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 its 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?