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Don't Honor Proponents of Genocide! Tribes Want Yellowstone Names Changed

Tribal nations in Wyoming and Montana want Yellowstone National Park to change two geographic names derived from men who were “proponents and exponents of genocide.”

The Wyoming & Montana Tribal Leaders Council targets Hayden Valley and Mt. Doane. The men after whom the features were named hold revered historical positions in the documented exploration of Yellowstone and its designation as the world’s first national park.

U.S. Army Cavalry Captain Gustavus Cheyney Doane was a key member of the Washburn-Langford-Doane expedition to Yellowstone in 1870, before Yellowstone became a national park. Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden led the first federal expedition to Yellowstone in 1871, culminating in the establishment of the world’s first national park the following year.Hayden Valley stretches halfway across the park’s northern tier. Mount Doane rises to 10,656 feet (10,551 is another listed elevation) overlooking the Southeast Arm of Yellowstone Lake.

While the two explorers might be revered among buffs of western exploration, their legacy among tribal members is the opposite.

Lieutenant Gustavus Cheyney Doane

“Seven months before Lieutenant Gustavus Cheyney Doane, 2nd Cavalry, guided the 1870 Yellowstone Expedition, he had led the massacre of Chief Heavy Runner’s Piegan Blackfeet village on (Montana’s) Marias River,” Tribal Leaders Council Chairman Ivan Posey, an Eastern Shoshone from Wyoming, said in a letter. “On his subsequent application to become Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, he boasted ‘Greatest slaughter of Indians ever made by U.S. Troops,’” the letter said.

Most victims were women, children or elderly. Of the 173 victims killed on Jan. 23, 1870, only 15 were men of fighting age, the letter said.

Hayden advocated genocide, Posey’s letter said. It quoted the geologist saying, “unless they are localized and made to enter upon agricultural and pastoral pursuits they must ultimately be exterminated.” Hayden was referring to tribal members who were to be dispossessed by the establishment of Yellowstone National Park.

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The U.S. Geologic Survey Board on Geographic Names oversees the naming of geographic features. A note card dated May 7, 1930, available through online archives, recommended the northern Yellowstone valley be named for Hayden, “Eminent Geologist.”

The U.S. Geographic Board recommended “Mt. Doane” on the same date, noting that Doane commanded the military escort of the Washburn Expedition. Doane “made the first official report upon the wonders of the Yellowstone region,” the 1930 recommendation reads.

Yellowstone shouldn’t have such names, the tribal leaders said.

Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden

“These names must be changed with the Input (sic) of the affected Tribal Nations,” the Dec. 11, 2014, letter states. “It must be remembered that Yellowstone was a homeland, a sacred cultural landscape to twenty-six tribes, before it was a National Park. However, a visitor to Yellowstone today would not know that, due to the lack of cultural interpretation.

“A change in that respect is long overdue,” the letter states. “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.”

This story was reprinted with permission from WyoFile. This story first ran on January 13, 2015.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at or (307) 690-5586. Follow Angus on Twitter at @AngusThuermer.