Monday, October 26, 2009

Debating Landmark Names

October 26, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Landmark names in the Superstition Wilderness Area have caused a considerable amount of debate in recent years. The debate results from changes in place names and landmark names from generation to generation. There will never be any real resolve to this issue because of changing generations.  Place or landmark names can be here one year and gone the next.

Being a resident of the area for more than fifty years I have observed many changes in place and landmark names. The most obvious being name changes here in Apache Junction. How many of you remember County Line Road, Wilson Drive, Vineyard Road, Hickman Road, Transmission Road, Rattlesnake Drive or Sunset Drive? This name changing has also occurred in the Superstition Wilderness Area for the past one hundred years, and even continues today as new folks find a different name for a landmark or come up with their own name.

Some of these names remain and we are challenged with trying to interpret somebody else’s knowledge when it comes to search and rescue or hiking in these mountains. Jack Carlson and Elizabeth Stewart have done an excellent job with their hiking guide books for preserving place and landmark names. Their books will be around for a long time and hopefully will benefit future historians and research people, and will help stabilized the present names on landmarks. Their books are the most accurate and factual ever written on the Superstition Wilderness Area. I highly recommend them for anyone who plans to become involved with the Superstition Wilderness Area in any way from hiking to historical research.

The premises of any landmark name that leads to any kind of solution about its origin has to be based on accurate research. Ironically, most information to do with landmark and place names is based on hearsay. This material is extremely subjective and very difficult to document. Let’s study, just for moment, the most popular landmark in the Superstition Wilderness Area, other than Superstition Mountain. Even with this statement there would be controversy as to what landmark within wilderness would be the best known. Some would say Ship Rock, Flat Iron, First Water, Weaver’s Needle, and Peralta Canyon just to name a few. Let’s evaluate the name of Weaver’s Needle.

This landmark is the oldest historically named landmark in the area. It was named after mountain man and guide Paulino Weaver. This prominent landmark east of Superstition Mountain has been named since 1853, however it has been called other names on maps and in a variety of stories.

Weaver’s Needle was known as Picacho Peak and Statue Mountain on various military sketch maps. These sketch maps were basically maps submitted by commanding officers who led campaigns against the Apaches in the Superstition Mountains between 1864-1878.

Arizona already has one Picacho Peak near I-10 Highway between Phoenix and Tucson. Weaver’s Needle has appeared as Statue Mountain on a couple of military sketch maps of the 1860’s. References were made of the prominent point being called Picacho as late as 1872. This reference can illustrate what happens to place names. Believe me, there have been many changes in place name during the past fifty years in our area. Recording landmark and place names for the future is very important when there is a need to do historical research about an area. Proper names help to identify a location and some of its history.

Within the Superstition Wilderness Area there are more than twenty-five hundred landmarks and place names that can bear out a systematic study. Many place names have three to five different names according to the source and the period the source lived.

The forest service wilderness management plan discourages the naming of places and landmarks within the wilderness area. However, the management office has conceded to the fact search and rescue operations would be almost impossible with recognizable landmark and place names to guide searchers. Could you imagine following instructions for a search and rescue operation in the wilderness with no names for landmarks? There also remains the distinct possibility that GPS coordinates could replace landmarks and place names in the Superstition Wilderness Area. To do this everyone would have to have GPS instrument and know how to use it. The names will survive and technology will help in the location of various landmarks and place names.

The additional argument for place and landmark names is the preservation of local history that was generated by the old cowboys; ranchers, miners, prospectors, treasure hunters and adventurers who walked and rode these hills. This history will never be lost as long as there are those of us who are interest in preserving stories of this unique region we call the Superstition Mountains of central Arizona.