To get to the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site near Eads, where 230 Native Americans were murdered, you have to drive through a town named for their murderer.
In between Eads and the turnoff, you’ll go through the unincorporated town of Chivington. It’s named for Civil War-era Col. John Chivington, who led the attack by the First and Third Colorado cavalries on Arapaho and Cheyenne living at Sand Creek that resulted in the slaughter, with half of those who died being women and children.
While Chivington may be an extreme case, dozens of sites around Colorado have taken on names that are now getting a new look as calls for equality grow louder in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests.
For example, the Racial Slur database takes issue with “squaw” as a derogatory term for Indigenous women. A 2015 study by the website Vocativ found more than 1,441 racial slurs attached to federally-recognized sites. The most common slur is “squaw” with 828 sites. Vocativ reported activists and Native Americans call it “a white bastardization of ojiskwa, the Mohawk word for vagina.
In Clear Creek County, you’ll find along with Papoose Mountain and Chief Mountain, such locales as Squaw Pass Road, Squaw Creek and Squaw Mountain.
“Slurs against Native Americans are built into our cultural and literal geographical landscape” said Jennifer Goodland, a Colorado public historian who lives across the street from Lamar High School’s Savage Stadium and is also part Choctaw. (Note: Jennifer is the daughter of the writer.)
School names and mascots have been a flashpoint for years for people of color, including Democratic lawmakers.
Colorado has often been slow to act, or not at all, on sites with names that people of color find offensive. That includes mountains, schools and towns with names like Chivington.
Sage Naumann, who by day is the spokesman for the Colorado Senate GOP, talked about the Thursday destruction of a Civil War statue on the west side of the Capitol. He said Friday that "there is, and always have been, a need to have an open and honest conversation about Colorado's history. Hindsight and societal progress give us the benefit of increased clarity in regard to who is worthy of our admiration. That being understood, democracy is not a group of midnight marauders toppling a statue," encouraged, perhaps, by elected officials.
Naumann added that "if it is our desire to only place monuments and portraits of those who held views that we now view as righteous and contemporary, our pedestals and walls will be quite bare. If it is our wish that only those humans who are without flaws or sin be worthy of our praise and admiration, then we will be disappointed to find that none have existed in nearly 2,000 years."
It isn't only Republicans who found the way the statue was taken down distasteful. Ted Trimpa, a long-time Democratic strategist, tweeted Thursday that while he understood the passion behind the desire to take down those statues, "vigilante destruction, and defacement of public buildings for that matter, is disgraceful and disrespects the values for which we’re fighting."
Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat, told CPR that the statue isn't a Confederate statue, like others that are being taken down around the country. But "the story behind this particular statue is a little bit more complex.” Gov. Jared Polis also weighed in, stating he was "outraged at the damage to a statue that commemorates the Union heroes of the Civil War."
But included on that statue, activists point out, is a list of battles that the First and Third Colorado cavalries participated in during the Civil War, and that includes Sand Creek, which wasn't a battle at all.
I get the passion behind and need for some statues to be removed. But vigilante destruction, and defacement of public buildings for that matter, is disgraceful and disrespects the values for which we’re fighting. #StatuesTornDown #colorado pic.twitter.com/IhboEuH9Hg— Ted Trimpa (@TedTrimpa) June 25, 2020
The list of public sites with names that evoke racism for people of color reads like a who’s who of Colorado. Here's a list, along with their notoriety:
The unincorporated town of Chivington is home to perhaps less than a dozen residents. The railroad that owns the line going through the town informed the county commissioners a couple of years ago that it was looking to change the railroad's right-of-way through Chivington, with input from the Kiowa and Arapaho Indians. However, Commissioner Donald Oswald said there is little interest among the commissioners or the town residents in making that change.
In 2014, a change.org petition to change the name drew just under 4,000 signatures. John White Antelope, a "direct descendant of Chief White Antelope" who died at Sand Creek, told Westword in 2014 that "to have a town so close to the massacre site named after [Chivington] is a slap in the face to every Indian past and present!"
Colorado’s second territorial governor, who founded both Northwestern University and the University of Denver. He was governor when the Sand Creek Massacre took place in 1864 and claimed he could not have stopped it if he wanted to. But as a result of the massacre, which was considered an atrocity even in those days, he resigned at the request of President Andrew Johnson in 1865. A 2014 report by Alan Gilbert, a professor at the University of Denver, claims Chivington would not have carried out the Sand Creek Massacre without Evans’ consent.
