Research Teaser

A "Grand" River No More: Naming the Colorado

by Alan E. Barkley
archives graduate student assistant
December 2011

The morning of February 18, 1921, found the Honorable Edward T. Taylor speaking to the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce of the United States House of Representatives. Congressman Taylor had first been elected to represent the State of Colorado thirteen years earlier. His goal that morning was to convince the Committee to pass a resolution on to the full Congress that would officially change the name of a 350-mile stream that flows from its source in Grand County, Colorado, to the border between Colorado and Utah just north of the 39th parallel.

This hearing transcript documents Congressman Taylor's efforts to change the name of the Grand River to the Colorado River. His successful efforts officially extended the Colorado River from its mouth at the Gulf of California up to its source in Grand County, Colorado. What drove Congressman Taylor to pursue such an action?

Taylor argued that the U.S. Senate named the Territory of Colorado "for the reason that the Colorado River arose in its mountains, and there was a peculiar fitness in the name" (p. 7). However, the stretch of the Colorado River which flows within the Territory and later State of Colorado (see 1913 map) was called the Grand River, which Congressman Taylor called "merely an adjective" that "has always seemed an absurd situation" (p. 8). He believed that the majority of the State desired the name change and had worked to get local legislation authorizing the change through the Colorado legislature. His original attempt in the Colorado government failed due to "matters largely aside from the merits of the measure" (p. 9), but the bill had recently been reintroduced to that body and was expected to pass.

There was some opposition to Congressman Taylor's proposal due to geographical characteristics. The Colorado River is the child of the Green and Grand rivers which converge in Utah. The Green River is the longer of those two tributaries, and most geographical conventions would stipulate that the Green should have been renamed the Colorado. Lawmakers from Utah and Wyoming objected to Congressman Taylor's proposal precisely because the Green, which runs through those two states, is the longer tributary. However, Congressman Taylor argued that because the Grand River provides a significantly larger amount of water to the Colorado than does the Green, and because the Grand originates in the State of Colorado, the Grand should be known as the Colorado. He made comparisons to the Missouri and Mississippi rivers to substantiate his point.

The resolution was eventually passed by the House and Senate on July 25, 1921, and the stretch of river that runs from its source in Grand County to the Utah border is now known as the upper stream of the Colorado. Congressman Taylor's petition was the second resolution passed by Congress that officially changed a river name to match the name of its territory of origin. The precedent was set in 1852 when Congress renamed the St. Peters River as the Minnesota River. Having such a precedent certainly influenced the Committee's decision in this case as well. The success of Congressman Taylor's petition represents both a deviation from normal geographic conventions and a triumph for Colorado over interstate competition.

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