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Adios, Kit Carson

Kit Carson Park, which used to be a state park but now belongs to the town of Taos, includes a cemetery with the famous scout's grave. Town officials are changing the name to Red Willow Park. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
Kit Carson Park, which used to be a state park but now belongs to the town of Taos, includes a cemetery with the famous scout's grave. Town officials are changing the name to Red Willow Park. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
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Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

His name is all over Taos, on one of its main roads, on the nearby national forest, on its electric cooperative and on the home where he once lived.

But the name of Kit Carson, the famed scout, explorer, trapper, soldier and Indian agent, will no longer grace Taos’ centerpiece downtown park. The Town Council passed a resolution Tuesday night to change the name to Red Willow Park.

“This is about trying to begin to reconcile the transgressions of the past,” council member Fritz Hahn said Wednesday.

Kit Carson's grave is located in a cemetery in a Taos park named after the historical figure, who died in 1868. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Kit Carson’s grave is located in a cemetery in a Taos park named after the historical figure, who died in 1868. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The park, named Kit Carson Park as long as locals can remember, gets its new name from Taos itself. The town’s name is derived from the Tiwa word for red willow. Kit Carson, who died in 1868, is buried in the cemetery at the park.

The council voted 3-1 in favor of the change after a presentation from Linda Yardley, a Native American, and Taoseños Andres Vargas, Steve Wiard and Chris Peiper. Yardley could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but Hahn summarized her sentiments.

“She feels uncomfortable in the park, which is named after someone who egregiously hurt her people,” said Hahn. “We have got to heal the wreckage of the past, and Kit Carson is part of that.”

“We support the action of the Town Council due to the negative connotation that the name Kit Carson has amongst indigenous people in the area,” said Taos Pueblo tribal Secretary Ian Chisholm. “We view the gesture as a way of healing and reconciling the past and fostering an improved and stronger working relationship with the town of Taos.”

Taos activist Arseñio Cordova, who has a master’s degree in Southwest studies, said that although Carson is condemned by the Navajos, “he didn’t do anything to the Taos Indians.” Carson was ordered by his U.S. Army superiors to march an estimated 8,000 Navajo men, women and children 300 miles from Arizona to Fort Sumner, N.M., on what’s called the “Long Walk.” Those who survived were later allowed to return.

Deonta Lee of Memphis, Tenn., talks on the phone from on outdoor stage at Kit Carson Park in Taos on Wednesday. Carson's controversial history with Native Americans led the Town Council to change the name to Red Willow Park. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Deonta Lee of Memphis, Tenn., talks on the phone from on outdoor stage at Kit Carson Park in Taos on Wednesday. Carson’s controversial history with Native Americans led the Town Council to change the name to Red Willow Park. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

“I think they (the council members) should have discussed it a little more before doing anything and got some input from historians,” Cordova said.

No one at Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly’s office could be reached for comment Wednesday.

Native American and indigenous sensitivities have been in the national forefront recently, with some pushing for a name change for the National Football League’s Washington Redskins. “A lot of my pueblo friends really like the ‘Skins; they take pride in that,” Hahn said.

In April, the Minneapolis City Council changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.

The impetus for the Taos name change was twofold, said Town Manager Rick Bellis, part of a new administration that includes a newly elected mayor and two new council members. The Yardley group that spoke “represented a spectrum of ethnicities and cultures,” he said.

Among those involved was Robby Romero, whose guardian was the late actor Dennis Hopper. Romero helped organize the recent Dennis Hopper Day motorcycle ride to Taos Pueblo and grew up there, Bellis said. The issue “just started a dialogue, and he (Romero) started talking to (pueblo musician) Robert Mirabal,” Bellis said. “More and more people became uncomfortable” with the name, he said. “There were people in the Hispanic community who said the same thing,” Bellis said, adding that the park was “named for a guy with dubious history, so why not rename the park?”

Karen Douglas, executive director of the Kit Carson Home and Museum in Taos, wasn’t looking to get caught up in the issue. “It’s not our responsibility or concern,” she said. “These are issues people are very sensitive about, and we are aware of that.”

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