Editor’s Note: This story contains graphic descriptions of violence.
On a cold November morning in 1864, more than 200 members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, most of them women and children, were murdered in one of the worst massacres in American history.
For 128 years, the man who historians say authorized the massacre gave his name to a mountain – located on indigenous territory –.
But not anymore.
Blue Sky Mountain, formerly Mount Evans, was renamed Friday in a vote by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced in a news release.
As the 14th highest peak in Colorado, the mountain rises to 14,258 feet along the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and the Pike and San Isabel National Forests.
The new name is significant because “the Arapaho were known as the Blue Sky people and the Cheyenne hold an annual life renewal ceremony called Blue Sky,” according to the petition to rename the mountain submitted by the Cheyenne and Arapaho.
“This is a huge milestone, not only for the Cheyenne and Arapaho people, but also for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Southern Ute Tribe, the Northern Arapaho Tribe, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and other allies who have worked diligently to begin the healing process, bringing honor to a monumental and majestic mountain,” Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Governor Reggie Wassana said in a statement.
The council’s National Names Committee voted on the name change after years of review “by state, county, local and tribal governments” and with the support of nearly 75 organizations and hundreds of individuals, according to the Ministry of the Interior.
“Names matter. How we identify our public lands is an important opportunity to be inclusive and welcoming, and to have a lasting impact on future generations,” said Michael Brain, principal undersecretary of the Interior for Water and science, in a press release.
The United States National Park Service called the massacre “one of the worst tragedies of the American West.”
Before the massacre, the tribes, who have lived in the Great Plains for generations, were already experiencing intrusion from American settlers, the park service said. Their westward expansion invaded indigenous lands, limiting their hunting grounds and haunting them with the constant threat of violence from the U.S. military.
Native Chief Black Kettle of the Cheyennes was determined to continue his efforts to negotiate peace with then-territorial governor John Evans and the army of American settlers to protect his people, according to the National Park Service. But nothing worked.
The petition to rename the mountain begins with a quote from Governor John Evans’ 1864 proclamation:
“I, John Evans, Governor of the Territory of Colorado, issue this 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 are, all these hostile Indians.
The Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes – comprising 750 people, most of whom were women, children and elderly – followed the order to settle in an encampment near Big Sandy Creek, near Fort Lyon. They were told to wait there until peace negotiations continued and they would be allowed to proceed to Fort Lyon for safety and supplies.
But on the morning of November 29, without provocation, American soldiers opened fire on “innocent and unconscious Arapaho and Cheyenne civilians,” and by the end of the massacre, 230 of them were dead.
“In the afternoon and the next day, the soldiers wandered the grounds, committing atrocities on the dead, before leaving the area on December 1,” the park service said.
One soldier, who described the scene before Congress, said: “I saw the bodies of those who lay there, cut into pieces, more mutilated than any I had ever seen before; the women cut everything into pieces…(cut) with knives; scalped; their brains have been destroyed; children aged two or three months; all ages lie there, from breast-fed infants to warriors… (mutilated) by American troops.
In 1865, Governor Evans was forced to resign in disgrace, according to the petition. The mountain was named after him in 1895.
The Mestaa’ėhehe Coalition, which brought together tribal representatives from the Cheyenne, Arapaho and other indigenous tribes to rename the mountain, said on Facebook “the immense relief to remove a name so associated with the atrocity of the Massacre of Sand Creek is felt by many. »
“May this new name be one of honoring the victims and their descendants, of healing and moving forward together. And may these sacred homelands once again become a place of welcome for all!