Mountain Town News: For now, it’s still Negro Bill Canyon |

Mountain Town News: For now, it’s still Negro Bill Canyon

MOAB, Utah – Negro Bill Canyon wasn’t called that originally. The first word was one now almost universally frowned upon as a hateful epithet.

The canyon just east of Moab was named for William Grandstaff, who trailed cattle from the Colorado up the canyon toward the La Sal Mountains. Researchers at the Frontier Historical Society in Glenwood Springs, Colo., say Grandstaff probably was born in 1846 in Alabama, perhaps as a slave.

Grandstaff (sometimes spelled Granstaff) lived in the Moab area from 1877 to 1881. Why he left isn’t absolutely clear. Some say he was run off. Also unclear is his race. A Colorado census in 1885 listed him as white and living in Chaffee County, where Buena Vista and Salida are located. A few years later, in 1889, he was in the mining town of Leadville, Colo., where he ran for municipal constable. A few years later, he owned a bar at a coal-mining camp up South Canyon, just west of Glenwood Springs.

He died in 1901, and the two newspapers in Glenwood Springs, the Avalanche Echo and the Post, said he had some mining claims. They made no mention of his race except a reference to “old Portugee,” a variant of Portuguese. That might suggest a mixed race.

Grandstaff likely didn’t call himself “Nigger Bill,” as the canyon was originally called, points out Louis Williams, writing in the Moab Times-Independent in 2013.

In the 1960s, the branch of the U.S. government responsible for names on public lands changed the canyon’s name to the one currently used. It was part of a broad expurgation of the word “nigger” from geographic names across the country.

“This reexamination of the name was appropriate for the 1960s, but it is no longer enough,” says Williams. “Ultimately, we have achieved nothing more than replacing one racial handle for another.”

After the terrorist attack in Charleston, S.C., this year, Mary Mullen McGann, said she believed the time had come to eliminate the name. “The horrible events that happened in South Carolina spurred me to do it at this point because words are symbols, and symbols are powerful,” McGann, an elected supervisor in Grand County, told the Moab Sun News.

The arguments continued back and forth in the pages of Moab’s two newspapers this summer. Some objected to the proposal as trying to change history. Others pointed to the original name as a reminder of a dishonorable past in American history.

“I don’t believe for a second that Mr. Granstaff considered the racial epithet endearingly, and considering that he was run out of town, I don’t think that the community considered the original name of the canyon endearingly, either,” said Chris Baird, vice chair of the Grand County Council.

But is the word “negro” pejorative? Martin Luther King Jr. used it broadly. It’s a Spanish word, meaning black.

Baird told the Moab Sun News that there’s no doubt the original word was a bona fide racial epithet. “And with that as the basis for the current name, I do think that the term “negro” just simply takes on a watered-down version of the original term.”

Moab resident Marcia Tendick concurred with that opinion. “It’s not even a title,” she told the Sun News. “It’s not ‘mister’ or ‘doctor.’ It’s ‘negro.’”

Others cited economic implications.

“Many people who interface with the public in our bike shops, river companies, motels and other such establishments often deal with uncomfortable conversations where they have to explain and justify the name of the canyon,” said McGann, the county commissioner.

The Bureau of Land Management, which administers the canyon, has no say-so over the canyon name, but it has chosen to name the campground there Grandstaff and plans to rename the trailhead.

The U.S. Board of Geographic Names is the final arbiter of the name for the canyon, as it is for all geographic names in the United States on public lands. It relies heavily on input from local elected officials. Absence of that support caused proposed name changes in 1999, 2012, and 2013 to all fall short.

This proposal fell short, too, but the reason might surprise you. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is fine with the status quo. “Negro is an acceptable word,” Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP’s Tri-State Conference in Idaho-Nevada-Utah, told the Sun News in 2013. “We would rather leave it there as it is now and get information in the curriculum in the schools about the canyon itself to let people know more about the history.”

With no objection from the NAACP, the Grand County supervisors, in a majority vote, stayed the course.

“Real momentum” as the world gears up for Paris

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. – When the American Renewable Energy Day began 11 years ago, it lasted a day and tended to the dour. It was a reflection of its times. Scientists were increasingly confident that greenhouse gas emissions posed a major risk, but little was happening in response.

This year, the conference ran six days and was rife with optimism as the world’s nations plan for climate change negotiations in Paris during December.

Among the most optimistic of the several dozen speakers was Tim Wirth, a former U.S. senator for Colorado who often has been given credit for engineering the Congressional hearing in 1988 that put global warming on front pages.

“It’s very exciting. For the first time, we have real momentum,” he said.

Instead of fumbling for agreement that evaded negotiators at Copenhagen in 2009, he said the Paris talks will focus on more technical issues, such as how do you measure emissions. The United States has a high level of expertise in such accounting systems. Also needed are technical assistance packages.

“There are a lot of very technical issues that will be worked out between September and December.”

What happens after Paris?

“We have to start thinking about that,” said Wirth who, from 1998 to 2013, headed the United Nations Foundation, an organization started with a financial commitment from Ted Turner. He remains as vice chair of the foundation and the Better World Fund.

“We have pretty good idea of what will happen in Paris,” he said. “The negotiations have mostly been done. What do we do next? I see two very, very significant issues.”

Wirth outlined two challenges. One is how to figure out ways of financing the changes in energy infrastructure.

“Should there be some kind of a carbon tax?” he asked. “We have been working with some of the very conservative Republican intellectuals on the issue of climate change. They say, ‘We would much rather have a pricing mechanism than the stupefying hands of the EPA.’”

The second major issue he foresees is how to deal with ocean acidification. As big a problem as climate change itself is, the increased ocean acidification is more immediately dangerous. “We have to begin to develop a whole new set of rules and regulations and treaties related to treatment of the oceans, and that’s the second outcome from Paris.”

