Naming geographic features can be a touchy thing, and when a call is made to rename one, well, a good debate likely ensues. That's the case with efforts by some to rename Mammoth Peak in Yosemite National Park.
U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-California, believes it would be fitting to rename the 12,117-foot mountain, located in the eastern part of the park roughly halfway between Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Pass, after Jessie Benton Fremont. Her husband, John C. Fremont, was better known for his explorations of the West, serving as the first Republican presidential candidate, and, for his role as a Civil War general. She has been portrayed as the driving force behind his success.
Why rename the mountain now after Mrs. Fremont? To coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant Act, which officially protected the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove.
“On the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Yosemite Land Grant, naming a peak for Jessie Benton Fremont is a fitting honor for a woman whose wisdom, foresight and perseverance helped preserve the majestic site that is Yosemite for all time,” said Rep. McClintock. “The naming of the peak is an important and overdue step in recognizing her important contributions to California and the nation.”
That pronouncement, however, has not been welcomed by all. Some say there's little, if any, evidence that Mrs. Fremont had a significant role in promoting the land grant. William R. Jones, an author with a substantial list of Yosemite-related articles to his credit, wrote members of Congress, including Rep. McClintock, with reservations about the effort to honor Mrs. Fremont.
In that letter Mr. Jones, who spent time as a naturalist in Yosemite, said past efforts to trace Mrs. Fremont's role in the Yosemite Land Grant had been unsuccessful.
1) For historical accuracy, ensure that Jessie’s role in the development of the Yosemite Grant is documented. If documentation is not presently available, Congress should defer action on H.R. 1192 and instead authorize a study to determine if such documentation can be found and if it is to report findings so they may be considered.
If the result of Concern #1 determines Jessie’s role is appropriate for commemoration, then
2) Congress should designate a feature within the original Yosemite Grant to bear her name, not a feature elsewhere such as Mammoth Peak. The High Sierra area in which Mammoth Peak lies was in 1890 included in a new park outside the Yosemite Grant, created after a separate effort by other players including John Muir, and is therefore not relevant to the Yosemite Grant or to any role Jessie Fremont had in its creation.
In Washington, the National Park Service has officially opposed this legislation, nothing that "While Jesse Benton Frémont was among the early supporters of protecting Yosemite Valley, there is no evidence of her having a connection to Mammoth Peak."
Beyond that, both the agency and the U.S. Board of Geographic Names policies discourage the commemorative naming of features within federally designated wilderness.