IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Cheyenne Arapaho Residence Hall renaming marks 20 years
April 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of the renaming of the residence hall now known as Cheyenne Arapaho. In 1989, CU alum Charles Cambridge, then director of CU-Boulder’s Oyate Native American student organization, was involved in the movement to change the residence hall name. He is a member of the Navaho tribe, and holds a doctorate in anthropology from CU-Boulder. Cambridge kept one of four Nichols Hall signs removed from the building in 1989. “It’s one of my proudest possessions,” he said.
Originally known as Fleming Hall, it was renamed Nichols Hall in 1961 when the CU Board of Regents determined that the public was confusing the residence hall with the Fleming Law building. The building name was chosen to honor David H. Nichols, Boulder resident and Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Colorado Territorial Legislature during the late 1800s. Nichols was instrumental in securing the university for Boulder and in one account completed a “midnight ride” to Denver to guarantee $15,000 in local funds needed to close the deal. Unknown to the Regents was Nichols’ participation in what is now known as the Sand Creek Massacre that took place in an Indian encampment near La Junta, Colorado on Nov. 29, 1864. Captain David Nichols of Company D of the Third Colorado Cavalry, engaged with other militia in an unprovoked attack upon the encampment of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, many of them unarmed elders, women and children.
According to Cambridge, the effort to effect the name change began in 1969 when he was still a CU student, and had met another student who researched the confrontation at Sand Creek. “I was at the UMC having a burger, when I overheard a group of students—SCAR, the Student Crusade for Indian Rights—at the next table,” he said. “Their rallying point was Nichols Hall.” The renaming campaign moved in fits and starts through nearly two decades as students graduated and leadership changed, until the effort became consistent in the late 1980s. “Pedro Romero and Steve Platero were highly energized student leaders who in the late 1980s started Friday vigils at the dorm,” said Cambridge. “The student government supported us.” Consequently, in 1987 Chancellor Jim Corbridge commissioned Professor Patricia Limerick to research and report on David Nichols’ involvement in the Sand Creek massacre.
Limerick, history professor and faculty director and chair of the board of The Center of the American West, produced a document that proved crucial to the renaming decision: (PDF) “What’s in a Name? Nichols Hall: A Report.” Limerick’s research revealed that “David Nichols had certainly participated in the attack at Sand Creek” and by one contemporary account, had with his company “kill(ed)…twenty-five or thirty” fleeing or surrendering Indians. Captain Nichols and his men were also responsible for the killings of several Native Americans in an earlier assault at Buffalo Springs, near Buena Vista and Fairplay, Colorado on Oct. 10, 1864, documented in Nichols’ own correspondence. Finally, there was no evidence to support the “midnight ride” story.
Limerick recalls controversy over her report and her recommendation for changing the name, but the deciding factor came down to what was right for the university community as a whole. “The name was an affront to Indian students on campus,” said Limerick. Cambridge considers the change a good start, as Indian faculty, staff and students continue to work on issues affecting the provision of education to Native Americans.
One legacy is the documented record of the name change, which has been cited in at least one other request for a university building name to be changed due to offensive activities of the namesake. In a 1998 report to the Hawaii Regents, Professor David E. Stannard of the University of Hawaii-Manoa cited the Nichols Hall renaming as precedent in the case for removing from a campus building the name of a professor who had been associated with the eugenics movement. In April 1998, the Hawaii Board of Regents voted 10-0 to change the name.
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