“African slavery, as it exists in the United States, is a moral, social and political blessing.”
Believe it or not, there are three places in Montana named after the man who wrote those words – Jefferson Davis.
Yes, this Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America and defender of slavery, white supremacy and racism until his last days.
Our five groups recently joined with the Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) in petitioning the American Geographical Names Council asking them to remove Davis’s name from these three places in Montana. They include Jeff Davis Peak and Jeff Davis Creek in the Beaverhead Mountains northwest of Dillon, as well as Davis Gulch, just south of Helena in Lewis and Clark County.
Together with the CSKT, we requested that these places be given names that honor the indigenous inhabitants and Chinese immigrants to the area.
We recommended to the Geographic Names Council that the name of Jeff Davis Peak be changed to Three Eagles Peak, in honor of Salish Chief Three Eagles. He welcomed Lewis and Clark’s Corp of Discovery to the Salish camp in September 1804 and gave the feast food, horses, and other gifts. (Charles Russell’s mural, “Lewis and Clark Meeting the Flathead,” depicts this meeting on the wall of the Montana House of Representatives.)
For Davis Creek, we recommended Choos-wee Creek honor the thousands of Chinese immigrants who worked in mines, ran businesses, and made up a large portion of the people of Montana, especially Beaverhead County, to the late 19th century. “Choos-wee” is the Anglicized phonetic spelling of Čusw̓í, the Salish word for the Chinese. It refers to the only long braid or “queue” that many Chinese wore at that time.
For Davis Gulch in Helena, we come up with In-qu-qu-leet – a rough phonetic interpretation of the Salish word which means Place of Lodgepole Pine. This choice recognizes the importance of this tree in the lives of the Salish and other First Nations, who use them as tipi stakes and other purposes and gather them near the place in question.
Renaming these characteristics in Salish terms celebrates the importance of the people who first cared for this land. It sends the message that the Montanais understand our history and want to continue to progress towards justice and inclusion for all.
We have heard opposition from a few people before that removing Davis’ name would “wipe out” or “hide history,” as if General Sherman was passing through Beaverhead County or the native peoples of that state no. ‘had not themselves lived through centuries of culture. erasure.
There is simply no reasonable argument we can make to keep Davis on our cards. This argument should be in defense of a man who believed so strongly in slavery that he started a war that claimed the lives of an estimated 750,000 Americans and, decades later, wrote this: The United States for a Pardon . But repentance must precede the right to forgiveness, and I did not repent. If everything had to be redone, I would do what I did in 1861. “
The places we are asking to be renamed are mostly on public land. These lands belong to all Americans, and all Americans have the right to feel welcome to enjoy them. But that cannot happen if these lands are named in honor of Jefferson Davis.
Montana has an incredibly colorful and diverse history, and Davis luckily isn’t one of them. Let’s use names for our geography that reflect the true history of our state and make Montanais proud and all Americans feel welcome here.
Judith Heilman is Executive Director of the Montana Racial Equity Project. Amara Reese-Hansell is the Program Director of the Forward Montana Foundation. Travis McAdam is the program director at the Montana Human Rights Network. John Todd is Deputy Director of the Montana Wilderness Association. Paul Spitler is director of nature policy at the Wilderness Society.