North Routt mountain with derogatory moniker renamed Petite Tetons |

North Routt mountain with derogatory moniker renamed Petite Tetons

Mountain is one of 28 features in Colorado and nearly 650 across country to get new name

A mountain in North Routt County, marked by the red dot, that used to have a derogatory name will now be called Petite Tetons.
U.S. Geological Survey/Screenshot

A federal board took a local rancher’s recommendation when renaming a mountain in far North Routt County earlier this month in a vote that completed the removal of a derogatory name for Native American women from nearly 650 geographic features across the country.

The U.S. Department of Interior’s Board on Geographic Names voted to rename the summit Petite Tetons, a suggestion that came from ranchers Patrick and Sharon O’Toole. The mountain is the backdrop for the O’Toole’s Ladder Ranch, which sits in the Little Snake River Valley near the border of Colorado and Wyoming.

The board renamed 27 other features in Colorado as well, including a creek in Summit County now called Nuchu Creek, and a valley in Gunnison County now called Kaavapayawiyagat Gulch.

The process started in November when Interior Secretary Deb Haaland declared the term referring to Native American women as offensive.

“I feel a deep obligation to use my platform to ensure that our public lands and water are accessible and welcoming,” Haaland said in a new release earlier this month. “That starts with removing racist and derogatory names that have graced federal locations for far too long.”

Dictionary definitions of the term also describe it as offensive, dated and disparaging.  

The Routt County mountain is about 8,500 feet tall, putting it outside of the tallest 100 mountains in the county. Still, it holds significance for the O’Toole’s who told Colorado’s Geographic Naming Advisory Board in April that the peak is the dominant feature on their ranch that has been in the family since the 1880s.

The name Petite Tetons was inspired by Wyoming’s Grand Teton in the Teton Range. The Wyoming Mountains are along the Snake River and this peak is along the Little Snake River. The O’Toole’s said the name would be a nice parallel.

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It would also be a tribute to the Teton Sioux or Lakota, who may have hunted in the Little Snake River Valley, though they were primarily from North and South Dakota.

“It’s the first thing that we see every day, the last thing we see every evening and we think this is a name that represents a lot for both the historical and geographic aspects,” Patrick O’Toole told the state renaming board.

But others thought the name could still be offensive to women in general — Petite Teton is French and translates to “small nipple” in English — so the state board declined to make any recommendation on what the mountain’s new name should be, instead deferring to the federal board and suggestions from tribal nations.

The Interior Department announced the mountain’s new name as Petite Tetons on Sept. 8.

Nearly 70 Tribal Nations participated in the renaming process, coming up with hundreds of suggestions. Many of the features were renamed with Native American names, such as Mestaa’ehehe Pass in Clear Creek County. That change followed the renaming of a mountain to Mestaa’ehehe Mountain December to honor an influential Native American translator.

“I am greatful to the members of the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force and the Board on Geographic Names for their efforts to prioritize this important work,” Haaland said. “Together, we are showing why representation matters and charting a path for an inclusive America.”

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