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News: Top Stories

Confederate landmark near Tahoe could get Native American name

SF Gate logo SF Gate 5/16/2018 Mike Moffitt

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A distinctive peak near Lake Tahoe may not keep its controversial name much longer.

Alpine County supervisors have recommended that Jeff Davis Peak be renamed "Da-ek Dow Go-et," a name proposed by the Hung-A-Lel-Ti Woodfords Washoe tribe. "Da-ek Dow Go-et" means "saddle between points."

The proposed name change was made to the U.S. Board on Geographical Names, which has final say in the matter.

Jeff Davis Peak is a volcanic plug that rises from a treeless ridge in the Mokelumne Wilderness. Its shape is reminiscent of the the sandstone towers of Monument Valley in Arizona.

Rock climbers sometimes test their skills on its slopes, but the crag's remote location keeps many away.

Supposedly settlers of nearby Summit City, a mining boom town that has long since disappeared, were Confederate sympathizers who named the peak after Jefferson Davis, the slave-owning leader of the South.

MORE:The ugly pasts of famous men whose names grace SF landmarks

A national backlash against Confederate monuments erected during the Jim Crow era has been building since the Charleston church shooting in 2015. The eruption of violence at a white supremacy march last year in Charlottesville, Va., added fuel to the fire.

Anthony Oertel, a San Rafael insurance salesman and history buff, was the first to suggest a name change for Jeff Davis Peak. He recommended "Fred Bee Peak," after Frederick Bee, a leading 19th-century Northern California businessman and pioneer who strung the first telegraph wires over the Sierra Nevada.

However, Alpine County supervisors declined to endorse his nomination of Bee, instead soliciting the Hung-A-Lel-Ti Woodfords Washoe Community Council's input. According to a letter sent by council chairman Irvin Jim Jr., a tribal elder named Dinah Pete provided the name "Da-ek Dow Go-et."

The U.S. Board on Geographical Names could still reject the name change if it deems it unjustified or discovers objections. But the support of the county commissioners for a name proposed by a local Native American tribe makes it more likely to be approved.

Alpine County also recommended the board change the name of another geographical landmark in the area — Squaw Ridge, near the Kirkwood Ski Resort. The supervisors endorsed the name "Hung-A-Lel-Ti Ridge," honoring the Washoe tribal band of the same name.

MORE:Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows gondola connection by 2019?

The word "squaw" is often considered an ethnic and sexual slur, although it may have derived from a non-derogatory Algonquin word meaning the totality of being female.

The most famous "squaw" landmark to be renamed was Squaw Peak, a popular hiking spot within the Phoenix city limits. It was changed to Piestewa Peak, honoring Lori Piestewa, a Hopi/Hispanic soldier from Arizona killed in Iraq in 2003.

Oertel has also petitioned the Board on Geographical Names to change the name of another Jeff Davis Peak — a 12,771-foot mountain in eastern Nevada's Great Basin National Park. His proposal to name it after Robert Smalls, an escaped South Carolina slave who captured a Rebel transport ship, was turned down.

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