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Montana Landmarks Named For Confederate Leader Under Scrutiny

Multiple groups are petitioning the federal government to rename three Montana geographic features to replace the name of a Confederate Civil War leader to names that honor Montana Native Americans and the Chinese immigrants who built the state's mines.

The petition asks the U.S. Board of Geographic Names to rename Montana’s Jeff Davis Peak and Jeff Davis Creek in Beaverhead County and Jeff Davis Gulch in Lewis and Clark County.

Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederated States during the Civil War and a proponent of slavery.

The petition is being brought by many groups, including the Montana Racial Equity Project, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Montana Human Rights Network, the Forward Montana Foundation, Montana Wilderness Association, the Wilderness Society and the Mai Wah Society, a Butte museum on the history of Asian people in the Rocky Mountains.

The groups are asking to rename Jeff Davis Peak “Three Eagles Peak” in honor of Salish Chief Three Eagles. For Jeff Davis Creek, the groups propose “Choos-wee Creek” in honor of the Salish word for Chinese people. Finally, the groups suggested renaming Jeff Davis Gulch as “In-qu-qu-leet Gulch,” a phonetic spelling of the Salish term meaning “Place of Lodgepole Pine.”

Instead of honoring Davis, the groups ask “to honor the Native Americans to whom these lands retain great cultural significance, as well as the Chinese immigrants who have been largely unrecognized for their work in Montana.”

The process could take years before a decision is made.

In 2017, Native American leaders from across the country asked the Board of Geographic Names to rename Mount Doane in Yellowstone National Park. The mountain is currently named for an army lieutenant who massacred nearly 200 Piikani people in Montana during the late 1800s. The request is still being considered by multiple agencies.

Kaitlyn Nicholas is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report for America Indigenous affairs reporter.

Copyright 2021 Yellowstone Public Radio