Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain (and other geographic name changes)

The Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board (Board) recently received approval for its first renaming recommendation: Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain in Clear Creek County.

A snowy road leads into an evergreen forest, with the peak of Mestaa'ehehe Mountain in the background.
Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain in Clear Creek County (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Board was established by Governor Jared Polis in 2020 to evaluate proposals for new names and name changes of geographic features like mountains, creeks, meadows, gulches, and more. The Board’s current list of requests largely includes features that have offensive or derogatory names, part of a national effort to reassess place names, landmarks, and monuments.

This was the case with Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain, which replaces a name containing a slur targeting Indigenous women. Mestaa’ėhehe (pronounced mes-taw-HAY; listen to the name pronunciation here) translates to “Owl Woman.” The name honors Mistanta, a Cheyenne woman who served as a linguistic and cultural translator between Indigenous plains tribes and the white traders who had occupied the area around Bent’s Fort in the early 1800s. Mistanta was, and still is, a highly respected historical figure who is credited with navigating the complex relationships between plains tribes and Anglo-American settlers. Her efforts helped to facilitate a period of peace in southeastern Colorado that preceded the violence of the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864. The Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain name change gives us an opportunity to revisit Mistanta’s incredible story, which you can explore here.

The Board has also recommended a new name for an offensively named gulch in Chaffee County. Their recommendation, Yan Sing, translates to “resilience” in Chinese. While it not yet officially approved, this name is intended honor the Chinese American experience in Colorado. To learn more about the history of Asian Americans in Colorado and the Great Plains region, check out this entry from the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains.

The effort to rename geographic features will continue for years to come and provides us with a chance to reflect on Colorado’s history, re-examine the people and cultures we choose to honor with place names, and create a more welcoming state for everyone.

For more information, take a look at the materials on the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board’s website. There you can find meeting agendas, name recommendations, and a list of pending renaming requests that will be considered by the Board.