated heartlessly by the United States troops.

Found culpable for the horrifying events, Governor Evans was made to resign in disgrace in 1865. Ironically, the mountain was named after him in 1895.

The Mestaa’ėhehe Coalition, a united front representing tribal members from the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and other Indigenous tribes, expressed profound relief over the renaming of the mountain. In their Facebook post, they celebrated the removal of a name so indelibly linked with the Sand Creek Massacre, an atrocity that had left generations scarred.

They could finally heave a gentle sigh of relief, honoring the memory of the victims, their descendants, and looking ahead to a future of collective healing and unity. In a hopeful conclusion, they expressed their desire for the sacred homelands to once again be welcoming to all.