Yellowstone Mount Doane Rename: First National Park Shouldn't Have Features Named After Genocide Exponent

One of the highest peaks in Yellowstone National Park may be renamed from Mount Doane to the First Peoples Mountain over claims Gustavus Cheyney Doane—after who the mountain is named—was a "horrible man who actively engaged in violence towards Native People."

The Wyoming Board of Geographic Names voted six to two in favor of the name change in a meeting held at the end of May.

Doane, who died in 1892, was a Civil War soldier credited in having a key role in the exploration and establishment of Yellowstone National Park. He was one of the escorts on the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition and provided reports to the Secretary of War relating to the natural phenomenon at Yellowstone.

However, Doane is also accused of many acts of violence towards native tribes. According to The Powell Tribune, he was part of a massacre that killed an estimated 175 Piegan Blackfeet people in 1870. He had been ordered to attack a hostile group, but an error meant the troops attacked a peaceful band made up mostly of women and children.

Gustavus Cheyney Doane
Gustavus Cheyney Doane NPS

The Tribute notes that despite the mistake, Doane took pride in the attack. He wrote in 1891: "I remember the day when we slaughtered the Piegans, how it occurred to me, as I sat on the bank of the Marias [River] & watched the stream of their blood, which ran down on the frozen river over half a mile, that the work we were doing would be rewarded, as it has been."

There have been calls for the 10,551ft Mount Doane to be renamed from various groups, citing war crimes and violence. The Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council also submitted a proposal to rename Hayden Valley—named after geologist Ferdinand Hayden—because of his views on tribal people.

According to the Tribune, a 2014 report from the Council said: "America's first National Park should no longer have features named after the proponents and exponents of genocide, as is the case with Hayden Valley and Mount Doane."

Three years later, an official submission was made to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to have both Mount Doane and Hayden Valley changed to the First Peoples Mountain and Buffalo Nations Valley, respectively. The Board then put the matter to the Park County, the Wyoming Board of Geographic Names, and the National Park Service.

At the Wyoming Board of Geographic Names meeting, members voted seven to one to keep the name Hayden Valley, saying the geologist was "one of the great western surveyors," and that "there was some discussion regarding Hayden's opinions, but opinions are not as horrible as actions."

Representative image. Yellowstone National Park. iStock

They voted in favor of changing the name of Mount Doane, however, on the basis of his violent actions. Arguments made for keeping the name included the changing of maps being a "large undertaking," and that Doane had just been "following orders." According to minutes taken from the meeting, Jack Studley, a Cheyenne surveyor, said the "the purpose of the Board is not to correct injustice; features are named for individuals that had an impact on the area."

However, another board member, R.J. Piepler, said research supports claims of Doane's violence, finding "Doane was a horrible man who actively engaged in violence towards Native People, murdering women and children is not 'battle,'" the minutes state.

Once all three groups involved—the Park County, the Wyoming Board of Geographic Names, and the National Park Service—have submitted their views, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names will make a decision on the name change proposals.