Editorial: If Davis name must go, use Shoshone name for peak

Wheeler Peak (right) and Jeff Davis Peak (left) Photo by Stavros Basis

The Nevada Board of Geographic Names voted unanimously this past week to, well, literally “white out” from Nevada maps the name of another historic figure whose actions do not comport with the current politically correct world view.

According to an Associated Press account, the panel has recommended to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to change the name of Nevada’s third highest mountain peak from Jeff Davis Peak to the Shoshone name Doso Doyabi — pronounced DOH-soh doy-AH-bee — which means “white mountain” and frankly sounds like the generic label given any mountain that remains largely snow-capped much of the year.

The push to change the name came a couple of years ago at the same time a number of monuments to members of the Confederacy were being taken down and there was a clamor to restore original American Indian names. The Obama administration issued an executive order renaming North America’s tallest peak in Alaska from Mount McKinley — named for the nation’s 25th president, Republican William McKinley, who was assassinated in office in 1901 — to Denali, the original Athabascan name.

The 12,771-foot Jeff Davis Peak is in White Pine County inside the Great Basin National Park.

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 named Jeff Davis by Lt. Col. Edward Steptoe of the 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 the shorter nearby peak to the east.

At one point in the discussion there were calls to rename the peak for Las Vegas civil rights leader James McMillan or Robert Smalls, an escaped slave who fought for the Union in the Civil War but had no real link to Nevada any more than Jeff Davis did.

The AP reported that Christine Johnson, the collection manager for the Nevada Historical Society who serves as a non-voting member on the state naming board, said the name Doso Doyabi was supported by the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe and members of other area tribes.

In a letter from the Duckwater Shoshone elders, tribal member Warren Graham said reinstating the mountain’s original name would honor the tribe’s cultural heritage.

“These places were called something else before they were renamed” by Euro-American settlers, Graham wrote. “Some of these names are disappearing along with our elders and it is good that these names are not forgotten.”

Jack Hursh, a cartographer and publications specialist at the Nevada Bureau of Mines & Geology who serves on the naming panel, e-mailed the AP to say, “The Doso Doyabi name is a Nevadan name proposed by Nevadans.”

Though we are reticent to whitewash history with such name changes, returning to an original Shoshone label is preferable to attaching someone else’s name, lest they fall out of favor in the future.

As Jefferson Davis once said after the war, “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.”

We urge the national board to finalize the change and put this to rest.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.