MOAB, Utah – The Bureau of Land Management recently updated signage in a canyon in Moab to read “Grandstaff Trailhead" instead of "Negro Bill Canyon Trailhead", but within days the new signs were stolen.
William Grandstaff, who was known as "Negro Bill", was a black cowboy who ran cattle in the canyon in the 1870s, and the name of the canyon has drawn controversy as some say it is offensive while others feel it preserves the memory of a historical figure.
The Bureau of Land Management recently installed the news signs but stated the name change applies only to the trailhead and campground, which are under their authority to rename. The US Board of Geographic Names is the body responsible for naming geographic features, such as the canyon itself.
Lisa Bryant of the BLM confirmed Wednesday that two of the new signs were stolen late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning. There were two signs visible from either direction of travel on the trail, and both signs are valued at around $800.
Bryant said because of the cost of the stolen signs, the person or persons involved could potentially face felony charges. Anyone with information about the crime or the location of the signs is asked to call the BLM at 435-259-2100.
The BLM has expressed their support for renaming the canyon to the Utah Committee of the Geographic Naming Board, but several other groups have also weighed in. Last August, the Grand County Council voted 4-3 against a proposal to change the name of the canyon.
Jeanetta Williams, President of the Salt Lake Branch of the NAACP, said Wednesday she would have liked to see the original name remain on the signage.
“I was disappointed of course to hear that because I had worked for a number of years in keeping the name the Negro Bill Canyon,” she said.
Williams said she doesn’t think the name of the canyon is offensive.
“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about it,” she said. “I'm African American, I’m black, and the word negro doesn’t offend me.”
Williams said she hopes the BLM will ensure the history of the canyon is not forgotten. The BLM states that an interpretive panel at the trailhead highlights William Grandstaff’s connection to Moab and the canyon, and also offers details on his later life in Colorado.