Sunday, November 09, 2014

Might be time to change that obnoxious county name

The always-interesting Meteor Blades reported Wednesday on Daily Kos some good news that came out of  Tuesday's election. Amongst reports about Berkeley, Calif., passing the first tax on soda pop and voters approving legal pot in Oregon, Alaska and D.C., was this from South Dakota:
It's Oglala Lakota County now: Voters in Shannon County, South Dakota, whose residents are 92 percent Oglala, a division of the Lakota (Sioux) people, voted overwhelmingly to change the name to Oglala Lakota County Tuesday. The vote was 2161 to 526. Shannon was the name of a guy who a lot to do with prying South Dakota land out of Indian hands.
This could be a trend. Wonder if that could ever happen in other counties around the West? Wyoming already has a county named for Chief Washakie of the Shoshone. Washakie is celebrated throughout the state, with a statue in front of the state capitol in Cheyenne and a monumental piece of the chief on horseback in front of the main dining hall at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. Ever wonder how many Native Americans are in Washakie County? Approximately 46 out of 8,289 residents. There was a time, of course, when all of the people in what is now Washakie County were Native Americans.

It's only fitting when a balance comes to Western history. Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana used to be called Custer Battlefield. It's web site now acts to correct some of the history surrounding this place:
This area memorializes the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry and the Sioux and Cheyenne in one of the Indians last armed efforts to preserve their way of life. Here on June 25 and 26 of 1876, 263 soldiers, including Lt. Col. George A. Custer and attached personnel of the U.S. Army, died fighting several thousand Lakota, and Cheyenne warriors. 
My town of Cheyenne, Wyoming, was first named Crow Creek Crossing by Gen. Grenville Dodge when he platted the place as a future railroad camp in 1857. Some of those who accompanied him on this expedition thought a better name was Cheyenne after the Cheyenne nation that traversed the area. I'm glad Cheyenne stuck, as Crow Creek Crossing sounds like the name for a gated community. Maybe there is one by that name. Not sure what Crow Creek looked like in 1857, but these days it's a quaint little stream that only gets significant during spring flash floods.

Our county is named for Jacques La Ramee, a French-Canadian fur trapper who frequented these parts. His name is attached to a Wyoming county, city, river and peak, among others.  

In Colorado, the name of Col. Chivington has been wiped from the map for his role in leading the Colorado militia that slaughtered Indians, many of them women and children, at the Sand Creek Massacre. The Sand Creek Massacre Trail now criss-crosses Wyoming and Colorado, its path marked by commemorative signs. Here's some info about it from the Miniscule Guide to Cheyenne blog:
The Sand Creek Massacre Trail in Wyoming follows the paths of the Northern Arapaho and Cheyenne in the years after the massacre. It traces them to their supposed wintering on the Wind River Indian Reservation near Riverton in central Wyoming, where the Arapaho remain today. The trail passes through Cheyenne, Laramie, Casper, and Riverton en route to Ethete in Fremont County on the reservation. In recent years, Arapaho youth have taken to running the length of the trail as endurance tests to bring healing to their nation. Alexa Roberts, superintendent of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, has said that the trail represents a living portion of the history of the two tribes.
The Wind River Reservation butts up against Fremont County, Wyoming, and is named for John C. Fremont, celebrated in history books as "Pathfinder of the Rocky Mountains." He also was incredibly ambitious, passive-aggressive and impulsive. He was the Republican Party's first presidential nominee but lost in a three-way race against the Democrats and the Know Nothing Party, which accused Fremont of being a Catholic. This incited horrors in the Know Nothing's immigrant-hating followers. You see the same reaction in Tea Party members today. When the Civil War erupted, Lincoln appointed Fremont as general of the armies of the West. Lincoln fired Fremont for issuing his own Emancipation Proclamation, although two years later, Lincoln issued a similar one. 

Wyoming's Fremont Peak, Fremont Canyon and Pathfinder Reservoir all are named after John C. Fremont. The Pathfinder's expeditions certainly opened up the West for the exploitation of its native inhabitants. But if we changed all of the places in the West named for impulsive explorers and money-grubbers and Indian traders and Indian killers and land-grabbers, well, we'd have to change a lot of names.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The University wonders why they don't do well recruiting Native students. Maybe its because almost half the streets surrounding campus are named after white men who made a career of killling Indians.


--n. from Laramie