The best way to preserve history is to include William Grandstaff’s full and correct name in the canyon name – as well as to construct a plaque at the trailhead with more information. As it stands now, Moab does not know much about William Grandstaff, except that a black man lived in the canyon at one time. We can do better.
By contrast, I lived in Glenwood Springs, Colo., prior to moving to Moab. As some know, William Grandstaff moved to Glenwood after his four years in Moab. There, he owned a saloon for a short period of time (the Grandstaff Saloon), patented several mining claims, and homesteaded on Red Mountain, just above the city. Glenwood residents know Grandstaff’s story, and it’s not because his homestead was known as Nigger Mountain at one time. Instead, Glenwood honors the man by: building a cross on the top Red Mountain as a memorial to Grandstaff, installing a trailhead plaque that explains his legacy, and publishing stories and information periodically about him in the Glenwood Post Independent.
In addition, census data, real property records, and articles in various Colorado papers, which I have reviewed, show that Grandstaff spelled his last name with a “d” and did not use the nickname Nigger Bill himself. Why then do we perpetuate it with a modified nickname?
Many opponents also point to the NAACP’s decision not to support the change instead of engaging in the difficult conversation about the use of the term Negro in our local landscape. The NAACP’s decision is not surprising; it has larger causes of focus rather than eliminating Negro from the national dictionary. And, the NAACP’s position is not dispositive for what is right for Moab. Instead, we must ask ourselves whether we truly honor history and Grandstaff himself by perpetuating the nickname Nigger Bill in its current form.
I urge the city and county to support a name for the canyon which reflects the man and his legacy – not his race. And, I request that the city and county sign a letter in support of the USGS application for name change in 2013.