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Place names help us remember our past

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The recent essay by Mary Stange suggested that Western maps are too filled with place names (like Custer’s) that Native Americans in particular find historically offensive, and that it is long past time to change those names (HCN, 2/6/06: Living with the ghosts of the Indian Wars).

But I wonder if there might not be a hidden cost to sanitizing the maps too much. Like it or not, the military conquest of the West is part of the nation’s history, and I’m not sure erasing the evidence of it from the maps is the wisest course to follow. Wouldn’t it be just another way of sanitizing American history ... which, God knows, has been sanitized enough in the history texts already? If a "Squaw River" or two survives somewhere in the West, might it not be wise to leave the name in place?

Maybe leaving some reminders on the maps will keep alive in coming generations some sense of how it once was, what the struggle to end it cost, and how much things have changed. Perhaps when a new generation of young people comes across such names, it will prompt them to ask what the names mean and how it could have happened. Or so we can hope.

Ms. Stange’s essay was an interesting one and got me thinking about names upon the land in ways I hadn’t before.

Robert A. Becker Ogden, Utah

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