Yellowstone’s ‘Mount Doane’ Likely To Be Renamed ‘First Peoples Mountain’

Yellowstone's Mount Doane, which was named after a cavalry officer who led an attack against a tribe of Blackfeet Native American people, will likely be renamed "First Peoples Mountain" as a result of an endorsement by the National Park Services'

Leo Wolfson

May 19, 20225 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A push to rename a mountain in Yellowstone National Park now named after a U.S. Cavalry officer who led an attack on Native Americans in Montana has received a significant boost.

The National Park Service gave its approval to a plan to change the name of the 10,551-foot Mount Doane to First Peoples Mountain, the Wyoming Board of Geographic Names was told during its meeting on Wednesday.

The name change will be given official consideration in the U.S. Board of Geographic Names meeting on June 9. 

Shelley Messer, executive director of the State Board of Geographic Names, said in a Thursday phone interview that a recommendation from the Park Service typically “weighs pretty heavily” for the U.S. Board in its decision making. 

Namesake History

Mount Doane is named after Lt. Gustavus Cheyney Doane, a Cavalry officer in the U.S. Army who escorted the historic Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition into Yellowstone in 1870, one of the first missions to explore the Park region. 

However, earlier that same year, Doane led an attack, in response to the alleged murder of a white fur trader, on a tribe of Blackfeet Native American people in Montana. During what is now known as the Marias Massacre, at least 173 were killed, including many women, elderly tribal members and children suffering from smallpox. 

Doane wrote fondly about this attack more than 20 years later and was said to have bragged about it for the rest of his life.

The effort to rename Mount Doane is part of an ongoing campaign nationally to replace what are seen as derogatory or inappropriate names for geographic features with more acceptable names.

One of the latest efforts stems from U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s 2021 order to rename all American landmarks containing the word “squaw.”

“It seems to be kind of a sign of the times,” Messer said. “People are becoming more aware, more socially conscious, kind of questioning what values are accepted.” 

Less Contentious

The effort to rename Mount Doane may be a little less contentious than others, as Musser said Doane was even criticized by his peers while still alive. 

According to Yellowstone Insider, in 2014 the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council voted to pursue a name change for the mountain and in 2017 a protest for this effort was held outside the North Entrance of the Park by the Blackfoot Confederacy and the Great Sioux Nation tribes. 

“We’re not against certain names,” William Snell, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, told the Guardian in a 2018 story. “But we’re not for names where individuals have been involved with genocide, where elders and children have been killed and there have been some traumatic events in our history that don’t meet standards of honor.”

Members from Rocky Mountain group and the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association submitted a petition for a name change to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names around this time, prompting the state board to begin studying the issue. 

“We are a very deliberate board,” Messer said. “When considering a name change, we always take the view of history at the time. It’s not an easy process to recognize a new name.”

Two years later, the State Board recommended, on a vote of 6-2, that the name be changed to First Peoples Mountain.

Opposition To Change

Despite Doane’s sordid past, in 2018 Park County commissioners voted against recommending this name change, along with a proposal to rename Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley as Buffalo Nations Valley, citing a need to keep history intact and recognize local heritage. 

The change in the Hayden Valley name involves Ferdinand Hayden, an explorer and geologist who support naming the mountain for Doane and also allegedly advocated for the genocide and extermination of Native Americans. He is also credited with convincing Congress to make Yellowstone a national park. 

In 2019, the state Board of Geographic Names voted 7-2 to oppose renaming Hayden Valley.

Jennifer Runyon, a geographer with the U.S. Geological Survey and advisor to the Wyoming Board of Geographic Names, said the U.S. Board of Geographical Names is still considering comments and communicating with tribal leaders on that matter.

“Words Matter”

However, the process to rename Mount Doane may be nearing an end, eight years after the campaign began, five years after the state Board of Geographic Names started addressing the matter and three years after its members voted on the change. 

Although this may seem a long time, it is nowhere near as long as it took to rename Mount Denali in Alaska. After the Alaska Legislature requested a name change from the federal government in 1975, the effort was blocked until 2015, when former President Barack Obama officially renamed the mountain.

With all of these recent considerations, the State Board of Geographic Names, a body made up of local surveyors, historians and artists, may have gained a higher profile than in years past.

“Words matter — that’s the bottom line,” Messer said.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter