In light of the wisdom that led the U.S. Board of Geographic Names to rename Yellowstone National Park’s Mount Doane as First Peoples Mountain, Laramie should look at the namesakes of our downtown east-west avenues. 


Gustavus Doane — a U.S. Army Officer who led, and later bragged about, the Marias Massacre of 1870 in which an estimated 173 Native Americans were killed — looks no worse than the names on streets around the Gem City. 

Search up a map of Laramie, and scan the names that run perpendicular to the numbered streets. Many of those streets carry the names of people who committed atrocities. So why not name them after someone or something else? 

Laramie’s street names aren’t set in stone, they’ve changed before. Back in 1868, when Laramie was organizing, the streets were called “A,” “B,” and “C,” and Front, Second, and Third, etc. As the town’s founding fathers consolidated their power, they renamed the east-west streets after their current heroes. 

An examination of those heroes provides insight into their beliefs, some of which no longer align with Laramie’s community values. 

Canby Street: General Edward Canby was an accomplished Union General. He defeated the Confederate army in the only Western engagement at the Battle of Glorietta Pass in New Mexico. General Grant considered him non-aggressive but admired his administrative and legal skills, so he posted him to the Pacific Northwest. During tense peace negotiations with the Modoc, Canby became the only Civil War-era general killed during the Indian Wars, shot during a peace council meeting. 

By my measure, Canby was a good enough guy. Let’s keep him.

Harney Street: “Harney, the Butcher” was an accomplished general like Canby. Enrolled at West Point, William Harney graduated with honors after a kangaroo court acquitted him of murdering an enslaved woman with his bare hands. During the Mexican-American War, he was court-martialed for disobeying orders and mistreating captured prisoners. Recalled from vacation in Paris after the 1854 Grattan Massacre near Fort Laramie, Harney retaliated by massacring hundreds of innocent Lakota Sioux, some by firing cannons into a cave sheltering elders, women and children. Harney Street is now Laramie’s secondary east-west thoroughfare with its beautiful new bridge over the Union Pacific rail yards. 

Harney’s reputation was unsavory even by the standards of his day. Viewed from roughly 175 years on, the man’s conduct looks downright appalling. His eponymous street already becomes Snowy Range Road at the edge of town. How about extending the latter moniker into East Laramie, relegating Harney the Butcher to the trash heap of history?

Gibbon Street: A decorated Union general who participated in many of the Civil War’s critical battles, John Gibbon, rode to Major Marcus Renos’s rescue after the disastrous Battle of the Little Big Horn. He arrived in time to help bury the bodies. Later, Gibbon pursued the fleeing Nez Perce tribe after General Canby was killed and engaged them in the Battle of the Big Hole in far-western Montana. Pinned down by opposition sniper fire, he was forced to withdraw; both sides sustained heavy casualties. But Gibbon’s pursuit of Chief Joseph continued up into Canada. Dead Indian Pass, near present-day Cody, is named for a gravely wounded warrior left behind by the retreating Nez Perce. Discovered by the advancing troopers, he was shot dead on the spot. 

General Gibbon isn’t exactly my idea of a hero, but he was following orders.

Bradley Street: Colonel L. P. Bradley served as the commander of Fort Sanders from October 1870 to December 1871, just a few miles south of Laramie. A decorated Union volunteer Civil War officer, he accepted a post-war army commission and campaigned for the next ten years against the indigenous tribes. Bradley somehow avoided controversial engagements and was in charge at Fort Robinson when Crazy Horse was accidentally stabbed and killed. His official version of Crazy Horse’s death altered the facts significantly to keep the peace. Ruling? One of the better ones.

Lewis Street and Clark Street: These streets were named for the famous explorers Merriwether Lewis and William Clark. Even though Clark abused his power as Governor of Missouri Territory and Lewis was driven to suicide by political foes, they remain, hands down, heroes of Western development. 

Consensus? Two thumbs up.

