Years Before Charlottesville, Tribes Urged Yellowstone National Park to Change the Names of a War Criminal and a White Supremacist That Defile Sacred Land. We’re Still Waiting.

Chief Stan Grier.

“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,” the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, which represents every tribe in Montana and Wyoming, declared in a December 2014 resolution that implored federal authorities to change those names. The National Park Service and US Geological Service were and remain unmoved. On Saturday, September 16, leaders from the Blackfoot Confederacy and Great Sioux Nation will be among the tribal leaders gathering at Yellowstone’s gateway in Gardiner, Montana to repeat: Our Land. Their Shame. Change the Names.

“I was the first and last man in [the] Piegan camp January 23, 1870. Greatest slaughter of Indians ever made by U.S. Troops,” Lieutenant Gustavus Cheyney Doane wrote in his 1889 application to become superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. Today, Doane is still celebrated as “the man who discovered Wonderland” for his “pathfinding” role in the 1870 Langford-Washburn Expedition that was instrumental in Yellowstone becoming the world’s first national park, but just seven months before, on January 23, 1870, Doane led the 2nd US Cavalry in what he boasted was that “greatest slaughter of Indians ever made.”

The victims of Company F’s rampage under Doane were the Piikani (Piegan) camped with Chief Heavy Runner on the Marias or Grizzly Bear River. Essentially defenseless as the able-bodied among the smallpox infected village were absent seeking sustenance for the sick, Doane’s berserkers fell upon the sleeping families as the first shards of the day revealed the lodges nestled in the trees on the Big Bend of the Marias. Chief Heavy Runner was the first to die, shot in cold blood as he handed a “good conduct paper” to whom survivors described as “the commanding officer.” And so began what later became known as the “Baker Massacre,” named after Colonel Eugene M. Baker, the expedition commander who was too drunk to descend the river bluffs and participate in the killing.

Baker and his superiors, Lieutenant General Phil Sheridan and General-in-Chief of the Army William T. Sherman, claimed it was a gallant victory, and that the “majority of the killed . . . were warriors,” some 173 they declared, and later protested. Of the army’s official record of 173 victims, US Indian Agent W.A. Pease revealed that only 15 were men of fighting age, the rest were elders, women and children, “None older than twelve years and many of them in their mother’s arms,” reported Pease. Joe Kipp, a guide and witness, counted 217 dead. Piikani oral history remembers many more. After the massacre, Doane subsequently ordered several of his Piikani prisoners be executed with axes. Instead of being court martialed, this war criminal was to have a mountain named in his honor, Mount Doane, which rises on the horizon above Yellowstone Lake in the world’s first national park.

Lt. Gustavus C. Doane.

“Even after the passage of twenty-one years, Doane spoke of the massacre without shame or remorse,” says Paul R. Wylie, author of Blood on the Marais, a critically-acclaimed examination of the massacre. “In a letter to Wilbur F. Sanders on January 7, 1891,” Wylie continues, “Doane boasted: ‘I remember the day when we slaughtered the Piegans, and how it occurred to me, as I sat down on the bank of the Marias & watched the stream of their blood, which ran down on the surface of the frozen river over half a mile, that the work we were then doing would be rewarded, as it has been.’ Clearly, Gustavus Cheney Doane was not worthy of having a mountain named for him, then or now, and I support the effort to have the Mount Doane name changed,” resolves the author.

“They’re trying to take away our culture. They’re trying to take away our history,” President Trump preached to his faithful at a Phoenix rally after “Blood and soil” fouled the streets of Charlottesville. No, we’re not Mr. President. We’re trying to get you and your believers to confront “your history” and permit us to present “American history,” which includes “our history,” that has been conspicuously absent from Yellowstone National Park since its second superintendent, Philetus Norris, decreed that the park must be presented as “Indian-free.” It remains an absurd fabrication, given not only the traditional knowledge of myriad tribes, including ours, that in summation presents Yellowstone as a matrix of sacred sites, but also considering archaeological evidence, that proves a tribal presence for over 10,000 years. “I prefer to believe” may have been Norris’s stance on his “Indian-free” Yellowstone, as it was Sherman’s verbatim response when confronted with the facts about Doane’s massacre. “I prefer to believe” could be Trump’s 2020 bumper sticker, homage to a sesquicentennial of “fake news.”.

