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Yellowstone renames a mountain after the history of its prior namesake comes to light

First Peoples Mountain is the new name for a peak formerly named after a white man who helped lead an attack that left more than 170 Native Americans dead.
Jacob W. Frank
/
National Park Service
First Peoples Mountain is the new name for a peak formerly named after a white man who helped lead an attack that left more than 170 Native Americans dead.

The country's first national park, Yellowstone, is renaming one of its largest mountains to honor Indigenous people after research revealed the man it had been named after helped lead a massacre against local tribes.

As part of the park's 150th anniversary, officials announced the 10,551-foot high peak formerly called Mount Doane is now First Peoples Mountain.

"It is a victory, yes. Is history being rewritten and retold truthfully? I hope so," William Snell, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, told NPR. His group helped advise federal officials on the name change.

In an email, Snell said the change to First Peoples Mountain couldn't have come at a better time as Yellowstone officials prepare for the park's anniversary in August.

The previous namesake bragged about the attack

The peak — along a range on the eastern side of Yellowstone Lake — had been named after Gustavus Doane, who helped lead the Washburn-Langford-Doane expedition in 1870 that ultimately led to the park getting federal protection.

But recently, historians uncovered Doane's role in an attack on a band of the Piegan Blackfeet that left at least 173 Native Americans dead. Known as the Marias Massacre, Doane carried out the attack over the killing of a white fur trader. In writings, Doane cast a favorable light on the attack and even bragged about it for the rest of his life, the National Park Service said last week.

The renaming to First Peoples Mountain is part of a trend to better recognize the roles and contributions of Native Americans. It has also become a priority of the nation's first Indigenous cabinet secretary — the Interior Department's Deb Haaland, who oversees the National Park Service — and Charles Sams III, the first Native American to serve as that agency's director.

Across the American West, many iconic mountains and other environmental places were named after early white settlers, mostly men and some with fraught pasts.

In Yellowstone, park officials say they may consider further changes to derogatory or inappropriate geographical names in the months ahead.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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