Certainly Louis Williams, the major proponent of changing the name to William Grandstaff Canyon, knows this. In an interview with Utah Public Radio, Williams states, “I just couldn’t accept the idea that William Grandstaff came here and said, ‘my name is N... Bill. I just couldn’t believe it.” He continues to say that local historians either “didn’t care” or just “ignored” what happened to Grandstaff after he left Moab to end his life in Glenwood Springs, Colo. Had Mr. Williams consulted published versions of interviews with former slaves, recorded in the 1930s, he would have found they frequently used this term in reference to themselves and other slaves.
What Mr. Williams also ignores is that Grandstaff (aka Granstaff) had a life in Utah before going to Colorado. Following the1881 Pinhook Massacre, Grandstaff was charged with selling whiskey to the Indians and left hurriedly. It wasn’t until 1884, when, according to F. M. Tanner’s “The Far Country: A Regional History of Moab and La Sal, Utah,” my great-grandfather, Arthur A. Taylor, found him in Salida, Colo., running a bootblack stand. Grandstaff told Taylor he left Utah because he feared for his life. R. A. Firmage’s “A History of Grand County” states that Grandstaff had told a man named Gibson that, “the men are gathering up guns to go on the mountains to hunt Indians, but I’m afraid I’m the Indian they’re after.”
Whether Grandstaff was a model citizen in Colorado or a scalawag in Utah is not the real point. The real point is that words such as “Negro,” and its corrupt form, make us uncomfortable. Perhaps that is reason enough to let the name remain. To change it would be akin to banning or editing the works of Mark Twain or William Faulkner.
The name Negro Bill Canyon pays homage to the life of an individual who helped settle Moab. What is remarkable is that Grandstaff, a mulatto former slave, was able to come to Utah and then to Colorado, and to become financially successful in both communities.