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Ranch hopes to rename peak with derogatory name after Wyoming's Tetons

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Squaw Mountain

Squaw Mountain at the Ladder Ranch near Savery is blanketed by stars just before dawn on April 22, 2015. The Department of Interior has declared "squaw" a derogatory term and established a task force to remove the term from federal place names. The ranch has plans to change the mountain's name to the Petite Tetons.

A Colorado mountain with a name recently declared derogatory could be renamed as an homage to Wyoming’s most recognizable peaks.

Squaw Mountain, just over the Wyoming border, lies in the Little Snake River Valley.

While the southern part of the mountain is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the northern face lies on Ladder Ranch near Savery, owned by Pat and Sharon O’Toole and operated by their family. The ranch straddles the border, and the Little Snake River crosses between Wyoming and Colorado 33 times within its bounds, son Ea’mon O’Toole said.

In a nod to the Grand Tetons, on the Snake River in northwest Wyoming, O’Toole said his family hopes to rename the peak the “Petite Tetons.”

Wyoming has 43 federal places with 'squaw' in the name. A recent order will change that.

An order from the Department of the Interior in November declared “squaw” a derogatory term, and created a task force dedicated to replacing federal place names that use the word.

Some indigenous people have long condemned the use of the word, which has been used as an ethnic and sexist slur meaning a native woman. According to Indian Country Today, “squaw” has a long, complex history but non-Indigenous people in the last couple centuries have largely co-opted the word, often using it to refer to Indigenous women disparagingly.

A database from the U.S. Geological Survey shows there are 43 places on federal land in Wyoming using the term, and 32 in Colorado.

According to data from the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado has two other Squaw Mountains besides the one on Ladder Ranch — one in the Front Range and the other slightly to the west of Colorado Springs.

While the Grand Tetons reach 13,775 feet at their highest peak, the proposed “Petite Tetons” stand at 8,545 feet.

“We had been talking about (changing) it for the last couple years,” O’Toole said. “There have been changes already going on across the country, for names that are more or less degrading. When this order came out, we thought, let’s just go ahead and use the (Teton) name.”

The ranch hasn’t been contacted by anyone, including local Indigenous people, objecting to the mountain’s name, but the family decided to try and get ahead of the federal order if they could.

“Being that we own half the mountain, it seems like we should get some say,” O’Toole said.

O’Toole and his sister, Bridget, drew up a T-shirt design with the new name and posted it on Facebook. Within three days, he said, they had 60 orders.

He said his family has contacted the local BLM field office in an attempt to submit their proposal for renaming the mountain, but has not heard back as of this week.

The regional spokesperson for the BLM could not be reached for comment. Bruce Sillitoe, field manager of the agency’s Little Snake River outpost, said his office hadn’t heard anything about the renaming effort as of this week.

According to the Interior, the federal committees tasked with renaming these federal places will look to other geographical features in the area for inspiration when coming up with replacements.

Most renaming efforts directed at the department come from citizen requests — and “squaw” has had an inordinate amount, according to the Interior.

The department estimates the renaming process, which will affect around 650 places, should be complete within a year. Once new names are identified, citizens will be able to submit written input to the Interior on the proposed changes.

Follow city and crime reporter Ellen Gerst on Twitter at @ellengerst.

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