The Colorado Independent, in reporting on the DU information, said, “DU’s report finds that Evans had just as much blood on his hands by manufacturing a war he said the tribes had waged against whites.
“Aside from his role as governor, he was appointed by the federal government as superintendent of Indian affairs in Colorado. That job entailed keeping peace with the tribes during the Civil War to avoid a war on the second front. Instead, the report reveals, Evans shot-gunned fear-mongering letters to officials throughout the state. He incited Coloradans to shoot as vigilantes any Indian they ran across and to take his or her property as their own.”
Gilbert added that “Evans launched the extermination of Cheyenne and Arapaho in Colorado and he should not be honored for it.”
What’s named after him: Mount Evans in Clear Creek County; Evans Avenue, a major east-west thoroughfare in central Denver that runs through the University of Denver campus; and the town of Evans in Weld County.
The 18th and 19th century explorer and military general. Among Pike’s lesser-known achievements: “Convincing” the Indigenous Dakota people to clear out of what’s modern-day Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. According to the book “A State by State History of Race and Racism in the United States,” Pike’s agreement allowed for military bases in the area, and resulted in 100,000 acres being handed over to white settlers.
What’s named after him: Pike’s Peak, Colorado’s most iconic mountain. An elementary school and a state Division of Youth Services youth center, both in Colorado Springs, also are named for the explorer.
Pike National Forest, one of the state’s 11 national forests, which runs through Clear Creek, Teller, Park, Jefferson, Douglas and El Paso counties, is named after Zebulon Pike. Mount Evans is located within the one-million-acre Pike National Forest.
15th-century explorer. Memorials to Columbus are everywhere, but earlier this year, state lawmakers approved a bill to strip the Columbus Day holiday and replace it with a holiday, first Monday in October, named for St. Frances Cabrini.
What’s named after him: What isn’t? A statue in Denver’s Civic Center Park, modeled after DaVinci’s “Universal Man,” is a tribute to Columbus and was dedicated 50 years ago this week. While the statue itself isn’t of the Italian explorer, a plaque below it identifies it as a tribute to Columbus. The statue, according to 9News, was donated to the city by Alfred Adamo, an Italian immigrant.
Thursday night, KDVR’s Vincente Arenas reported that a group that identified itself as the Afro Liberation Front pulled the statue down. The city on Friday took down the pedestal, which includes the plaque.
Another tribute to Columbus can be found in Denver’s Sunnyside neighborhood on the city’s northwest side. The north-south streets are named for Indigenous and Hispanic people and their language, with names like Mariposa, Navajo, Osage, Zuni. And then right in the heart of the neighborhood, you’ll find Columbus Park, at 38th and Osage.
That’s not what the Hispanic community who live in the area call it: they refer to it as La Raza Park, and that’s faintly scratched into one of the park’s signs. According to a Denverite article in 2016,“‘La raza cósmica’ represents the mixture of all races in the Latino people” and could be considered the opposite of Christopher Columbus. “It does not celebrate the colonizer, but the colonized, the people who emerged from and survived this cataclysm.”
In 1989, the city put a plaque inside a park kiosk, calling it “Plaza de la Raza.” It’s dedicated to the people of Denver’s northside neighborhood “in honor of their continued fight of peace, justice and equality.”
Earlier this month, Denver City Councilwoman Antoinette Sandoval announced she would begin the process for renaming Columbus Park to La Raza Park.
And while state law now designates St. Frances Cabrini Day in place of Columbus Day, many state agency websites, such as the Secretary of State and the Department of Regulatory Agencies, still identify the holiday as Columbus Day.
19th-century frontiersman, “Indian agent” and U.S. Army officer. According to a tweet from community activist Ean Tafoya, Carson “led the long walk of the Navajo, and starved and murdered thousands of Navajo and Apache.”
According to a Denver Post review of the 2006 book Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West by Hampton Sides, Carson was a “killing machine” of Native Americans. He helped foment the U.S. Army’s “scorched-earth policy, burning crops and starving the semi-nomadic Navajos into submission.” He also participated in massacres of Native Americans. His campaign against the Navajo, dubbed the “Long March,” resulted in the deaths of one-third of the Navajo nation and their exile to a reservation that Sides described as a “concentration camp.”
