This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The BLM's new sign that drops a racial moniker to the trailhead for Negro Bill Canyon lasted all of five days. Sometime Wednesday night or Thursday morning, vandals unbolted the sign from its two steel posts and stole it.
On Saturday, the Bureau of Land Management installed the sign to the trailhead now known as Grandstaff Trailhead, along State Route 128 in the Colorado River corridor northeast of Moab. Officials renamed the trailhead to honor William Grandstaff, a black man who migrated from the American South in 1877 and settled in what is now Moab, where he made a new life as a cowboy and prospector.
BLM law-enforcement officers are investigating the theft of the new sign bearing his surname, according to agency spokeswoman Lisa Bryant.
"BLM is disappointed someone felt the need to do that," Bryant said. "We ask that anyone who has any information come forward or return the sign. We will be coordinating with the [Grand County] sheriff. It's sad."
A new nearby plaque describing Grandstaff's life in Moab was left unmolested.
The BLM last week replaced signs at recreation sites along the river corridor, using a new look that evokes southern Utah's famous redrock landscapes. Officials took advantage of the sign project to affix a new name to the trailhead at the opening of the canyon where Grandstaff once ran cattle a new title that doesn't reference the namesake pioneer's race. The canyon's original name was far more controversial, reflecting white settlers' nickname for Grandstaff. The canyon's name was changed to Negro Bill during the Civil Rights era, even though there is no evidence anyone ever called Grandstaff by that name.
The BLM has no say over the name of the canyon, but the agency has decided to use the name Grandstaff on its properties connected with Negro Bill Canyon.
"We aren't erasing history," Bryant said. "We are trying to find a different way to honor this man."
Grandstaff left the area in 1881 after a clash between Mormon settlers and American Indians. Grandstaff feared reprisals from the settlers because he was close to the Indians and was accused of selling them liquor, according to the plaque.
The old trailhead sign had been vandalized occasionally, but that typically entailed people crossing out the word "Negro." In 2008, the BLM named a new campground nearby "Granstaff Campground," referencing the local spelling of the pioneer's name. That sign has never been disturbed, but it may soon be replaced with BLM's updated Utah signage and include the agency's preferred spelling of Grandstaff's name. Some Grand County residents are incensed with the BLM for changing the name of the Negro Bill trailhead and "misspelling" Grandstaff's name, which they say did not have a "d."
But local historian Louis Williams says "Granstaff" was the real misspelling. The spelling with the "d" appears on every legal document and newspaper account connected with Grandstaff following his departure from Utah. He wound up in Glenwood Springs, Colo., where he died a respected member of the town in 1901, according to a newspaper column Williams published in 2013.
"History does not reflect on why his name was spelled Granstaff during his four years in Moab, but any effort to honor William Grandstaff must include the correct spelling of his name," Williams wrote in the Moab Times.
The racial epithet that preceded the name for Negro Bill Canyon was replaced at a time when that racist word was being removed from geographical locations across the nation. A proposal is afoot to again rename the canyon to Grandstaff, but that is a decision for the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, not the BLM.