BLM officials said that while viewpoints differ regarding the best way to honor William Grandstaff, the namesake of Negro Bill Canyon, and to interpret his important role as a mixed-race early settler in the Moab area, “differences in documented written information and local oral history have led to different interpretations of historical events.”
“The BLM has been part of changing perspective that emphasizes using the name he used for himself, based on historical records,” agency officials said in a news release.
The BLM renamed the campground near the mouth of the canyon several years ago and renamed the trailhead last year. An interpretive sign near the trailhead includes known facts about William Grandstaff and his ties to the canyon.
“BLM’s intent is to correct misconceptions, such as the spelling of Grandstaff’s name, and portray what is known based on existing historical records,” the news release stated.
Most accredited sources indicate William Grandstaff was born in Alabama in 1840. He was of mixed race, most likely of African and American Indian descent. He arrived in Utah in 1877, and was one of Moab’s first settlers, taking up residence in the abandoned Elk Mountain Mission Fort north of town. The fort had been abandoned more than 20 years earlier due to conflicts between early pioneers and local Indians.
Grandstaff created a small garden, built two ice houses east of the fort, and also built a cabin in the canyon where he grazed cattle and established friendly relations with the local Indians, according to historical sources. He left in 1881.
Later historical accounts offer a picture of an earnest and respected businessman in Colorado. He was married in 1891, although his wife died only a few years later. He retreated to a cabin on Red Mountain near Glenwood Springs, Colorado, where he died in 1901.
“Census sheets from 1880 and 1900, legal documents, and several news articles in Glenwood papers spelled his name “Grandstaff,” which is the spelling that BLM chose for the trailhead and interpretive signs,” BLM officials said.
Renaming the trailhead does not affect the name of the canyon. That authority lies with the United States Board on Geographic Names. However, the BLM’s position is consistent with the recent vote by Grand County Council recommending that the name of the canyon be changed, according to the news release.
“The BLM has recommended to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names that the canyon be renamed “Grandstaff Canyon,” said Gary Torres, BLM-Utah acting associate state director. “This action, as well as renaming the trailhead and campground, and replacing these signs, signal BLM’s commitment to honoring William Grandstaff and preserving his important role in local history.”
BLM officials said the signs, which cost in excess of $800 each, are expensive to replace and they are asking the public to respect the signs and “to protect public lands and resources.”