“This week it’s Robert E. Lee. I notice that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week, or Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really do have to ask yourself, ‘Where does it stop?’” President Trump asked in his defense of the “very fine people” marching among those chanting “Jews will not replace us” and “Blood and soil” by torchlight, before, presumably, some of the same “very fine people” mingled with Nazi flag bearers the next day while attempting to form a protective cordon around the now infamous sculpture of General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park. As the Stars and Bars and Bonnie Blue Flag surrounded the monument, it was surely reminder enough, even for Trump, that the “culture” he fears is being “taken away” has gone about as far as the bronze-cast Lee since it was dedicated in 1924. Yellowstone National Park might want to make contingencies to host some of the same “very fine people” when Breitbart learns that the Indians want the “Indian-free” Park to change the name of Hayden Valley, in addition to Mount Doane.

Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden in 1870.

Eighteen-years after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden defended slave-holding Confederate plantation owners as “chivalrous and hospitable,” and insisted, “The treatment of the negro was not barbarous, and many seemingly cruel laws were greatly needed as measures of self-protection on the part of the whites.” Where Doane participated in genocide, Hayden advocated for it. “Unless they are localized and made to enter upon agricultural and pastoral pursuits they must ultimately be exterminated,” Hayden wrote of tribal peoples in his US Geological Survey of Wyoming, published by the government in 1872.

Based on a combination of Jay Cooke’s dollars and Hayden’s report from his 1871 Yellowstone Expedition, Congress passed and President Grant signed into law, the Act that established Yellowstone National Park. “If extermination is the result of non-compliance, then compulsion is an act of mercy,” was Hayden’s rationalization of his advocacy for genocide. “The lower race” is how he categorized tribal people. “Equally incontestable is the pre-eminence, both intellectual and moral, of the white race, which thus forms a natural aristocracy in the truest sense of the word,” Hayden concluded in his 1883 book, North America. The overwhelming majority of the approximately four-million annual visitors to Yellowstone pass through this stunning valley that, shamefully, still carries Hayden’s name. The valley is more a destination than merely a thoroughfare, particularly for those longing to catch a glimpse of a grizzly or a wolf in one of the ever-decreasing settings where these sacred beings cannot be blown away for their heads and hides during the surrounding states’ pay-to-kill trophy hunts, another facet of that “culture” Trump need not fear is endangered. There’s a sad symbiosis between that prevailing frontier mentality of killing and the ideology of the valley’s white supremacist namesake.

Among the Blackfoot Confederacy, our ancestors looked upon the valley with awe, this swath of earth and imagination inseparable, infused by the sacred and sanctified by the buffalo which then as now harmonize on that river plain in the ritual drama that is the apex of the renewal and regeneration of life. The Piikani were not alone. The site and phenomena inspired like emotions among the ancestors of the other twenty-six nations now quietly categorized as Associated Tribes of Yellowstone by the Department of Interior. For Yellowstone’s paying customers, a semblance of that prevails, as the buffalo are still drawn to the valley for the rut, and create the “buffalo jams” that as much mark the season as the bellowing bulls. For that reason, in the spirit of inspirational cross-cultural unity of Indigenous and visitor alike, tribal leaders have called for Hayden Valley to be renamed Buffalo Nations Valley, in honor of all Tribal Nations that have treaty rights and interests to Greater Yellowstone, and an ancestral connection to this sacred landscape and our relatives, the Buffalo Nation. Here is the place to end the “Indian-free” fiction, and in each roadside pull-out present interpretive signage from each of the Associated Tribes of Yellowstone that inform tourists of the respective tribes’ cultural and historic connections to this land.

If the names of a war criminal and a white supremacist are retained, at what point does ignorance or willful omission cease and indoctrination begin? When is there disquiet that a family’s album of smiles and selfies was made in a valley named after somebody who proposed the “extermination” of another race, and vindicated slave owners because, after all, he believed “the pre-eminence, both intellectual and moral, of the white race” was “incontestable”? An examination of the tribal experience and the disenfranchisement of other minority communities relative to Yellowstone and other national parks, such as Glacier, suggests an answer, one rooted in the arrogance of exceptionalism, reinforced in the subliminal perception of names like Doane and Hayden, and the conceit at the core of Stegner’s notion that this was America’s “best idea.” The historical reality is that the foundation of Yellowstone National Park was nothing more than an act of imperialism inspired by Manifest Destiny.