Frémont Street: Colonel John Frémont, “The Pathfinder,” led several well-publicized “exploratory” expeditions across Wyoming guided by Kit Carson. He was a terrible leader and, more than once, unnecessarily endangered the men under his command. Motivated by his quest for gold and power, Frémont suffered a career setback when he was court-martialed for refusing a direct order to surrender the self-appointed governorship of California. The son-in-law of an influential Democratic senator, he nevertheless ran for president as a Republican in 1850 and lost. He died in obscurity in 1890 and is buried in New York City. 

Should his name remain in Laramie? Why not. His brilliant personal marketing campaign concealed his incompetence.

Laramie’s original street naming protocol was numerical and alphabetical, as shown on this 1875 map. (American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, Downey Family Papers)

Garfield Street: James A. Garfield was assassinated six months after being inaugurated as the 20th President of the United States by a disgruntled man seeking a civil service appointment. A storied representative from Ohio, he was involved but never convicted in several corruption schemes, from the Union Pacific Railroad Credit Mobilier bribery scandal to the fraudulent election of Rutherford B. Hayes. Consensus? We can do better than this guy.

Custer Street: Colonel George Armstrong Custer graduated at the bottom of his 1861 West Point class but distinguished himself during the Civil War. He infamously led five companies of cavalrymen to their deaths at the Battle of Little Big Horn, troops that included two of his brothers, his brother-in-law and a nephew. Young and reckless, he famously underestimated the size of the Sioux encampment. 

Ruling? Thumbs down.

Kearney Street: General Phil Kearney was a Mexican-American War veteran who later fought as a one-armed mercenary for Napoleon. Upon his return, he regained his commission and served in the Civil War, where he refused General Robert McClelland’s direct order to retreat after the Battle of Malvern Hill. Confederate troops shot and killed him after the Battle of Chantilly while he was scouting out enemy lines at night. A short-lived fort along the illegal Bozeman Trail was named for him, but it was abandoned after Red Cloud won his war. 

Laramie worthy? Meh.

Sheridan Street: General Phillip “Fightin’ Phil” Sheridan was another Civil War hero. As commander of the Army of the Missouri, he was quoted as saying, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” He was instrumental in establishing and protecting Yellowstone National Park and died of a heart attack at age 57. 

Is Sheridan our guy? Double meh.

So Laramie’s early leaders honored one president, three explorers, eight military men and a businessman by naming streets after them. There are no MLK or JFK avenues; none are named for women, even though today’s Wyoming is known as the “Equality State.” All names have remained the same since 1872, although many have been added in the past hundred years. Block by block, the new street names are all descriptively banal, numbered or male.

What does this say about Laramie? That it is mired in the past and turns a deaf ear to current events? Look at the downtown redevelopment that is happening in Laradise now. Look at the diverse student body and the adventure sports industries that dominate the Second Street shopping district. Look at the public art, listen to the music. These patrons are young, energetic and educated. They might know about Harney the Butcher or the stupidity of Custer. And then what would they conclude?

That Laramie needs to go with the flow and realize that it is the 21st Century, and we all need to grow.

Correction: This column has been updated to remove information about University Avenue and Ivinson Avenue because some of it was inaccurate. —Ed.

Kris McGuire has been a rancher on the Laramie Plains since 1992. Trained as a wildlife biologist, Kris raised cattle and cashmere goats until retirement in 2000. Author of the memoir, "Meanwhile, Back...

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  1. I was in East Thermopolous, exploring the area on a slow summer afternoon. I noticed a street sign, “CAVE”. I thought it nice to name a street
    Cave Street and I was sure there were some caves nearby. Then I thought it could be C AVE instead of CAVE. I thought I could resolve the question by walking to the next street. It was DAVE. So it’s CAVE and DAVE streets in East Thermopolis.

  2. Thanks for the article and information…. I agree with your assessments as well as the one Bern makes on the genociders.

    I will say that Garfield is one interesting character and his home is a beautiful place. In addition the Garfield Xitter account is one of the most engaging ones left in that now dead zone. I learn a lot about the time post Civil War to WWI from that wonderful NPS account. The only US House Rep, Senate Elect person to be elected President.

  3. Kearney and Sheridan were among the Union’s best generals. Kearney’s career was cut tragically short. Sheridan is up there with Grant, Sherman and Thomas in his contribution to the Union victory. Shame to forget this.

