Welcome back, Doso Doyabi!
That’s what the Shoshone have always called it, but the rest of us have finally caught up.
The USGS, at its Domestic Names Committee meeting of June 13, voted unanimously to eject the president of the Confederacy from Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada and give Doso Doyabi back its original name. This has been a couple of years in the making, but yesterday’s vote makes it official.
Let me thank Dr. Christine Johnson of the Nevada Historical Society and Jennifer Runyon of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for patiently answering my incessant emails: Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Dr. Johnson let me know this morning that it really happened. The USGS hasn’t posted it yet; you’ll start seeing it in the news when they do, likely next week.
First I want to tell you what happened, but then: dust off your screen and clear the area, because we are going to celebrate this mountain!
Earlier this year, The Nevada State Board of Geographic Names considered the case for this name change:
Members from the Pyramid Lake Paiute and Yomba Shoshone tribes and the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony spoke in favor of the change.
In a letter to the board, the Duckwater Shoshone Elders Committee also expressed support stating, in part, "It honors our cultural heritage, for the places that had names before they were renamed." [...]
“It’s in the western Shoshone original territory,” Kathy Adams-Blackeye, vice chairman of the Duckwater Shoshone tribe, said of the peak which is now within Great Basin National Park. “It has always been a place where historically people have gathered.”
Why “Doso Doyabi”? If we visit the University of Utah’s Shoshoni Language Project, we find a couple of interesting entries:
Doso Doyabi. “White Mountain”.
The Shoshone name suggests something about its appearance many years ago:
Tribal elders say it's a reference to the fact the summit of the 12,771-foot (3,830-meter) mountain near the Utah line was covered in snow year-round.
It isn’t anymore, though:
I’m not supposed to be celebrating the mountain yet, but man, that’s a nice-looking mountain, isn’t it? Anyway, I was telling you what happened...
First, a super-brief history of the “Jeff Davis Peak” name. A one-page version is here, but an even quicker capsule is below:
“Jeff Davis Peak” never caught on very widely, as many “came to regret" that name, as they politely say, after the Civil War. In early Nevada maps like those shown below, we see “Wheeler Peak” referred to much more often than Jeff Davis Peak, at least starting in 1869, when Captain George Wheeler led a survey of the West (the “Wheeler Survey”), which later morphed into the USGS.
A name that doesn’t appear on many maps usually generates little interest or concern, but around the time of the events of 2017 in Charlottesville, many Confederate monuments started coming down…
...and the State of Nevada began to receive inquiries and proposals about doing away with “Jeff Davis Peak”.
The first Nevada hearing on the subject:
This is the first hearing for proposed renaming of Jefferson “Jeff” Davis Peak to Doso Doyabi in White Pine County. Executive Secretary discussed proposal, submitted by the Duckwater Tribe in eastern Nevada. Elders of the tribe gave the term Doso Doyabi from two elders; these elders’ mother was one of the only survivors of the Spring Valley massacre. He received the name, took it to the University of Utah’s Shoshone Language project for verification, which means “White Mountain.” Put forward with no descriptor (no ‘peak’ or ‘mountain’) due to inherent meaning of the term. Tribe as a whole is supporting this name. [...] No additional discussion, unanimous approval, no objections and no abstentions. Motion passed.
And the second:
Motion made by Jack Hursh to approve the application to rename the peak presently known as Jeff.Davis Peak to Doso Doyabi. Seconded by Karl Yonkers. No additional discussion, unanimous approval, no objections and no abstentions. Motion passed.
Good on you, Nevada!
You should read that link above about the little-known Spring Valley massacre. You’ll be disgusted by it, but the Shoshone haven’t forgotten it, and neither should you.
The final decision in feature-naming matters like these goes to the USGS, and after waiting for the National Park Service to consult with local municipalities and reach its own recommendation, decide the USGS did, and unanimously so: “Jeff Davis Peak” is no more.
Other vestiges of our sordid past continue to disappear in this way, long after they should have. For example, on April 11 of this year, a creek near Savannah, Georgia was renamed “Freedom Creek” in a vote by the USGS after the name change was approved by the Georgia legislature. Its previous name? “Runaway Negro Creek”. That stood until 2019.
But now, let’s get to know Doso Doyabi!
You already know what a beautiful mountain it is, but there are so many other great things about this mountain and the National Park it looks over.
For starters, in between Wheeler Peak and Doso Doyabi lies the only glacier in Nevada, the Wheeler Peak Glacier. It is a final remnant of the last glacial maximum, and there is only one glacier farther south in the U.S.: Palisade Glacier in California. Because of the warming climate, unfortunately, it is estimated that Wheeler Peak Glacier will disappear in 20 years or so.
And now for something completely different — but equally distinctive... Of all individual organisms on Earth, for which an age is definable, only one is known to have lived for 4,900 years, according to OLDLIST, a database kept by Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research, making it the longest-lived organism ever known. That organism, Prometheus the bristlecone pine, is found not in California, as you might guess, but in the shadow of none other than Wheeler Peak and Doso Doyabi. (Its exact location is a secret, to protect it.) As Mel Allen used to say on This Week In Baseball, “How a-BOUT that?!”
And what have those bristlecone pines been doing all these years? Enjoying the night sky, of course, because the home of Doso Doyabi, Great Basin National Park, has been recognized by The International Dark-Sky Association as a dark sky park!
That’s the stylized version, but it’s even more gorgeous in real life. From Matador Network:
Another cool fact, literally: The Great Basin Desert (that the National Park is within) is the only “cold desert” in the U.S, which means the majority of its precipitation (less than 10 inches a year, which qualifies you as a desert) is in the form of snow. There are only seven of these in the world, including Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. The Great Basin itself has its name because any water within it does not flow into either ocean; it is simply absorbed into the ground.
Great Basin National Park has so many wonders that I can’t do justice to in this space, but a blog called Our Wander-Filled Life does a superb job of that here. They cover not only the mountains, but also Lehman Caves, the astronomy program, the lakes, the trees, and lots more. I had a lot of fun reading that, and I think you will, too. They made me want to visit that park!
If you’re feeling more adventurous — WAY more adventurous — check out this crazy solo ski adventure from mid-April 2019 on Wheeler Peak and Doso Doyabi. Honestly, don’t miss this one. It’s an absolute blast, and our ski-blogger, named Boissal, gets the honor from me of being the first person I am aware of (besides the Shoshone, of course) to use “Doso Doyabi” conversationally as he talks about the mountain. I’m so glad he documented that trip and took us with him!
So to recap, we have not only gotten rid of a detestable name, but we’ve graced an absolutely beautiful mountain with the best name we possibly could have. I hope that makes your day, because it sure made mine.
Our work’s not done, though. There is another Jeff Davis Peak in California that the USGS is also reviewing a name change for. If it goes through, we may go back to ths one’s Native American appellation as well. If that does happen, I’ll be right back here again to let you know all about it. (And it is gonna happen. Just be patient...)
But for now, let’s close with our late friend Prince and “Mountains”.
Love will conquer, if you just believe.