A Beautiful Place with a Complicated Naming History
Grandstaff Canyon was renamed in 2017 due to its controversial name. Previously known as Negro Bill Canyon since the 1940’s, this historical location provides a rich history and provokes deep thought into how that history should be portrayed.
Beginning in the 1940’s, Negro Bill Canyon was an official place on the map, located just outside of Moab, Utah. The canyon was named after William Grandstaff. For the past 20 years, questions have surrounded its controversial name and whether it should be changed out of respect for William Grandstaff or kept in order to maintain history. Ultimately, a federal board voted to change the canyon's name to Grandstaff Canyon in 2017.
William Grandstaff’s life was a bit of a mystery, although some basic facts are known. In the 1830s, William Grandstaff was born into slavery in Shenandoah County, Virginia. During the first 30-40 years of his life, Grandstaff made his way across the country. After a stop in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Grandstaff fought in the Black Brigade of Cincinnati during the Civil War, he made it to the Moab area in 1877. Grandstaff first resided in an abandoned LDS fort that had been constructed during a period of conflict between the settlers and local Utes. Grandstaff was a frontiersman and one of the first non-native settlers in the area. His presence in Moab helped to promote settlement in the area.
Grandstaff ranched, grew crops, and had a large herd of cattle. Due to the stream and trees that provided shade, the canyon was perfect for agriculture and ranching. Local Indigenous people visited the canyon to trade with Grandstaff. Today, this area is used as a beautiful recreational area for local hikers and visitors to explore. By changing the name of the canyon, its visitors can now hold deeper respect, appreciation, and curiosity for William Grandstaff, one whose legacy is still remembered by the people of Moab.