‘Squaw Teats’ Should Remain On The Map, Park County Commissioners Say

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

A pair of summits in southeastern Park County should continue to be known as “Squaw Teats,” county commissioners say.

On Tuesday, the commission voted unanimously to oppose a proposal that would rename the formation Crow Woman Buttes.

“I do not believe that we need to go around renaming monuments, statues, rivers, mountains” and changing history, Commissioner Lloyd Thiel said before Tuesday’s vote, saying he “strongly” opposed a new name.

A Powell resident, Tyler Kerr, made the suggestion to change the name of Squaw Teats in June.

In a submission to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, Kerr contended that the current moniker “is derogatory, both to women and to Native Americans.” Crow Woman Buttes, he said, would carry “a similar meaning, but less offensive wording.”

“The proposed name acknowledges the feature’s supposed resemblance to human anatomy, but omits the racially charged (and arguably misogynistic) language of the existing name,” he wrote in the submission.

As for why he picked the Crow tribe, Kerr explained that they were active in the region and that it “would be an easier name to use in conversation than ‘Shoshone Woman,’ ‘Blackfeet Woman,’ etc.”

“The more general ‘Indian Woman’ would be likely to come across as an awkward euphemism for ‘squaw,’ somewhat defeating the purpose of a name change,” he added.

The Board of Geographical Names is now seeking input on Kerr’s proposal from various entities.

In a Wednesday message to the board opposing the change, county commissioners said they feel “the history and heritage of Park County is important and must remain the same today and tomorrow.”

The federal board will also poll federally recognized tribes, the Wyoming Board of Geographic Names and the Bureau of Land Management, as the summits sit on acreage managed by the agency.

Squaw Teats are located in badlands in Park County’s very southeast corner. The peaks are about 15 miles east of Meeteetse as the crow flies, with the taller of the two reaching an elevation of 6,173 feet (the other tops out at 6,110 feet).

The area was originally referred to as “Squaw Buttes” in a 1906 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) publication and other records located by Matt O’Donnell, a contractor for the U.S. Board of Geographic Names. However, in his report on the proposal, O’Donnell indicates that “Squaw Teats” became more common from 1938 on; that’s what the feature has been called on official USGS maps since 1951, he found.

Early Western explorers were apparently not bashful about naming mountains after breasts. For instance, Wyoming’s iconic Tetons draw their name from the French word for “teat” or “nipple.”

There’s also a Squaw Teat Butte in Hot Springs County and a Squaw Teat in Sublette County, according to O’Donnell’s research. Then there’s Katys Nipple, located on the southwestern edge of Bighorn Lake — and Mitchells, Dans and Clara Birds Nipple can be found in other parts of Wyoming, Powell mountaineer Tim Schoessler wrote for the website SummitPost.

In a 2009 writeup about Squaw Teats, Schoessler said the peaks “are steep scrambles,” and offer expansive views of the surrounding badlands and the Absaroka Mountains. But he’s not a fan of the moniker.

“That name has bothered me since I first ran across it, and I would love to see it changed,” Schoessler said Wednesday.

Some similar names have fallen out of favor in more recent years, O’Donnell’s report says. In 2008, Squaw Teat Butte and Squaw Teat Creek in South Dakota became Peaked Butte and East Rattlesnake Creek, respectively, while similar features in Montana became Mil-mil-teh Hill and Choo-heh-meen Hills; the Montana Legislature passed a bill in 1999 that called for the word “squaw” to be removed from all maps, signs and markers.

For their part, though, Park County commissioners want to stick with “Squaw Teats.”

“I don’t necessarily like it, personally,” Commission Chairman Joe Tilden said, “but it’s a part of Park County’s history — and I have no desire to rewrite history.”

During Tuesday’s brief discussion on the subject, Tilden said the commissioners “have never supported any name changes.”

In 2017, the commission voted against a proposal to christen an unnamed peak Mount Grinnell. Then in 2018, commissioners opposed a pending proposal from multiple tribes to change Yellowstone National Park’s Hayden Valley to Buffalo Nations Valley and to change Mount Doane to First Peoples Mountain.

Prior commissioners did agree to rename County Road 6FU in 2004, after some residents objected that, when read aloud, the route name was profane and offensive.

“That just wasn’t verbally proper,” said Park County Clerk Colleen Renner. (Commissioner Lee Livingston, who like his colleagues was not on the commission at the time, offered that, “I had no problem leaving it [the road] as it was.”) The route, which connects the North and South fork areas, is now known as Stagecoach Trail.

Squaw Teats isn’t the only eyebrow-raising name found on local maps.

“Asking for directions in northwestern Wyoming can be downright obscene,” former Powell Tribune News Editor Justin Lessman wrote in 2006. He gave examples like Negrohead Fork, Bitch Creek (a corruption of the French word for “deer” rather than an insult) and, most egregiously, waterways that included the N-word.

Some of the terms, such as “squaw,” were not offensive at the time they were placed on maps, historians told Lessman in 2006, but they confirmed some words had the same meaning as today.

“The first people out here named things what they thought they looked like,” then-Shoshone National Forest District Ranger Dave Myers told the Tribune at the time. “And if sheepherders were involved, it’s a good bet the names somehow involved female anatomy.”

The U.S Board of Geographic Names says its guiding principle is to use the place names used by local residents. However, exceptions can be made “when a name is derogatory or is shown to be offensive to a particular racial or ethnic group, gender, or religious group,” the board’s policies say. “Because geographic names are part of the historical record of the United States, the [board] prefers to proceed cautiously … as attitudes and perceptions of words considered to be offensive can vary among individuals and communities and can change connotation over time.”

There is no timeline for the board to make a decision on whether to name the summits Crow Woman Buttes. For example, the proposed renaming of Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley and Mount Doane have been pending since 2017, as the board continues to await a recommendation from the National Park Service.

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