by Marissa Lorenz
The US Board on Geographic Names is considering a proposal first put forward by Summit County Commissioners to change the name of the Gore Range to the Nuchu Range. A letter requesting response on the proposal was discussed by the Grand County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on Tuesday, with varied responses.
Commissioner Rich Cimino, who serves on the newly revised Colorado advisory board for geographic names, has mentioned the issue previously and initiated discussion by asking where the letter had come from.
Commissioner Kristen Manguso, who chaired the BOCC in 2020 and is the elected for the 3rd district, through which the Gore Range passes, noted that it had been sent to her.
Before further conversation was had, Cimino indicated that he didn’t think immediate action was necessary. “I think we’re caught in the middle of the State of Colorado revising their geographic naming advisory board,” he stated. “I think we probably would have gotten this anyway, but it would normally have been a dialogue from the County to the National Board.
“Right now it’s very much those making the request are first in line. Then you oppose it, support it, or don’t vote. It’s a tough process and not a process in which you come together to discuss the proposed name. It’s a very controversial thing, in my opinion,” Cimino offered.
The Gore Range is a mountain range stretching from the area of Rabbit Ears Pass to Chicago Ridge, south of Vail. It comprises part of the landscape in Jackson, Routt, Grand, Summit, and Eagle counties.
The range, along with the similarly named Gore Pass and Gore Canyon–all well-recognized landmarks in the Kremmling area–are so-called after an Irish aristocrat, Sir St. George Gore, who passed through the Rocky Mountains between 1854 and 1857, according to articles by the Grand County Historical Association (GCHA).
Jim Bridger and Joseph Chattillon served as guides to Gore during this time, and Bridger’s biography indicates that “Gore had an entourage of 40 workers, 25 wagons, 24 mules, 112 horses, three milk cows, and 14 dogs.” It observes that he traveled in luxury, with a brass bed, nightly hot baths, and “superb food served on a lace tablecloth set with fine silver and crystal.”
Sir Gore claimed to have killed 2,500 buffalo, 40 grizzly bears, and “countless deer, elk, and antelope” during his “American Hunt.” And one GCHA document states that “the Indians were shocked at the expedition’s wanton slaughter of every game animal in sight.”
But it is unclear through which part of Middle Park Gore and his party traveled. At most, he spent a few months in the area, an area that had been called home by, primarily, the Ute people for centuries, until they were “allocated” to the White River Ute Indian Agency near Meeker, CO under the Treaty of 1868, a treaty entered into by the Sioux and Arapaho nations, but not by the Ute themselves. Gore returned to the United Kingdom in 1857 and remained unmarried and childless until his death in 1878.
According to the brief accompanying the request for response on the proposed name change, the descendants of those Ute people, represented by Ute Tribal leadership of the Northern Ute, Southern Ute, and Ute Mountain tribes, have agreed on the “Nuchu Range” as the “best replacement name.”
“Nuchu Range means the Ute’s Range in the Ute language,” reads the brief, “and the name [was] used historically.” But that history was not the one being discussed at the BOCC.
“I don’t support this at all,” offered Commissioner Merrit Linke. “I think that it’s trying to change history from 150 years ago. I get it, that Mr. Gore–in 1857 or whenever it was–wasn’t maybe, by today’s standards, someone that we would look up to in terms of what he did. But I don’t think changing the name of the Gore Range today to Numchuk, or Noochuk, or whatever it is, is really going to fix all those things. So I’m really reluctant to do this at this point. I don’t see value in putting that much time and effort into naming things in an effort to change history.”
Shanna Ganne, GCHA Executive Director, offers additional insight into the history, observing, “The Ute or Nuchu people of Grand County date back to 1,200 AD. The tribal bands roamed throughout Colorado and Grand County until their forcible removal in 1881 to three separate reservations. The now named Gore Pass was the route taken to winter in the low country.
“Further evidence of Ute presence in the area was found in the Kremmling/Radium area in the form of wikiups, brush structures found in villages. The Utes have been demonized throughout Grand County history with stories of the Meeker Massacre and the killing
of an innocent man in retribution for the death of Tabernash.”
Ganne explains that the United States Geological Survey was established in 1879, two years prior to the removal of the Ute tribes
in Grand County. “The USGS is now responsible for the naming of geological features and does have a set criteria,” she notes. “The person must be deceased for at least five years, or made a civic contribution to the community, or have a direct and long-term association with the feature.”
“As we examine the names of Gore Pass or Nuchu Pass,” Ganne asks, “which name honors the history and identity of our community? Which name honors the values of our community?”
The US Board on Geographic Names (BGN) was then established in 1890, under President Benjamin Harrison, and was “given authority to resolve all unsettled questions concerning geographic names.”
A primary principle used to help determine official names since that time is present-day local usage, according to the current iteration within the BGN, the Domestic Names Committee. Other factors include “established usage, historical usage, legal usage, legislated usage, local usage, spoken usage, and written usage.”
In concluding discussion, Manguso expressed a lack of adequate information on the issue, stating, “I just don’t know yet. Lots of people call it Eagle’s Nest. (…) Why wouldn’t they go to a name that it’s also know as?–Eagle’s Nest. I have to look at
it more. I don’t have an opinion yet. I haven’t studied it enough yet.”
Documents appeared to explicitly preclude the name of Eagle’s Nest from the options, as it is used for a specific part of the 75-mile range and to refer to the already federally-recognized Eagle’s Nest Wilderness area within the range.
Cimino seemed to sidestep any decision-making responsibility, indicating that he would defer to the other commissioners, given
that he serves on the State board reviewing the proposal. The Board agreed to table the discussion to an unspecified time, awaiting further information on the subject.
by Marissa Lorenz