Denver newspaper founders name stripped from Denver Public Library branch

Rocky Mountain News founder William Byers’ name was stripped from a branch of the Denver Public Library last month over his support for the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, and the branch was renamed after a descendant of survivors of the massacre.

People gathered at the library at 675 Santa Fe Drive Saturday to celebrate its new name: John “Thunderbird Man” Emhoolah Jr. Branch Library.

Emhoolah, who died in April at the age of 91, was a tireless advocate for American Indians, according to the library. He was Kiowa and Arapaho, and was a descendant of survivors of the Sand Creek Massacre, in which the Colorado Territorial militia attacked a Cheyenne and Arapaho village and killed nearly 200 people, most of them women and children, in what is now Kiowa County.

At the time, Byers owned and ran the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News, which defended the massacre as a “Great Battle with Indians” and called for the “extermination” of Native Americans, according to research published by the Denver Public Library. The newspaper also whipped up panic among Denver’s white population about “Indian raids.”

Byers defended the massacre for decades, according to the library, which accepted public nominations for a new branch name and tallied votes from community members to pick Emhoolah from a short list of five finalists in October.

Emhoolah served in the Korean War, worked as executive director of the American Indian Center in Denver, and led Adams County Five Star Schools’ Indian Education Program, according to the library, which described him as a “dedicated community leader and advocate.” He also served on the National Native American Veterans Memorial Advisory Committee and with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.

“We are honored to rename this branch after such an inspirational individual,” Michelle Jeske, city librarian, said in a news release. “Today is a historic moment in Denver Public Library’s history and the history of our city.”

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