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Colorado 14er Kit Carson Mountain readies for a new name

Federal board wonders if a suggestion for “Mount Crestone” may be confused with nearby Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle as the state naming group weighs a new name for the 14er
The Crestone Group in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, pictured Wednesday, about an hour west of Pueblo, in the Wet Mountain Valley near Westcliffe, includes five 14'ers: the Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, Kit Carson Mountain, Challenger Point and Humboldt Peak. (Shanna Lewis/KRCC News)

The Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board is not keen to rename the 14,171-foot Kit Carson Mountain in the Sangre de Cristo range after a flat-topped pyramid shape known in geometry as a frustum.

The board Thursday once again declined to vote on a proposal to rename Kit Carson Mountain as Frustum Peak. The name, first floated in 2020 and weighed briefly by the board in November, has a small historical connection to the mountain above the town of Crestone named after the controversial frontiersman Christopher “Kit” Houston Carson.

“Is a geometric term ideal?” board member Richard Cimino, a Grand County commissioner, asked during the naming board’s first discussion of the Frustum Peak proposal in November. “When we are renaming a fourteener it will last a long time and we want to do our best.”

The path to a new name for a Colorado feature has followed a similar path in the past few years: A name is proposed and several more suggestions quickly follow. It’s the same for frustum.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names on Thursday released its quarterly list of proposed name changes, which included new proposals to change the Kit Carson Mountain name to Lawrence Peak or Tabeguache-Ute Peak. In the past week the Town of Crestone Board of Trustees filed an application with the national board to rename Kit Carson as Mount Crestone, which will be on the national board’s next quarterly report.

More name suggestions could be coming, said Jennifer Runyon with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

“Here we go, shades of Mount Evans,” said Runyon, noting the surge of possible names that came to the national naming board as calls to change Mount Evans increased last year.

Richard Trotter, a resident of Saguache County, proposed Lawrence Peak after John Lawrence, a white settler who founded the town of Saguache and who worked closely with Spanish and Ute communities. Trotter admitted the proposal does not have support from local politicians, which the naming advisory board likes to see.

“He’s just a really interesting person and I think in a time when there was a lot of division … he was able to bring people together,” Trotter said.

Runyon, in Wednesday’s Colorado advisory board meeting, noted that the mountain to the southeast of Kit Carson Mountain has three summits called Crestone Peak, Crestone Needle and Broken Hand Peak. The application from the town of Crestone notes that those Crestone-named peaks are not visible from town. Still, the swirl of neighboring summits all named Crestone could trouble search-and-rescue efforts in the region. But the board “wants to honor local use and opinions,” Runyon said.

“I could see the board anguishing a bit on this one,” she said, wondering if the recent submittals could trigger a bigger shuffling of names to accommodate changes not only on Kit Carson Mountain but the names of Crestone peaks farther south in the Sangre de Cristos.

The removal of Kit Carson could also prod shifts around the nation. There are 12 natural features named on federal maps as Kit Carson in California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington. Carson was a trapper-turned-explorer and Army officer who worked closely with Native tribes but also carried out orders in the 1860s to kill members of the Navajo, Apache, Kiowa and Comanche tribes. He led the forced removal of Navajo and Apache from their homelands in Arizona and New Mexico, a 300-mile march known as the Long Walk that killed hundreds of Natives.

The Board on Geographic Names named Kit Carson Peak in 1906 and changed that to Kit Carson Mountain in 1970, making it clear the name applied to a 1-mile ridge that includes three prominent peaks. Two of the summits atop the broad mountain – 14,087-foot Challenger Point and 13,986-foot Columbia Point – were named by the national board in 1985 and 2003 following space shuttle accidents. The third summit is unnamed. The town of Crestone in 2010 asked the national board to change Kit Carson Mountain to Mount Crestone. A 2008 proposal suggested Tranquility Peak. The board voted in 2011 to not make any changes to Kit Carson Mountain and leave the most prominent peak unlabeled.

Frustum Peak was originally proposed to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in December 2020 by a Littleton resident who described Carson as “an almost mythical figure of the American frontier” whose military campaigns against Apache and Navajo tribes warranted removal of his name. The famed Wheeler Survey of the American West in the 1870s referred to the mountain as Frustum Peak. A few books on Colorado’s highest peaks dating back to 1970 have called the unnamed peak on the mountain Frustum.

Kizzen Laki, a trustee in Crestone who has lived in the town for 40 years, told the Colorado advisory board Thursday that no one in the town calls the peak Kit Carson.

“Kit Carson has a reputation that was not all that good in the valley,” said Laki, who gathered maps and historical documents supporting the town’s now 14-year push to name the three-peaked massif Mount Crestone. “It’s looking at having the smallest amount of impact for maps, for mountain climbers, for peak baggers. It’s an effort to go with a historical name rather than impose a name that does not have any history.”

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