In January, the Colorado Springs Gazette published an article on the campaign to rename Pikes Peak to Tavá Mountain, the name the Ute people gave it before Zebulon Pike’s brief and unsuccessful expedition of the peak in November 1806.
According to Ilaheva Tua’one, assistant professor of Indigenous and Native American studies in the Women’s and Ethnic Studies Program, “[Tavá Mountain] is the first of all of the Rocky Mountain peaks that the sun’s rays hit when the sun rises in the morning.”
This feature is what originally made the peak such a special and sacred place to the Native people of Colorado, earning it the name Tavá Kaa-vi, meaning “Sun Mountain.”
According to the Gazette, the primary reason behind the campaign to rename Pikes Peak stems from an attitude of decolonization. Historians attributed its discovery to Pike, despite its prominence in Ute history, and Pike’s unsuccessful efforts to reach its summit.
“[Pike] failed and said the peak would never be summited,” said John Harner, a professor of geography at UCCS. “He thought [the peak] was way higher than it really was.”
“He was pretty inept,” Harner continued. “His journals were terrible, and he was full of misconceptions and outright mistakes.”
The Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board has recognized the Pikes Peak renaming campaign’s recent efforts, though no change has been made.
Tim Mauck, deputy director of the Department of Natural Resources, said that while there is still interest in the campaign from both the media and its supporters, a proposal to rename Pikes Peak has not been submitted.
Jennifer Runyon from the U.S. Board on Geographic Names Research confirmed this. “We have not received at the federal level any proposal,” she said. “We don’t have dual naming for geographic features.”
Runyon said that since the records show Pike did not commit any inherently offensive deeds during his expedition, the motivating factor for renaming the peak would be to restore or append a native name, “which is not something that the Board typically does.”
During the Colorado gold rush of 1859, historical accounts and newspapers identified the mountain as “Pike’s Peak.” The name has long since stuck, becoming a distinctive part of the Colorado Springs brand for decades despite its colonialist origins.
Tua’one said that by naming the peak after Pike the people of Colorado and the country at large were conquering the Native Americans “by going out and naming … their natural landmarks.”
“Afterwards, many other towns and hamlets and counties and rivers all bore Pike’s name because he was the first man of European descent to see [the peak]…and I like to call him, this seeing man, ‘the man who comes and conquers with his eyes,’” Tua’one said.
Harner said that any attempts to rename the peak would “certainly generate a lot of resistance, [because] even though the name doesn’t really matter, the Pikes Peak region is almost synonymous with Colorado Springs, and the city has put a lot of work into branding and building their identity.”