Newspaper column: Learn from the mistakes of the past, not erase them

Wheeler Peak (right) and Jeff Davis Peak (left)

This paroxysm of efforts to eradicate all monuments and place names that memorialize historic leaders of the Confederacy serves as merely a distraction from real problems, wasting time and money that could be devoted to worthy endeavors.

The latest target of this futile campaign appears to be the name of Jeff Davis Peak in Great Basin National Park.

According to the park’s website, the monicker was first attached to what is now Wheeler Peak, the tallest point in the park and the second tallest in Nevada. It was given that name by Lt. Col. Edward Steptoe of U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers in 1855 while Jefferson Davis served as secretary of the War Department, a half dozen years before the Civil War began.

After the Civil War, during which Davis served as president of the Confederacy, an Army mapping expedition headed by Lt. George Montague Wheeler, named the peak for Wheeler and the Jeff Davis tag was shifted to a shorter nearby peak.

In May the Reno newspaper reported that, even though statues of Confederate leaders were being torn down in New Orleans, there was no clamor to erase the Davis name from the 12,771-foot peak. The penultimate paragraph of the account stated, “By today’s standards Jeff Davis is an unlikely choice that appears out of step with contemporary naming practices. But modern standards don’t undo prior names which means, for the foreseeable future, the name of a Confederate president will maintain a place of honor in Nevada.”

Actually, such a mountain top name change took place a couple of years ago. After bearing the name of President William McKinley for 98 years, the tallest peak in North America in Alaska was renamed to its original native American name Denali, which means “the great one” in Athabascan. The White House said the name change “recognizes the sacred status of Denali to generations of Alaska Natives.”

Earlier this month, the Las Vegas newspaper reported that there are now a couple of bids to remove the Davis name. It said two applications have been filed with the state and national naming boards to eradicate the Davis name and replace it with some other name.

The paper reported that one application called for renaming the peak for Las Vegas civil rights leader James McMillan or one of the Shoshone names for the peak. Another called for naming the peak for Robert Smalls, an escaped slave who fought for the Union.

This month’s meeting agenda for the Nevada State Board on Geographic Names lists an action item in which a peak in White Pine County could be named Smalls Peak. There is no mention as to what it is currently called, if anything.

According to Dennis Cassinelli in a recent newspaper column, political correctness has been whitewashing Nevada geographical names for years. Colorful names like Chicken Shit Springs and Squaw Tit Butte have disappeared from maps simply at the whim of squeamish government mapmakers.

Now squeamishness is being extended to those who fought for the Confederacy.

Yes, Davis was a slave owner who sought to continue what was euphemistically called “our peculiar institution” in the South.

But in the waning years of his life Davis was an advocate for reunifying the nation, saying in a speech in 1888: “I feel no regret that I stand before you this afternoon a man without a country, for my ambition lies buried in the grave of the Confederacy. There has been consigned not only my ambition, but the dogmas upon which that Government was based. The faces I see before me are those of young men; had I not known this I would not have appeared before you. Men in whose hands the destinies of the South land lie, for love of her I break my silence, to let it bury its dead, its hopes and aspirations; before you lies the future — a future full of golden promise; a future of expanding national glory, before which all of the world shall stand amazed. Let me beseech you to lay aside all rancor, all bitter sectional feeling, and to make your places in the ranks of those who will bring about a consummation devoutly to be wished — a reunited country.”

What’s in a name? History is not changed, just forgotten, perhaps along with the lessons that should’ve been learned? We could use more unifying and less dividing.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

9 comments on “Newspaper column: Learn from the mistakes of the past, not erase them

  1. deleted says:

    Well if the names are dividing us, the solution is to rid ourselves of the names; a rose is a rose after all.

    What is your attachment to the name of the peak Thomas? Jesus said (paraphrasing) that even if you know,for yourself, that eating meat on Sunday doesn’t make you less of a Christian, but your brother believes it, then don’t eat meet on Sunday while he around leat you diminish his faith.

    Some people are out there honestly hurting that these names are being glorified, and even though the name doesn’t really affect you at all, you’re really just objecting that some people are hurt and thereby having diminished faith in the country and it’s ideals.

    You don’t really care what the name is, so constantly going on about this issue is really you sticking your finger in the eyes of people that do care, however irrationally.

    What’s the point?

  2. Free speech vs. the inalienable right to thin skin.

  3. deleted says:

    Gods word vs mans.

    I’m going with God personally.

  4. Vernon Clayson says:

    If there are people hurting from these long ago happenings they need to get a life, dwelling on past injustices to ancestors they didn’t know and have no real idea what their lives were like seems a bit unrealistic to me, don’t they have more pressing, current, matters to deal with? How can the name of a mountain, a road, whatever, be considered as glorifying it? I hardly have any inclination to wonder why my street is named what it is and I one doubt anyone else on the street cares.

  5. Steve says:

    I knew business owners who moved from Highland when they changed the name to Martin Luther King Boulevard.

    Of course, a few of them joked it was because the phone book “yellow pages” charged per character and the new name was going to swamp the advertising budget!

    Others made it clear they didn’t want to be associated with a street name that makes people think “ghetto”

  6. deleted says:

    Then Vernon I guess since you have no attachment to the name of any place, there couldn’t be any objection to renaming any place, and giving it any other name then could there?

  7. Rincon says:

    Personally, I don’t care, but if a Jew would object to a statue honoring Heinrich Himmler, then I can understand why a black person might object to a statue of Davis. What I can’t understand is why anyone thinks it’s important to memorialize Davis in the first place. What did he do that was so great? I think perhaps one of us may deserve a memorial more than he does. I, for one, never tried to rip this nation apart.

  8. […] push to change the name came a couple of years ago at the same time a number of monuments to members of the Confederacy […]

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