What’s named after him? It’s a long list. It includes Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Kit Carson County; the town of Kit Carson, along with a school, courthouse and museum in the town; a monument in Civic Center Park in Denver and another in Colorado Springs along Colorado 115; Kit Carson Mountain in the Sangre de Cristos, and Kit Carson Circle, a street in Centennial.
Tafoya posted Carson's past on a picture of the statue on Friday; later, the city removed it.
LINKS TO THE CONFEDERACY
While Colorado was largely viewed (and its borders created) as a Union state, the state also had a number of Confederate sympathizers, with pro-Confederacy militias organized in Fairplay, Leadville, Denver and Mace’s Hole, which is now Beulah, according to the the 1959 book The Civil War in the Western Territories: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. Confederate sympathizers also lived in mining areas and in the Arkansas River Valley, from Cañon City to Lamar and south to Trinidad.
While there are more than 1,500 public symbols of the Confederacy, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, none are located in Colorado.
But statues and memorials to Confederate veterans — primarily in private cemeteries — dot the state.
Colorado is also the only non-Southern state where two of its governors served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, according to state archives.
Gov. James B. Grant was a private in the 20th Alabama Light Artillery Battalion. He served as Colorado’s third governor from 1883 to 1885. Gov. Charles S. Thomas was Colorado's 11th governor from 1899 to 1901 and served as a private in the Georgia State Militia during the Civil War. He was also a U.S. senator from 1913 to 1921, just as the Ku Klux Klan was beginning to take hold in the state.
Cemeteries in Colorado, both public and private, hold memorials to those who fought for the Confederacy. That includes Denver’s Riverside Cemetery, as well as resting places in Evergreen, Cañon City and Pueblo. In Telluride, the area cemetery contains the remains of two brothers, William and Lon Remine, who both fought for the Confederacy and were buried next to each other years later.
Colorado also is the only non-Southern state to host a reunion of Confederate veterans, a gathering of the United Confederate Veterans that took place in Trinidad in 1939.
Colorado still has a chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, named for Margaret Howell Davis Hayes, the daughter of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Hayes lived in Colorado Springs from 1885 until her death in 1909.
Mayor of Denver from 1923 to 1931 and from 1935 to 1947. Stapleton ran on the Ku Klux Klan ticket in 1935. He was Klan member No. 1,128 and a “close friend” of the Colorado Klan Grand Dragon John Galen Locke, according to Robert Alan Goldberg’s 1981 book, Hooded Empire: The Ku Klux Klan in Colorado.
Stapleton also appointed a Klansman as Denver’s police chief, “in effect making the police department a Klan organization,” Goldberg wrote.
Neighborhood residents voted last July not to change the name. However, in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, Denver Public Schools Board Director Tay Anderson promised to lead a march in the neighborhood to prompt change.
On June 17, the neighborhood’s Master Community Association voted to remove the Stapleton name, and is in the process of finding a new one.
Anderson said this week that once the school year resumes, he plans to ask the DPS board to discuss names that raise concerns in the Black and brown communities.
That includes the names of high schools like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The latter two were slave-owners, Anderson said. Lincoln is a more nuanced discussion, he said.
While Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Anderson pointed out Lincoln also was president during the Sand Creek Massacre, and made comments about slaves that are now under scrutiny, such as sending enslaved Africans to Liberia or keeping Blacks and whites separate.
There’s also an elementary school, Stephen Knight, in east Denver, that will be discussed. Knight served on the Denver School Board during the 1970s, when Denver Public Schools were integrated through forced busing. He was an ardent opponent, both of busing and of integrating the schools, Anderson said.
“We want to make sure people are educated about him,” he said.
Anderson said one thing they’ll have to investigate is who the school is actually named for. Stephen Knight’s father, also named Stephen Knight, served on the Denver school board for 13 years in the early part of the 20th century.
Anderson said that students and principals plan to lead these conversations, such as at George Washington, where students have proposed a simple change: add “Carver” to the name, to honor the pioneering Black scientist and inventor.
Another idea is to simply call it George, in honor of George Floyd. “I’m excited to hear” what they come up with, he said.