Monday, May 11, 2009

Kit Carson Mountain

May 11, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

History is often best served by the preservation of landmark names. The Superstition Wilderness is filled with landmarks significant of historical mention. It is very difficult to research the history of a given area if all the historical landmarks have been changed or erased. What if we became tired of place names like Roosevelt Dam, the Apache Trail and Apache Junction or maybe even Arizona?

Shortly after the turn of the century, Tortilla Mountain was a victim to a place name change. Early in 1915 a group of enterprising concession entrepreneurs from Phoenix arbitrarily decided to change all the names along the Mesa-Roosevelt Road (Apache Trail) because they believed more romantic names were needed for tourists. The group felt place names in general along the road were quite sterile and needed a more Spanish or Western flavor. One of the first name changes was the Mesa-Roosevelt Road to the Apache Trail. A young Southern Pacific Rail Road ticket agent named Watson is accredited with naming the Apache Trail.

Names such as the Bronze Wall, Treasure Pass, Coronado Mountain and Kit Carson Mountain begin to appear on travel maps and brochures promoting the beauty of the Apache Trail, the Canyon of the Salt River and Roosevelt Lake. This occurred around 1916.

These changes, for the most part, went unnoticed by most Arizona residents. The concession entrepreneurs that changed the place names along the Apache Trail were not very sensitive to the recommendations of Arizona historians. There was one Arizona historian whose ire was raised. This man was James A. McClintock. His first response was indicative of his outrage.

“Who are these men that would change our pioneer names— change the meaning of Arizona History?,” said McClintock.

McClintock was a noted Arizona historian. He had been deeply involved with the development of the Roosevelt Dam site and had suggested the survey route of the Apache Trail.

He had served with Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War.

McClintock immediately appealed to the Arizona legislature to set up a historical place name commission that would oversee the naming and renaming of Arizona landmarks.

The legislature formed the Historical Landmark Commission and McClintock was appointed to the commission in 1919.
McClintock soon pointed out Kit Carson was never near Superstition Mountain nor was the Spanish explorer Coronado. The twenty or so place names changed during this period had no historical documentation to support such a change other than the desire by the concession entrepreneurs of the Southern Pacific Rail Road to please the appetite of Wild West tourist. Ironically McClintock had faced down the most powerful lobby in the Arizona legislature, the railroads, when he defied the change of place names along the Apache Trail.

Kit Carson Mountain was changed back to Tortilla Mountain (near Hayden, Az.). The place name Coronado Mountain for Superstition Mountain did not survive one year. The names, the Bronze Wall, Lookout Point, Inspiration Point and Treasure Pass did linger on for a few years.

Arizona place names are often confusing enough, but to mix them with romantic history of the times distracts from the true pioneer history of the state.

There are always those people who want to change pioneer names or geographic landmarks to better suit their needs with little or no consideration for history. Recently, we have been told, the place names within the Superstition Wilderness Area do not actually exist, the only purpose for the names remaining on maps are for emergency use by rescue units. The names have no historical significance in a wilderness area.

Personally, I totally disagree with this philosophy. It is ironic some people believe we should totally ignore our heritage for the satisfaction of the future generations. Can you imagine changing the name of Potomac River, or the Hudson River? Can you imagine changing the name Washington D.C. to better suit the economic climate of this nation? The Southwest has a strong heritage were historical names are of enormous value. Future bureaucrats could easily make such adjustments in American history.

The name Apache Trail is the most significant named land mark from this period of Arizona history. The strong railroad lobby was able to name the Apache Trail to better suit its bid for tourism in Arizona along the Southern Pacific Railroad.

The Apache Trail was originally called the Tonto Wagon Road; it was named the Mesa-Roosevelt Haul Road and eventually the Apache Trail. Between 1880 and 1950 railroads had a powerful lobby in our state legislature and controlled the naming of many of our states landmarks.