The renaming of a mountain, with meaning
November 9, 2007
Colorado got a new mountain last month. Actually, the mountain in question has been around for a few million years, but it now has a name, thanks to an Oct. 4 ruling by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.
The 11,293-foot summit on the ridge between Starvation and Silver creeks in Saguache County, about 25 miles southwest of Salida, is now Mount KIA/MIA to honor warriors who were either killed in action or missing in action.
Bruce Salisbury of Aztec, N.M., was behind the names. He grew up in Durango, and joined the military in 1945 when he was only 15 years old (he lied about his age). He retired from the Air Force in 1966, eventually settling at a small farm near Aztec.
Five years ago, he thought there ought to be a prominent mountain named to honor those who were KIA/MIA, like his cousin Irvin Salisbury, whose bomber went down over Iceland in 1944. His first impulse, after poring over Colorado maps, was to rename one of Colorado’s 33 Sheep Mountains.
The Geographic Name Board was sympathetic to Salisbury’s proposal, but county commissioners were generally opposed to renaming any Sheep promontories. (In 1965, after the death of Great Britain’s wartime prime minister, Leadville had to fight off an effort to change Mount Massive into Mount Churchill.)
So Salisbury started looking for unnamed mountains, of which there seem to be an abundance in Saguache County; it’s also the home of triple-divide Headwaters Hill, officially christened in 2001.
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The Saguache County commissioners supported KIA/MIA or Kiamia or the like, but the U.S. Bureau of Land Management pointed out a complication. Many summits in that area have Ute names ” Antora, Ouray, Chipeta, Pahlone, Shavano ” and the BLM worried that “Kiamia” would appear to be garbled Ute, instead of an English acronym.
Enter Dr. Thomas Givon. He’s a linguist who used to teach at the University of Oregon. In 1977, the Southern Ute Tribe hired him to produce a phonetic alphabet and compile the first dictionary of the language of the Nuche. Before that, Ute was not a written language. When Givon retired, he moved to Ignacio, home of the tribal headquarters.
Presented with Kiamia, Givon made some inquiries and concluded that “Kiya-miya is meaningful in Ute,” if you add “vat,” the place-name suffix. It means “Place where people walk about while laughing,” and in Ute culture, when warriors pass on, they go to a place of peace and happiness.
In other words, from “Kiya-miya-vat” to “Kiamia” or “KIA/MIA” is as reasonable a transliteration from Ute to English as going from “Sagma-gi-ci” to “Saguache.” (“Saguache” means something like “blue-green place.”)
In the end, the English acronym was preferred, and all the federal agencies eventually got on board with Salisbury and Saguache County, and future maps will show a Mount KIA/MIA in the Bonanza quadrangle.
This may mean many more visitors to the area, and to be honest, I’m not thrilled about that; upper Silver Creek and the Starvation Creek Trail are among my favorite places to avoid society on summer days when Martha and Bodie inform me that a long walk is in order. But then again, the KIA/MIAs sacrificed a lot more.