Wirth sketched a history of the climate change negotiations since the first burst of optimism about action at the forum held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. That was followed by the Kyoto negotiations in 1997 – and then trailed for the next decade of what Wirth characterized as the “negotiation doldrums.”

“Perhaps the lowest point in the doldrums was Copenhagen,” he said. “Copenhagen ended up in what I would say was something of a shambles.”

With the top-down approach of international agreement failing, many believed a more flexible bottoms-up approach was needed with action by cities, states, and provinces.

Then, a very significant meeting occurred last summer between President Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, the president of the People’s Republic of China. The stage for that meeting had been set by five years of work by White House aide John Podesta to build trust, define common interests, and expedite scientific and other exchanges between the two countries, the world’s top two emitters of greenhouse gases. An agreement between the two countries, announced last November, commits both China and the United States to timelines for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“For the first time, the Chinese put very significant pledges on the table,” Wirth said. “This sent a very, very clear political, economic and environmental signal around the world. ‘If these big countries can get together, can others?’”

Other agreements soon followed. One was between the United States and Brazil. After Podesta’s visit to South Korea, that country pledged to triple its obligations.

“That was a major step for the tigers of Asia, to see what Korea was doing, what China was doing,” Wirth said.

Then, several months ago, the pope issued his encyclical. Wirth had been involved in an advisory capacity with that.

“It has a huge impact across the world. It’s going to 400,000 congregations, reaching very, very broadly to Catholic communities around the world. And he is backing that up by coming to Washington at the end of September,” reported Wirth. The document, he added, has “some very, very powerful language.”

The day before, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd spoke about climate change, which he called the “greatest single moral challenge of our age,” and also the struggle to adopt and retain meaningful policies to begin limiting emissions.

He comes from the single largest coal-producing area in Australia, and Australia, he added, is the single largest coal-producing country. “My state is like West Virginia,” he said.

Rudd led the campaign for Australia to adopt a carbon tax – which was rescinded last year. He said he prefers to talk about a price on carbon as opposed to a tax.

Opponents of transitioning from carbon-based energy to renewables use the “politics of fear,” Rudd said. “Fear is a potent human emotion, and opponents of climate change action are highly skilled at exposing this psychology of fear in my country and around the world.”

In response, he said, activists need to talk about the high cost of inaction. He urged citizen activism to push governments “when they get weak in the knees.”

In the wake of Animas: Could it happen here?

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Could it happen here? That was the question in many places of the West last week after the spill of rusty-looking water from a mine above Silverton washed down Cement Creek and then into the Animas River on its way to Lake Powell.

In fact, mustard-looking water has been trickling and gushing down creeks in many places for a long time. Coal Creek in Crested Butte was one of those creeks several decades ago, before a water treatment plant was put into operation.

Could there still be a gush of orange through Crested Butte?

Not likely, local environmental officials and others tell the Crested Butte News, but there’s one big uncertainty. The water treatment plant for the Standard Mine is operated by a Wyoming company called U.S. Energy. The company owns the mining rights on Mt. Emmons, site of the mine but also a major deposit of molybdenum. The company and others have been trying for decades to develop the molybdenum deposit.

Mark Reaman, editor of the News, explains that operating the water treatment plan costs U.S. Energy $1.8 million a year. “If that plant goes down or U.S. Energy is not able to pay for its operation, Coal Creek will look like a haunted Halloween story,” he says.

He calls on local groups and elected officials to press the state and federal government for a plan that will guarantee continued water treatment.

“U.S. Energy isn’t exactly rolling in the green,” he writes. As evidence, he cites the company’s quarterly report. The company’s stock price plunged from $4.25 a year ago to 60 cents last week. “Can you say shaky?”

Mom executed, 2 cubs sentenced to life in jail

WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. – The recent killing of a hiker in Yellowstone National Park by a grizzly bear raises again the question of the responsibilities of hikers when in known bear territory.

The victim, Lance Crosby, 63, had worked five summers in Yellowstone. His body was partially consumed and had been cached.

Even before park rangers announced they had identified the bear that killed the hiker, the Jackson Hole News&Guide pointed a finger at the victim. “The rangers’ hands are forced in this instance. The attack was avoidable. A bear may die because a human did not take precautions,” said the newspaper.

Indeed, that’s what happened. The sow grizzly was killed last Thursday and the two female cubs that had been with the mother were deemed too young to be released back into the wild. Instead they will live their lives in a zoo at Toledo, Ohio.

In Wyoming, in the Bighorn Basin, located east of Yellowstone, state wildlife officials trapped an adult male grizzly because it had been getting into livestock feed near Meeteetse. It was moved to the Teton Range near Yellowstone. Ditto for another male grizzly that had been hanging out in development areas near Thermopolis.

No leniency for burgling bear in Mountain Village

MOUNTAIN VILLAGE, Colo. – A stealth intruder has been entering homes in Mountain Village, the sister municipality to Telluride. A very large black bear, opens doors to homes, wanders into the kitchen, opens up the refrigerator, freezer, or pantry—and feasts.

The state wildlife biologist in that area urges residents to keep their doors locked, especially if the doors have lever handles. The bear has also been entering through low-level windows.

Once caught, it’s all over for the bruin. “He has developed a behavior that is not conducive for us to release him anyplace else,” the wildlife biologist says.

So far, the bear has left the houses it has entered, but the wildlife biologist tells the Telluride Daily Planet that he fears a door will eventually close on the bear, trapping it in a home with residents. And then things might get ugly.

Two bears have been killed because of such intrusions in nearby Ouray County this summer, reports the Ouray Plaindealer.

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