RENO, Nev. — A far-off mountain peak in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park is getting more attention since deadly race-based violence in Virginia last month sparked new calls for the removal of Confederate monuments.
Nevada’s state Board of Geographic Names is reviewing a pair of proposals to change the name of the remote peak near the Utah line named after Confederate leader Jefferson Davis, and a federal panel that would have the final say about re-designating Jeff Davis Peak already is researching one of the ideas.
That proposal would designate the 12,771-foot (3,830-meter) mountain as Smalls Peak, in honor of U.S. Rep. Robert Smalls — a South Carolina slave who escaped in 1862 and fought for the Union army before he was elected to Congress from South Carolina during Reconstruction.
The second idea submitted directly to the state board anonymously doesn’t formally propose a new name, but argues it should be changed and suggests various alternatives, including the late Las Vegas civil rights leader James McMillan and several Western Shoshone references, according to Christine Johnson, the board’s executive secretary.
The U.S. Geological Survey’s Board on Geographic Names intends to prepare a case brief on the Smalls proposal it received Aug. 28 and add it to the panel’s next quarterly review list expected to be released at the end of this month, board research staffer Jennifer Runyon said Friday.
“The board is reluctant to change well-established names in long-standing published or spoken use, but will consider doing so if the proponent can demonstrate that there is a compelling reason and if there is local support for the change,” Runyon said in an email to The Associated Press.
The proposal will be presented to the federal board at its next monthly meeting after it receives a formal recommendation from the state board and input from other potentially interested parties, including the National Park Service, the White Pine County Commission and any Native American tribes that may have jurisdiction, she said.
Deadly violence when white supremacists converged on Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 12 sparked calls for the removal of Confederate monuments nationwide.
Robert Smalls has no known connection to Nevada. He became one of the first African-American ship pilots in the U.S. Navy and was wounded April 7, 1863 while piloting the USS Keokuk during the attack on Fort Sumter, according to the U.S. Park Service, which chronicles his life at the national monument established at the fort near Charleston, South Carolina. A statue of him is displayed at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal first reported this week that the state board had received a pair of applications proposing changes to the name of Jeff Davis Peak, which is about 360 miles (575 kilometers) east of Reno and 240 miles (385 kilometers) southwest Salt Lake City. Davis’ name originally graced a neighboring mountain now known as Wheeler Peak, Nevada’s second highest point at 13,063 feet (3,920 meters).
During a survey in 1855, Lt. Col. Edward Steptoe of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers spotted the peak from a distance and named it after his boss, then-U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, the Review-Journal reported. The newspaper said Wheeler Peak got its permanent name after George Montague Wheeler scaled the mountain during another mapping expedition in 1869, and the neighboring peak then became Jeff Davis.
Johnson, who also serves as state cartographer for the Nevada Historical Society, said Friday the state board will review both name-change proposals at its Sept. 19 meeting in Carson City but that it can’t formally act on the anonymous application because no official replacement name is proposed.