With Yellowstone, from the Doane and Hayden expeditions to the evolution of the “campfire” yarn in the shadow of “National Park Mountain” spun by Nathaniel Langford in The Discovery of Yellowstone Park, there was never a John Muir “the mountains are calling and I must go” moment so craved for by modern conservationists, it was more Langford, destined to be Yellowstone’s first superintendent, intriguing Jay Cooke, the financier of the Northern Pacific Railroad, as to the economic boon Yellowstone could be to the railroad. At the time, Jay Cooke & Co. was the nation’s most influential banking institution, and Cooke considered himself divinely selected to meet the challenge of delivering the nation’s second transcontinental railroad. He was, he said, “God’s chosen instrument” in opening the Northern Plains to settlement. It was not what he might do for its geothermal wonders, but what they might do toward the fulfillment of the Northern Pacific, when the moneyed clamored for tickets to gaze upon them, a new wave of investors was attracted to Cooke’s railroad, and the government doled out more land to the company that wasn’t theirs to give for the track, and right beside it, the trail of itinerant opportunists. “Our ancestors fought a war through 1872 and 1873 to stop that railroad,” says Chairman Brandon Sazue of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, explanation enough as to the Lakota-Dakota and Cheyenne peoples’ commitment to the preservation of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, the Yellowstone River, and what they knew lay beyond.

There’s an irony, albeit chilling, that tribal leaders are gathering in the shadow of an edifice that bears the name of Teddy Roosevelt. The arch as the man casts a shadow irrespective of time or day across that land. In Roosevelt, there are aspects of Doane and Hayden, and in their own ways both fit Roosevelt’s ideal of “the kernel of the distinctive and intensely American stock” of the pioneer “who drives the savage from the land and lays all civilized mankind under a debt to him.” As he stormed through the pages of his history he presented as The Winning of the West, there was scarcely a blow struck against tribal people that gave him pause, or a massacre he did not endorse. “On the whole,” began Roosevelt when he reflected upon the Sand Creek Massacre, it was “as righteous and beneficial a deed as ever took place on the frontier.” There is no reason to believe that he considered Doane’s actions on the Marais any differently. “The most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages,” he near salivated in the third volume of his fictive literary excursion West.

“All men of sane and wholesome thought must dismiss with impatient contempt the plea that these continents should be reserved for the use of scattered savage tribes, whose life was but a few degrees less meaningless, squalid, and ferocious than that of the wild beasts with whom they held joint ownership,” Roosevelt ranted in the same tome, degrading tribal people to the category of “wild beasts” to emphasize that Indians had no more rights to land title than something he might shoot and put on his study wall. At his most temperate, Roosevelt used “weaker race” to describe tribal people, akin to Hayden’s “lower race.” Roosevelt expressed frustration that “the race-importance of the work which is done by their pioneer brethren in wild and distant lands” was not fully appreciated by the populous. That “race-importance” being ethnic cleansing. On “miscegenation” there was no separation between Hayden and Roosevelt. By Hayden’s count, “mixed bloods” were “tainted by the negro element” and “half breeds” by “vices” from “the “indolence and wantonness of their Indian mothers.” Roosevelt spoke of interracial relationships as contributing to “race suicide,” and was in accord with the conclusion of his confidant and ideological accomplice, Madison Grant, who denounced people of mixed heritage as “race bastards” and wrote, “to bring halfbreeds into the world will be regarded as a social and racial crime of the first magnitude.”

It is Grant, not Roosevelt or George Bird Grinnell, that fashioned the Boone and Crockett Club into attaining what Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior under JFK and LBJ, considered “national policy” on contemporary wildlife management and land stewardship, which Udall said was born of “the Boone and Crockett wildlife creed.” In short, the legislative passage and legitimization of the killing gene. Today the Boone and Crockett Club is virtually silent on Madison Grant, which is odd, considering that from his entry onto the club’s executive committee in 1897 to the end of his tenure as club president in 1937, Grant was largely responsible for the perceived conservation milestones the club perpetually boasts of. In 1915, Grant proposed evolving from “game preservation” to “scientific management” of wildlife, and promoted theories that became accepted under the mantle of the Public Trust Doctrine. If Roosevelt can be sold as the father of American conservation, Grant can certainly be considered the patriarch of American wildlife management practices, across which his signature tenets are still present. For every delisted grizzly that’s about to die in Greater Yellowstone, and every wolf that has in recent years, this is why things are the way they are, and the rank underbelly of where they came from.

