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.

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.

Another effort being made to remove certain names

Jeff Davis Peak (National Park Service pix via Reno newspaper)

How many even knew there was a Jeff Davis Peak in Great Basin National Park? Let’s see a show of hands. That’s what I thought.

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.

After the Civil War, in 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 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 it original native name Denali.

Today, the Las Vegas newspaper reports on the front page in a story that first appeared online four days ago that there are now a couple of bids to remove the Davis name. The newspaper 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, perhaps one of its Indian names.

The paper reports that one name change application calls for renaming the peak for Las Vegas civil rights leader James McMillan. Another calls for naming the peak for Robert Smalls, an escaped slave who fought for the Union.

Apparently the Utes dubbed Wheeler Peak as Pe-up and Shoshones called it Too-bur-rit. Unclear what if anything Jeff Davis Peak was called.

The September meeting agenda for the Nevada State Board on Geographic Names lists an action item in which a peak in White Pine County would be named Smalls Peak. There is no mention as whether what it is currently called, if anything.

According to Dennis Cassinelli in a piece in the Elko Daily Free Press, 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.

What’s in a name? A peak by any other name is just as tall. History has not changed. Just forgotten, along with the lessons that should’ve been learned?