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2017 Hall of Fame Inductee
William J. Grandstaff - Posthumous Inductee

Life in Utah

One of the areas earliest pioneers, William J. Grandstaff arrived in Moab in 1877 by way of Louisiana in the company of a man known to history only as "Frenchie," according to the new interpretive sign at Grandstaff Trailhead in Utah. Grandstaff initially settled in what is now Grand County running cattle up an oasis-like side canyon of the Colorado River between 1877 to 1881 to corral his cattle three miles up the river to the canyon where water flowed. That canyon later was named in his memory.

Grandstaff was born in Alabama in1840 to slave parentage and perhaps at one time was a slave as well. He is recorded by historians as the area's first black settler and likely freed slave from the South. It has also been reported that he was possibly half-American Indian. The Utah chapter of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names documented the life and times of Grandstaff, one of southern Utah's first settlers who came West as a refugee from post-Civil War South in search of a better life. He homesteaded, ran cattle and prospected in the area for four years until he left after an Indian uprising in 1881. No one know where he went from there, but he turned up in Glenwood Springs, Colo., where he lived until his death in 1901. After Grandstaff departed, the canyon where he ran livestock was named for him, initially with a racial epithet unsuitable for publication, and later was changed to Negro Bill Canyon. But for some, the updated name remained a troubling reminder of America's unfinished business in race relations, suggesting a double standard in geographic naming conventions thus the most current renaming in 2016 to Grandstaff Trailhead which features signage describing the life of this pioneer.

There has been an evolving perspective regarding the best way to honor the canyon's namesake [pioneer] and interpret his history for visitors. Bureau of Land Management, (BLM) has been part of this evolution," said Beth Ransell, acting district manager. "The new sign update along the river corridor [along State Route 128] provided an opportunity to continue this process with the renaming of the trailhead and adding an interpretive sign to honor William Grandstaff's connection to Moab and the canyon."

Life in Colorado

In records on file at the Frontier Historical Museum in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, there is an 1880 Census in Emery County, Utah, the 1900 Census in Garfield County, Colorado, and three articles published about William J. Grandstaff living in Colorado. The historical museum maintains detailed record-keeping about Grandstaff because, as one staff member explained, “we love all of our pioneers.” There is no emphasis there on Grandstaff's legacy being defined by his race. Instead, Grandstaff's Colorado history revolves around his efforts prospecting in the area (legal document recorded in Colorado, including various documents related to his four mining claims in the Hot Springs Mining District); his involvement in a local saloon including the bill of sale, Grandstaff Landing in Garfield County, Colorado; his nomination as a constable in a local election and his warm relationship with his community there.

There are three known published articles about him in the region, an article describing his nomination as an independent candidate for constable in 1889 in a Leadville newspaper, and his death notices in 1901 in the Glenwood Springs Post and Avalanche Echo. In fact, his death notice and honorable burial made the front page of the Glenwood Springs Post on August 24, 1901, in a heartfelt and respectful story. As described in the Post, Grandstaff's death on Red Mountain in Glenwood was discovered after he had not been seen in town for several days. The Glenwood community sent someone to look for William Grandstaff. Upon his burial, the community erected a cross in his honor to mark his grave – the precursor to the current large cross on top of Red Mountain visible throughout the town of Glenwood, Colorado to this day.

Credits: Louis Williams; Frontier Historical Museum; Moab Times-Independent

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