Kit Carson Mountain may get a new name

Courier photo by John Waters Kit Carson Mountain is nestled near these peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Currently, the Colorado Geographical Naming Advisory Board is considering a name change. Recently, the Saguache County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of changing the name to a yet-to-be-determined name.

Saguache County Commissioners support a name change

SANGRE DE CRISTO MOUNTAINS — Kit Carson Mountain in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is under consideration for a name change in a proposal before the Colorado Geographical Naming Advisory Board. The proposition references Carson’s violence against Navajo and Apache tribes in the 1800s. Carson was a frontier legend, fur trapper, wilderness guide, Indian agent, and U.S. Army officer. In 1865, Carson became the commander of Fort Garland.

The board was created by Governor Jared Polis in 2020 to evaluate proposals concerning name changes, new names, and name controversies of geographic features and certain public places in the State of Colorado and then make official recommendations to the governor.

In an interview with this reporter in September 2022 regarding the possibility of changing the name of Kit Carson, Polis said, "First, we give heavy weight to what local residents want. The geographic naming board sends recommendations to me that we advance to the federal government. Often it begins with a classroom of students, or local officials, and it builds — and the naming board is part of that. It starts with local residents."

On Nov. 7, Saguache County Commissioners voted in favor of a name change, Commissioner Tom McCracken said the commissioners did not choose a name.

In a statement to the Valley Courier, Commissioner Liza Marron wrote, "Kit Carson was noted for his bravery in settling the West, however, he was involved in the massacres of indigenous peoples and suppression of the Apache and Dine among others. This genocide should not be celebrated.

"It turns out two lower peaks of Kit Carson Mountain have already been renamed; Challenger and Columbia. I would be in favor of a rename of the highest peak, while consulting the community of Crestone and the Ute and Dine people."

The 14,165-foot peak is in the Rio Grande National Forest and in documents presented before the geographical naming board, a 2021 letter from U.S. Forest Service Supervisor Dan Dallas stated, "I am in complete support of the proposal as drafted." Dallas continued that in consultation with tribal governments support for the name change was offered and the Navajo Nation officially responded with a statement that in part read, "The Navajo Nation fully supports renaming Kit Carson Mountain..."

If the state board recommends a name change to Polis and he accepts it, the proposal then goes before the federal U.S. Board on Geographic Names domestic names committee (BGN). Name changes for natural features such as Kit Carson must be, "for a compelling reason," according to the federal body.

The summit was first called Frustum Peak by the Wheeler Survey. In that expedition, Lieutenant George Montague Wheeler, United States Army Corps of Engineers, led expeditions for surveys west of the 100th Meridian between 1869 and 1879.

The summit was named Kit Carson Peak by a 1906 BGN decision. In 1970, the BGN voted to change the name to Kit Carson Mountain.

According to the federal geographic naming board, in 2008, a proposal was submitted to the BGN to change the name of Kit Carson Mountain to Mount Crestone, stating that most locals in Crestone referred to the peak as Crestone Peak and that the name Kit Carson Mountain applied to a different mountain to the east. The proponent of that change also proposed that the highest unnamed summit on Kit Carson Mountain be named Tranquility Peak. In 2010, a proposal was submitted to apply the name Kit Carson Peak to the same unnamed summit. In 2011, the BGN voted not to approve any of these proposals and reaffirmed the previous Kit Carson Mountain decision.

Name changes do happen.

In September, the name of Mount Evans was officially changed to Mount Blue Sky by the federal board. The process was a several-year collaboration between tribal, state, county, and local governments.

The Colorado Geographical Naming Advisory Board will next meet on Jan. 24, 2024, from 5 to 7 p.m. and will be on Zoom with meeting ID 885-7290-3329 with the password 266179.

Requests for comment from Crestone Mayor Karina Danforth were not received by press time.