Moab canyon renamed to more tastefully honor Grandstaff |

Moab canyon renamed to more tastefully honor Grandstaff

June Robinson looks at the view of Glenwood at night after turning on the switch to light the cross atop Red Mountain for the holiday season in a previous year.
Kara K. Pearson / Post Independent file |

William Grandstaff fled Moab in the late 1800s and found greater peace, belonging in Glenwood Springs. His memory now lives on through the lit-up cross that overlooks the town.

But just north of Moab, Utah, “Negro Bill Canyon” was an ode — albeit a racist one — to the once-local cattle driver. On Thursday, however, a federal board approved the new name of Grandstaff Canyon, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. The change is effective immediately.

Before being called “Negro Bill Canyon,” the more derogatory N-word was used. The name was officially changed in the 1940s-50s, according to the Tribune, but the more offensive name was still used in Army maps up until the 1960s.

Petitions had been presented since 2001 to rename Negro Bill Canyon, but were rejected by locally elected officials. The Grand County Council reversed the decision earlier this year.

“It needed to go because it was enabling,” Mary McGann, vice chairwoman of the Grand County Council told the Tribune. “It was the right thing to do.”

Grandstaff was reportedly born a slave in Alabama and came to Utah in 1877. He inhabited an abandoned fort, raised cattle and prospected in the area. According to a 2016 Post Independent article, Grandstaff lived in the fort with a trapper who went by “Frenchie.” Reports show that the two weren’t always friendly, specifically in an incident where Frenchie tried to kill Grandstaff. He eventually fled the area after getting into hot water for selling whiskey to Native Americans.

In Glenwood Springs, Grandstaff appeared to have at times operated a ferry and tavern in South Canyon. Grandstaff eventually moved into a cabin on Red Mountain. According to the Glenwood Post, it was there where he “located a number of claims which he insisted contained fabulous riches.”

But his health deteriorated by the summer of 1901. After he hadn’t been seen for several weeks, George “Luther” Kinney, a local boy, was sent to check on him. He found Grandstaff, who had appeared to have been dead for quite some time. The coroner was out of town so Judge Hedden proclaimed the cause of death: starvation. Grandstaff was buried under a cross-shaped tree.

A lit-up cross now stands on top of Red Mountain as Glenwood Springs’ own ode to Grandstaff. The Red Mountain Cross Preservation Association was founded to maintain it. The cross is now lit up on select holidays and in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and recently glowed to honor the victims of this month’s mass shooting in Las Vegas.

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