Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Big one
And Silliness

Mt. Denali / McKinley

There are of course lies in the history of every nation, comfortable myths that are simply not true. And half-truths that are frequently even worst than out and out lies. Here are a few lies as commemorated at American historic sites across the USA.

The first one isn’t even really a lie it is just, shall we say rather absurd. In 1896 a prospector for gold, William A. Dickey, saw a mountain, the tallest in North America and called it Mt. McKinley.  Exactly how this prospector got to name the mountain is mysterious. He wasn’t even the first American to see it other Americans had beat him by 25+ years. So had the English explorer Vancouver. The Russians who had seen the mountain in the 18th century had called the mountain Bulshaia Gora meaning “Big Mountain”. The local Tanaina Indians called the mountain Denali meaning “the Big One”.

Shortly after to justify calling the mountain McKinley the US Geographical Board labeled Mr. Dickey the discoverer of the mountain. A contention that is simply absurd. However Dickey had named the mountain after a prominent American politician William McKinley who in 1896 became president of the US and then in 1901 was assassinated. So the name gained acceptance even though it did not quite meet the usual criteria for naming geographical features.

In the case of Mt. McKinley the problem was that the locals, i.e., Alaskans generally preferred the name Denali, which meaning “the Big One” seems like the perfect name for the tallest mountain in North America. Eventually Alaska changed the name back to Denali. However the Federal government still calls it McKinley. This is because  certain representatives of the state of Ohio repeatedly block any attempt to change the name. Supposedly changing the name would be insulting to William McKinley who was from Ohio.

Thus does Denali / McKinley end up with two names, one le3gally sanctioned by the state of Alaska and the other by the US federal government. One is a native name that is entirely apropos, the other the last name of a not very interesting or important American President.

And that is just plain silly.1

Mt. Denali / McKinley

1. Loewen, James W., Lies Across America, The New Press, New York, 1999, pp. 51-54. 

Pierre Cloutier

No comments:

Post a Comment