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Denver Public Library renames branch to honor Native American community leader

The library at Santa Fe Drive and West 7th Avenue will now be called the John "Thunderbird Man" Emhoolah Jr. Branch Library.

DENVER — Denver Public Library's Byers Branch has a new name.

The facility at Santa Fe Drive and West 7th Avenue will now be called the John "Thunderbird Man" Emhoolah Jr. Branch Library, honoring a community leader with a very different legacy from that of its original namesake.

The branch was originally named for William Byers, who founded the Rocky Mountain News and ran it during the mid to late 1800s. In that time he used the paper to fuel violence against Native Americans and support the Sand Creek Massacre.

The new name honors a descendant of the survivors of that massacre, John "Thunderbird Man" Emhoolah Junior. The Kiowa and Arapaho Indian, who served in the Korean War with the Army's 45th Thunderbird Division, worked to improve education for indigenous communities in Colorado.

He died in April at 91 years old.

The Denver Public Library Commission began considering renaming the branch in August 2020. A renaming community committee was recruited in February and March 2021 and after a community vote, Emhoolah's name was adopted by the Library Commission in October. 

The library hosted a community event to celebrate the new name Saturday.

RELATED: State naming board votes to recommend name change for Squaw Mountain

RELATED: Polis rescinds orders from Colorado's second governor on tribes

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