  4. This light-hearted article doesn’t go nearly far enough. Three Laramie streets are named for killers with the word “Massacre” justifiably added after their names by historians: Custer Massacre, Harney Massacre, and Baker Massacre. Each was a verifiable genocidaire–a killer of large numbers of unarmed noncombatants including women and children because of their race and religion. No map feature, sign, or statue should commemorate their names. Their names should be unspeakable.

  5. Changing the street names is a Pandora’s box of trouble and probably won’t happen. Predictably, some will attack the writer instead of sticking to the talking points which is a sad part of today’s world. I enjoyed the article as the Custer St. name has always bothered me and I had wondered about the others.

  6. There are several errors in this article.
    1. University Avenue was not originally Thornburgh. It was originally Center Street. Thornburgh Street was originally South A Street and renamed with several other streets in 1889 not when the depot burned down in 1917. Thornburgh street was renamed Ivinson Avenue in 1928 to honor Edward Ivinson.
    2. Thornburgh is misspelled as Thornburg and Thornberg.
    3. Ivinson was not a “British aristocrat.” He was born to a plantation manager on St Croix (his father later went bankrupt). We know that when Edward arrived in America in about 1852 he was a simple clerk in a clothing store.
    4. Ivinson did not found the first bank in Laramie. Rogers & Co. ( a Cheyenne banking concern) did that in 1869. Ivinson bought out that company’s successor in 1871 and ran the bank as a private company until he received a national charter in 1873.
    5. Ivinson did not build the territorial penitentiary. His bid for the construction was not accepted. He was for two years a “commissioner” of the prison, helping to oversee its operations.
    6. Jane Ivinson did not die due to lack of medical care. While suffering and eventually dying of cancer, she was attended to by her personal physician, Dr. H.E. McCollum
    7. While Ivinson provided funds to the Episcopal Church for operating the orphanage, he did not construct the any of the three buildings that housed it before it moved north of town.
    8. Ivinson Memorial Hospital is not named for Edward Ivinson. It is named for his wife Jane.
    9. The Ivinson Home for Ladies was not one of Ivinson’s homes. He did leave the money in his estate that built it after his death.

    Kim Viner, author of “Rediscovering the Ivinsons.”

  7. Remember when Chuck Grey wanted to rename Wyoming BLVD to president Donald J Trump Highway. HAHAHAH

  8. I read the article by Kris McGuire on Laramie street names. Laramie street names reflect the men and activities of the time of Laramie’s creation. They are history………..Laramie’s history. While this article is actually rather interesting…………lets not destroy history by renaming streets. There seems to be a rage around the country where busybodies want to rename everything (and pulling down statues) to something that better fits their sensibilities. Here in KC this has been going on for several years…………major thoroughfares have been renamed MLK Boulevard, etc . Wealthy persons of the past that contributed to schools, helped build parks, etc etc are now being renamed because they did something 200 years ago that some more enlightened person of today doesn’t like. If Sheridan street in Laramie is renamed MLK street…..I will know Wyoming has gone over the edge like the rest of the country. Resist this madness……..please. Hang onto what makes Wyoming unique………don’t get pulled into the rage sweeping the rest of America. Kris McGuire could do something actually useful……..maybe building something in Laramie that solves a real problem and then she can name it whatever she likes… the meantime……leave the history of Laramie alone…..warts and all.

  9. Quite a list.
    One more. I used to live in Fetterman, named after a cavalry officer who got overconfident, and ended up outnumbered, up around Buffalo.

  10. You should stick to Goat ranching – Changing names of streets does not change history, nor does it obfuscate participants in atrocities or affronts made before our newly “woke” culture. Just a lot of expense which accomplishes nothing but ratifying your new “Wisdom”. Good luck with that. Spend the money on “988” service.

    1. You sound a bit grump, Phil, but I agree. These historical names suit Laramie, be they good, meh, or ugly. They’re our history. It is what it is. Appreciate your first attempt at grading people on whether they deserve a street name, Kris, but hopefully we won’t have to vote on this.
      Next thing you know, we’ll be changing the names of birds, as well as the Audubon Society, if named after people with suspect sentiments. Wait — we’re already doing that….