FROM THE ARCHIVES: FROM NIGGER TO NEGRO: OF MOUNTAINS, CANYONS, CREEKS, AND CHANGE

In addition to Negro Mountain (on which I did a previous post), here is a story on another mountain named after a Black American, in this case, the more recently renamed Ballard Mountain found in California. The mountain was once known as Niggerhead Mountain, when White settlers named the land. Now, it bears the name of the Black man who with his family, were among the first Black settlers to this area of California, now known as Malibu, CA.

 

The following is a very in-depth and interesting article on the history of John Ballard, and Negrohead Mountain.

(Photo courtesy of the LA Times)

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Photo of Ballard.

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A Heightened Profile For One of L.A.’s Black Pioneers

Early settlers in the Agoura area named Negrohead Mountain after John Ballard, a former slave who moved there in the 1880s. Now L.A. County wants to put Ballard’s actual name on the 2,031-foot peak.

 

February 24, 2009|Bob Pool
Negrohead Mountain is an unlikely memorial to a former slave who made a name for himself at the western end of Los Angeles County.

More than 120 years ago, pioneers in the Santa Monica Mountains named the peak for John Ballard, the first black man to settle in the hills above Malibu.

 

Today, authorities will take the first step toward what they consider a more fitting tribute by renaming the 2,031-foot volcanic peak Ballard Mountain.

The name now used by the U.S. Geological Survey is a refinement of the slur then used by pioneers when referring to Ballard — a well-known blacksmith and teamster who put down roots on 320 acres near what is now the community of Seminole Hot Springs.

Ballard was a former Kentucky slave who had won his freedom and come to Los Angeles in 1859. In the sleepy, emerging city, he had a successful delivery service and quickly became a landowner. Soon he was active in civic affairs: He was a founder of the city’s first African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The arrival of the railroad triggered a land boom in Los Angeles in the 1880s, boosting property values and bringing the city its first sense of class structure and the beginnings of segregation.

Ballard packed up his family and moved about 50 miles west to the snug valley in the middle of the Santa Monica range. He settled first on 160 acres — space that eventually doubled in size when one of his seven children, daughter Alice, claimed an adjoining plot.

Besides raising livestock and a few crops, Ballard collected firewood in the nearby mountains and sold it in Los Angeles.

He also worked at blacksmithing and other chores on the Russell Ranch, a sprawling cattle spread at what is now Westlake Village. He would travel by mule or buggy several miles through Triunfo Canyon to get there.

J.H. Russell, who had grown up on his family’s ranch and as a boy rode his horse to Ballard’s rickety cabin to mooch biscuits smothered with wild grapes preserved in honey by Ballard’s wife, remembered the scene well in his 1963 book, “Heads and Tails . . . and Odds and Ends.”

“The Ballard house was something to behold. It was built of willow poles, rocks, mud and Babcock Buggy signs (“Best on Earth”), Maier & Zobelein Lager Beer signs and any other kind of sign the old man picked up. Hardly a Sunday passed where there were not several buggies, spring wagons and loads of people going down the canyon to see the place,” he wrote.

Ballard was powerfully built — he could hoist 100-pound bags of barley with one hand — and traveled in a wagon pulled by five mules and “sometimes a cow or horse hitched up with the five,” Russell recounted.

Wealthy Malibu landowner Frederick Rindge also admired Ballard.

 

In his own book, “Happy Days in Southern California,” published in 1898, Rindge recalled a conversation with Andrew Sublett, who told how would-be thieves tried to chase Ballard out.

“He brought to mind how his old colored neighbor across the range had been maltreated by the settlers on account of his color; how they set fire to his cabin, hoping thus to terrorize him and drive him from the country; how some thought that the real purpose was that some men with white faces and black hearts wanted to jump his claim after they got rid of him,” Rindge wrote.

“But this was not the material the good old gentleman was constructed of, and as a shame to his tormentors, he put up a sign over the ruins of his cabin which read: ‘This was the work of the devil.’ ”

Ballard died in 1905 at about age 75. His daughter Alice married and moved to Vernon in about 1910. But memories of the man and his family that gave the mountain its name have survived in Agoura.

Today, Kanan Road, a busy route between Malibu and the Agoura-Westlake Village area, bisects the mountain, with its northernmost tunnel actually crossing through part of it.

The effort to rename the peak was launched by two contemporary residents who live on either side of the peak’s base.

Nick Noxon, a 72-year-old retired National Geographic TV producer, first learned of Ballard when he found a copy of Russell’s book in the Agoura Public Library. He and his friend Paul Culberg, 66, a retired video executive, would eventually lobby county officials to initiate a formal name change.

