Cedaredge High School students Aspen Furubotten and Rebecca Hofius

Cedaredge High School students Aspen Furubotten and Rebecca Hofius (front l-r) were a part of finding a new name for Negro Creek/Mesa near Orchard City. Delta County Commissioners Don Suppes, Mark Roeber and Mike Lane (back row l-r).

Negro Creek/Mesa to undergo name change

In the fall of 2019, Delta County Commissioners received a letter from the U.S. Board on Geographic/ Names Domestic Names Committee notifying them of a proposed name change to an obscure creek southwest of Orchard City.

According to the letter dated Nov. 5, “An individual associated with the University of Colorado submitted a proposal to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN) to change the name Negro Creek, a tributary of Tongue Creek near Orchard City, to Hops Creek. The proponent objects to the “racial slur” in the current name and proposes a name that refers to Colorado’s beer brewing industry.”

Amanda Cadorette, of Denver, is named in the BGN’s Quarterly List 437 as the person alleging that the creek’s current name is racial in nature. In 1963 the U.S Secretary of the Interior issued a mandate which prevented the n-word in geographic names, replacing it with the word “Negro” in an effort to eliminate racial slurs from geographic sites.

According to the proposed name change case summary, “the name Negro Creek has been shown on USGS maps since 1962. Army Map Service maps published prior to 1976 showed the pejorative form of the name. The pejorative form dates to at least 1885 when it was mentioned in an article in The Delta Chief. This name was used locally and on U.S. Forest Service maps until 1966, when the BGN voted to change it to Negro Creek “to conform with the Board’s policy on derogatory names” and also to correct the application of the name. The name Negro Creek is used by many Federal agencies, the Colorado Water Court, and the Western Slope Conservation Center. GNIS lists another stream named Negro Creek 27 miles northeast in Mesa County. The proponent of this change has also proposed that Negro Draw in Montezuma County be changed to Hops Draw.”

In an effort to put a positive spin on the potentially controversial issue, Suppes contacted Cedaredge High School where student council members offered to provide new names for both the creek and the mesa as a class challenge.

“Part of their (BGN) process is to send that (name suggestion) to county commissioners to get their approval. Hops is not an appropriate name since we haven’t grown hops in the valley until the last few years. I was hoping for something more historical or a closer fit,” said Suppes during a recent board meeting.

Rising to the challenge, Cedaredge freshman class submitted the name Clay Creek/ Mesa because of the area’s abundant adobe clay and the creek proximity to the clay trap shooting club. The sophomore class submitted Mouth Creek/ Mesa because of its proximity to Tongue Creek. The junior class submitted the name Kubeba Creek/Mesa a Swahili name for “bear” which correlates with the school’s Bruin mascot and to honor the wildlife in Delta County. The senior class suggested the name Colorful Creek and Colorful Mesa referencing the well known “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” state welcome signs.

The board unanimously passed Commissioner Mike Lane’s motion that the board recommend that BGN rename Negro Creek/Mesa to Clay Creek/Mesa.

A case brief for each proposed name change will be added to the next U.S. Board on Geographic Names quarterly review list according to Matt O’Donnell,a technology contractor for BGN.

“We would typically seek a recommendation from the Colorado Board on Geographic Names; however, that organization is currently inactive. We have recently been instructed by the Governor’s office to not process any proposals in Colorado until the Colorado Board on Geographic Names is reinstated. That process will begin soon, but I can’t say how long it would take before your proposals would be ready for a U.S BGN vote. In accordance with Federal policies regarding Tribal consultation, we are required to ask any American Indian Tribes with an interest in the area if they have an opinion,” stated O’Donnell in a response email to the board’s recent name choice.

In addition, BGN will reach out to the Bureau of Land Management to make a recommendation on the name proposals. O’Donnell also told the board that all responses to the name proposals would need to go before the Colorado Board for comment before the U.S BGN could vote on an appropriate name change.

Commissioners will be notified once BFN reaches a conclusive decision on a new name for Negro Creek/Mesa.

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