Montana Geographic Names Advisor

Geographic Name Change Request

Change Little Squaw Creek to Little Nancy Russell Creek
Garfield County, Montana

Status = Approved

Description stream, 27 km (17 mi) long, on BLM Public Lands, heads at 48°24’38”N, 107°28’08”W, flows NW into Fort Peck Lake 53 km (33 mi) N of Mosby
Location 47°27’58”N, 107°48’45”W
PLSS Location Tps20-18N, Rgs31-32E
Proposal to change a name considered by some to be derogatory
Proponent Montana House Bill 412 Committee
Not South Fork Squaw Creek, Squaw Creek
Administrative area Bureau of Land Management
Previous BGN Action None
See also 40002, 40006
GNIS ID 768086
Local Usage None found
Published Little Squaw Creek (USGS 1965, 1977, 1993; DeLorme Montana Atlas & Gazetteer, 1994), South Fork Squaw Creek (Garfield County highway map 1955)
These three proposals were submitted by the Montana House Bill 412 Committee, to change the names of a stream and two of its tributaries in Garfield County that are currently named “Squaw.” The primary stream, named currently Squaw Creek, is approximately 35 km (22 mi) long and heads inside land administered by the Bureau of Land Management, before flowing northwest into the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and then into Fort Peck Lake. Dry Fork Squaw Creek is approximately 14 km (8.4 mi) long, while Little Squaw Creek is 27 km (17 mi) long.

The newly proposed names would honor Nancy Russell, the wife of noted western artist Charles M. Russell. A decision on these three proposals was deferred by the DNC at its March 2010 meeting, citing a request for more biographical information on the intended honoree, particularly evidence that the proposal satisfies the requirements of the Commemorative Names Policy.

The H.B. 412 Committee and Montana State Names Authority were asked to provide more details for the file; their responses provided considerable information, including a reference to author Joan Stauffer’s book Behind Every Man: The Story of Nancy Cooper Russell. Although there is no specific evidence that proves whether or not Nancy Russell had a direct association with the streams in question, the State Names Authority suggests that if she ever floated the Missouri River, she may have seen them. A professor of geography at the University of Montana added, “[I]t should be emphasized that [Nancy Cooper Russell] made Charlie into what he became. Charlie Russell was a cowboy and liked “the drink”, and hanging out with his old range friends. Nancy, much younger and considered “fiery” organized his life his business and kept him on track. She had great ambitions for Charlie and plenty of business savvy. She promoted him internationally and set up many showing of his paintings throughout the US and western Europe. Three years after his death she published in book from [sic] a collection of his letters which included sketches – I think it was called Good medicine...

“There is a story that when she was dying in 1940 that she confided in a friend that she felt that while they had plenty, towards the end she feels she probably pushed Charlie too much to keep producing instead she should have given him more time to be with his friends. His heart was giving out and smoking had damaged his lungs. He has surgery at the Mayo Clinic not long before he died. Some felt she sensed his time was running out and pushed him more. She was the one who arranged for the commissioned projects from wealthy patrons. She did accompany him in the field and I’ve seen many pictures of her out on the range as well as in Glacier Park in his company (they lived at Lake McDonald when not in Great Falls or on the road. Charlie died quite young in 1926 – he was only 62. Nancy died in 1940 but I don’t remember how old she was. They were married in 1896 and he was born in 1864.”

An additional website describes the C.M. Russell home and log cabin studio:

The Garfield County Commissioners do not support the proposed changes, stating, “People will continue to call the streams by their old names and this will cause confusion.” However, the American Indian Caucus and the Montana Democratic Women’s Legislative Caucus of the Montana State Legislature do support the proposals, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management both have no objection. The Montana State Names Authority recommends approval. A copy of the proposal was forwarded to the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, the Blackfeet Nation, the Crow Tribe of Montana, the Fort Belknap Indian Community of the Fort Belknap Reservation, and the Nez Perce Tribe, but no response was received, which is presumed to indicate no opinion on the issue.

In addition to the aforementioned national wildlife refuge, there are 37 features in Montana containing the word “Russell”; it is not known how many are named for Charles or Nancy Russell, although a school, park, and museum in Cascade County are named for Charles. There are no features containing the name “Nancy Russell.”

Montana Geographic Names Advisor Recommendation - Support (Friday, January 15, 2010)
Domestic Names Committee Decision Date - Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Domestic Names Committee Discussion - 3/10/2010:
A motion was made and seconded to approve these name changes. However, after further discussion, several members stated they wished to see additional biographical details on the intended honoree, including whether she had any association with the features in question. The motion for approval was withdrawn. A motion was then made and seconded to defer a decision.

Vote: 6 in favor
2 against
1 abstention

The negative votes were cast in the belief that there was sufficient information in the case summary to proceed with a vote. The staff will contact the proponent with a request for additional details.

A motion was made and seconded to approve these changes.
Vote: 12 in favor
1 against
1 abstention

The negative vote was cast in the belief that the honoree did not have a direct association with the geographic features in question.

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