DENVER, CO – Earlier today, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names made the landmark decision to rename Mount Evans, a prominent peak visible from Metro Denver, to Mount Blue Sky. The change comes after years of public discourse and consultation involving various government agencies, local tribes, and community members.
According to a report from CPR, the board’s virtual meeting was attended by about 90 people including media representatives, with 19 individuals from various government bodies. They voted to rename the mountain with a vote of 15-1, with 3 abstentions. Jennifer Runyon, a board research staff member, reviewed several name submissions received over the past three years, which included names like Mount Soule, Mount Rosalie, Mount Sisty, and even a different Mount Evans—named after another family descendent.
The name change comes after a two-year evaluation conducted by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. Mount Blue Sky emerged as the favored alternative to Mount Evans, which was named after Colorado’s second territorial governor, John Evans. Historical records indicate that Evans set in motion the tragic Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, which resulted in the death of at least 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho people, primarily women, elders, and children.
A report from the University of Chicago revealed that while Evans did not directly plan the massacre, his policy decisions and lack of effective action created an environment where such a tragedy became possible. The report described his response to the massacre as “reprehensibly obtuse and self-interested,” displaying “complete indifference to the suffering inflicted on Cheyennes and Arapahos.”
The renaming of Mount Evans to Mount Blue Sky is seen as a step toward acknowledging historical wrongs and starting a healing process, albeit a contentious one.
“I think I speak for all of us here that the board very much appreciates all the hard work that’s happened over the last couple of years. So many people have been involved in this process,” said Chris Hammond, a member of the Domestic Names committee. “And these things take time. While there are differences of opinion, I think there’s overwhelming agreement that the name has to be changed.”
Notably, the renaming was not without controversy. A previous attempt to finalize the name change in early March was delayed when the Northern Cheyenne tribe requested a consultation under federal law. William Walksalong, Northern Cheyenne tribal administrator, opposed the name “Blue Sky,” describing it as “sacrilegious” due to its significance in Northern Cheyenne ceremonies. However, the leaders of Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho tribes advocate for the name Mount Cheyenne-Arapaho instead.
“I did have some concerns about the use of a name representing a sacred ceremony as the mountain,” said Andy Flora, a member of the Domestic Names Committee from the Department of Commerce. “I don’t think that we could ever possibly reach a consensus that would satisfy all names. But I do hope that whatever name we pick does start the healing process.”
Chris Arend, spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources, clarified that the decision is final and there is no appeal process. The time frame for updating maps and road signs to reflect the new name remains uncertain.
Correction: September 19, 2023, 8:35 AM
An earlier version of this article misattributed a quote to Chris Hammond. The quote was actually from Andy Flora. We apologize for the error and any confusion it may have caused.