Culberg recalled how longtime residents had mentioned Negrohead Mountain when he and his wife, Leah, moved to the area 34 years ago. Except back then, the old-timers were still using the slur instead of “negro.” The slur appears on early government topographic maps of the Santa Monica Mountains.

When Noxon met Moorpark College history instructor Patty Colman at a National Park Service event and she revealed more of Ballard’s L.A. history to him, he recruited her to the “Ballard Mountain” campaign.

“People of color found opportunity in early Los Angeles,” said Colman, of Santa Clarita.

Others in Agoura said it’s about time Ballard be honored in a more appropriate way.

This area has a lot of history and we should preserve it as best we can,” said Vern Savko, who with her husband, Ed, has owned and operated the landmark Mulholland Highway Rock Store near the mountain for 48 years.Hank Koslov, a 78-year-old retired auto mechanic who was born in the area and still lives in Seminole Hot Springs, remembers hiking as a child and encountering the remains of John Ballard’s home.

 

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said officials will consider a resolution asking the U.S. Geological Survey to make the name change permanent. He said he had been unaware of Negrohead Mountain before Culberg and Noxon approached him.

He said the proposed action isn’t a matter of being politically correct.

“I believe in not altering history, but in this case the way to honor him is to do it appropriately. The mountain wasn’t named that because of its shape. It was named after him,” Yaroslavsky said.

“I’m certain that some people back then thought they were honoring him by using that name, as strange as it seems.”

bob.pool@latimes.com

SOURCE

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While reading this article, I decided to investigate as to whether there were other landmarks named concerning Black Americans; I found another one, located in Utah:

Negro Canyon, located in Moab, Utah, also had a name change done. Negro Bill Canyon (formerly called Nigger Bill Canyon) is a canyon in southeast Utah. It is part of the Colorado River watershed. Its stream flows directly into the main channel of the Colorado River within Moab Canyon.This area was known as “Nigger Bill Canyon”, after a 19th-century sheep farmer who lived in the area.

The canyon was named after William Granstaff, a mixed-race cowboy, who prospected and ran cattle in the desert canyon in the late 1870s with a Canadian trapper named “Frenchie”. They took joint possession of the abandoned Elk Mountain Mission fort near Moab after 1877, and each controlled part of the Spanish Valley. Granstaff fled the area in 1881 after being charged with bootlegging whiskey to the Native Americans.[1]

An earlier proposed name change to “African-American William Canyon” was voted down in favor of the current name.

Judging from the photos, it is a beautiful area:

 

File:Negro Bill Canyon.jpg
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File:Morning Glory Natural Bridge.JPG
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File:N-word Bill Canyon sign.JPG
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Then there is Negro Infant Mine located in Lake County, Colorado.

There is Negrohead Peak (formerly Niggerhead Peak), located in Clark County, Nevada.

If one googles the words nigger and negro in reference to historical physical landmarks, one would find a plethora of such similar named places. Perusing the Internet, I found a constant fact that many of these places were named after a Black person moved out West and put down roots, making themselves a home far away from the life they knew under slavery. On the other hand, some of these places can still be found in the South, and some are found in the East.

Between 1962 through 1967, the United States Board on Geographic Names has changed the names of over 150 places across the country from “nigger” to “Negro”.

But, even with many changes done to rename some of these landmarks, some of the official names still remain on maps that are still in use:

Nigger Jim Hammock Bridge in Hendry County, Florida.

When Did the Word Negro Become Taboo?

All cross America there exist many bends, creeks, springs, licks, hills, branches, run, islands, etc. that have the word Negro in their name, as shown here.

Sigh.

Change. . . .and knowledge.

It is a part of life, and it is what keeps a society moving forward to progress and an understanding of its history.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “FROM THE ARCHIVES: FROM NIGGER TO NEGRO: OF MOUNTAINS, CANYONS, CREEKS, AND CHANGE

  1. sierrapaul

    I have hiked up NBC twice, and it is indeed a breathtakingly beautiful canyon. It is about a 2.5-mile hike up to Morning Glory Arch, which is near the springs that feed the perennial stream that flows through the lower part of the canyon.

    But every time I tell someone about this canyon and hike, I have to use that offensive word. True, that N-word is not as bad as that OTHER N-word, but it is still bad enough. They could solve this problem by simply renaming it Granstaff Canyon. This is what I now call it anyway.

  2. Rebecca Peterson

    While our Department of the Interior has successfully eliminated these names, there are places that they are still preserved (and candidly, if we are to remember that words hurt, we must REMEMBER what those words are).

    In struggling to find the undocumented in old Census records, I came across 7 pages of Niggerhead, Colorado in the 1920 Census (Huerfano Co.).

  3. Hera

    Beautiful post.

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