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Re-naming Cascades peaks

William O. Douglas thought it was silly to have big mountains named for people who'd never set foot here. Something to ponder when looking at "Rainier."

The proposal to re-establish the state Board of Geographic Names is working its way through the legislature. Even if the board is reconstituted, it's not likely to be eager to take on major, never-die controversies, such as the re-naming of Mount Rainier.

Re-naming Rainier has come up on a regular basis for more than a century, and the case was considered closed by the previous board before it was eliminated by the legislature. As recently as last year, however, a Puyallup tribal member was pushing to rename Rainier and other Northwest landmarks with native names. The "native" name for Rainier is the matter of some argument, but most commonly proposed names are variants of Tacoma or Tahoma. Robert Satiacum of the Puyallups has proposed "Ti'Swaq" ("tea-swawk").

I recently came across a passage that makes the case for reconsidering the names of some major Cascades peaks. It's in the 1950 book Of Men and Mountains by the late Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who wrote beautifully and evocatively of the beloved wild lands he hiked from youth, and where he lived for many years near Goose Prairie. In one passage, Douglas muses about the names of the major mountains: Rainier, Adams, St. Helens and Hood, one named for our second president, the others for officers in the Royal Navy who had virtually nothing to do with the region. He writes:

None of these men, so honored, ever saw the mountains that bear their names. None of them ever set foot on the Cascades. They never perspired on these slopes or slept in the high basins on beds of fir boughs. They never fished for cutthroat or rainbow in the streams or lakes or stalked a deer on the ridges.They never saw the delicate Sidalcea on the slopes of Darling Mountain or the fields of squawgrass in Blankenship Meadows. These men were total strangers to the Cascades....

The Indians had for thousands of years hunted their slopes, drunk their ice-cold waters, lived in their shadows. Yet of all the major peaks in the northwest range of the Cascades, only one has retained its Indian name. That is Shuksan, the Place of the Storm Wind....

Mount Adams, he thought, was more appropriately named Klickitat after local Indians. Or, in terms of honoring a man who embodied Western adventure and environmentalism, after Teddy Roosevelt. Douglas himself later had a Cascades wilderness area named for him. 

Re-naming Rainier is highly unlikely, but Douglas made an interesting case for shifting our view about who we honor on the maps. Sweat equity should be a factor.

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.


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