1915 was a big year for Grant, and explains why he is invisible on the Boone and Crockett Club’s website. As the Club published the first document that outlined what became known as wildlife management, Grant spent his spare time writing The Passing of the Great Race. It was, said Teddy Roosevelt, in a testimonial for the publication, “a capital book” that “all Americans should be sincerely grateful” that Grant had written. The Passing of the Great Race is one of the most racist screeds trees were unnecessarily sacrificed for in American literary history, and has justifiably been called “the bible of scientific racism.” The patriarchs of the Boone and Crockett Club and today’s wildlife management theorists, Roosevelt, Grinnell, and their intellectual inspiration, Grant, were also patriarchs of the American eugenics movement led by General Francis A. Walker, a colleague and peer of Ferdinand V. Hayden.

In his ramblings on the West, Roosevelt continually told his readers why it happened the way that he said it did, because none, least of all these “savage scattered tribes” could resist the march of the Aryan Anglo-Saxon, the English-speaking progeny of the Teutons and Nordics, whom had conquered and colonized with cross and sword as they went forth to cleanse the world, as Hayden had theorized before him. Roosevelt, Grant and Grinnell believed that they and the great and the good that they admitted to the Boone and Crockett Club were the descendants of the Teutonic Nordics, whom Grant described as “the white man par excellence,” with the Nordics being what he coined “the Master Race.” But, like “big game,” they saw themselves as an endangered species at the hands of the lower classes and “race bastards.”

What Teddy Roosevelt identified as “the facts our people most need to realize” in The Passing of the Great Race amounted to Grant’s code for the survival of the “master race,” which was to be based upon the passage of anti-miscegenation laws, sterilization programs, and race segregation, all underpinned by the theory of eugenics. Grant’s proposition for managing people was what he advocated for wildlife; the removal of the inferior, “those who are weak or unfit.” The “worthless types” and “race bastards” were to be “deprived of the capacity to procreate their defective strain.” By convincing the racially pure to abandon the “sentimental belief in the sanctity of human life” the “master race” would be secured and returned to dominate. While at the hub of the Boone and Crockett Club’s inner sanctum, Madison Grant used their theory of wildlife management to articulate the salvation of American “aristocracy,” represented by the elites of the club, in the face of the population onslaught from his “race bastards.” Said Grant, “The laws of nature require the obliteration of the unfit, and human life is valuable only when it is of use to the community or race.”

“Nowhere else in any civilized country is there to be found such a tract of veritable wonderland made accessible to all visitors,” Roosevelt proclaimed as the cornerstone was laid for his arch in Yellowstone on April 24, 1903. His perception of civilized was “Indian-free.” “This Park was created, and is now administered, for the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” he announced. “I hope to see a steadily increasing number of our people take advantage of its attractions.” His “our people” meaning white. Amid this fifth generation after, in the reignition and elevation of social conscience to counter newly emboldened white supremacists, President Trump asked, “Where does it stop?” It doesn’t stop, it continues with the names of war criminals and exponents of genocide being removed from America’s most iconic national park, and it begins when “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” becomes “all the people” in actuality, not in platitudes or superficiality.

Chief Stan Grier is Chief of the Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy. During his term in office, Chief Grier has acted to protect and reinforce the Piikani Nation’s treaty rights and government-to-government relationship with the US government, first established through the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty and reaffirmed with the 1855 Treaty of Lame Bull. Under Chief Grier’s leadership, the Piikani Nation initiated The Grizzly: A Treaty of Cooperation, Cultural Revitalizationand Restoration in opposition to the Trump Administration’s removal of protections from the grizzly bear, and by consequence, the removal of protections from sacred and ancestral lands in the grizzly’s Greater Yellowstone domain that are now vulnerable to extractive industry, logging, and Big Ag. The “Grizzly Treaty” is now the most signed treaty in history, with over 170-sovereign tribal nations as signatories.