The Wyoming & Montana Tribal Leaders Council targets Hayden Valley and Mt. Doane as being named after men who were proponents of genocide. (wiki commons)

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.

Mt. Doane was named in honor of Capt. Gustavus Cheyney Doane.
Mt. Doane was named in honor of Capt. Gustavus Cheyney Doane. (Click to enlarge)

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.

“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.

Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden led the first federal expedition to Yellowstone in 1871. (click to enlarge)
Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden led the first federal expedition to Yellowstone in 1871. (click to enlarge)

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.

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.

“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.”

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)...

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  1. My family just visited Yellowstone for the first time. I am loving learning the history of the region and appalled at some of the opinions of some (most) of the early white leaders.
    I support changing the names of Hayden snd Doane in the park.
    I’m late to this topic- in wonder what’s happened recently?

  2. The great Bear Lodge, Mato Tipila, is also yet known by some ridiculous imaginary thing not related to life and Earth. Presently called “devil’s tower,” this name must again reflect the vision and meaning of the land.

    By what names can we know the valley along the upper Yellowstone? Each original name will be good, and of course all should be known.

    We are watching the return of the Wolf, maybe called by the Oceti Sakowin, words that sound like: Shungmanitou Tanka, out here in the farther west, coming again from the North.

    Pte, or Bison, return has gotten some difficulty in acceptance as some people near Badlands now feel that restoration is less important than making cash from domestic cattle, even though that return was considered as part of the possible National Park there.

    Each People have important teaching stories concerning these Animals. Born where these were still known, we have long awaited this return, healing and balancing the Earth..

    Michael McLaughlin

  3. What would be an argument for NOT having the names changed? Mt McKinley was changed to Denali by the people of Alaska, but unfortunately the congressional delegation from Ohio, home of William McKinley, has blocked the name change at the federal level for many years now. Why is this? There MUST be a discussion why this is because i have a feeling a root is more than just a name change.

  4. This is interesting. I don’t know if the names of landmarks must be changed. But, certainly, visitors to Yellowstone should have the opportunity to learn the history of the people involved. In fact, it’s good for us all to know our history.