Roger Marolt: Pitkin County by any other name would sound sweeter
It is easy for us, up here in Aspen, Colorado, safely insulated from common forms of the world’s reality, to say that the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism in America and it should be removed from all public places. It is easier to say that statues of Confederate generals, who instigated a treasonous civil war in the defense of slavery and resulted in the needless death of 600,000 American soldiers, should be removed from southern college campuses and government buildings. It’s easiest of all to say that team nicknames like “Redskins” and “Rebels” are offensive and should not be used as school mascots. It’s a no-brainer to completely ignore Columbus Day due to the explorer’s mass-murdering rampages against the original citizens of the New World.
But now that the skeleton of Frederick Walker Pitkin, the racist, murdering Colorado governor for whom our county is named, is out of the closet, the ass-kicking boot of political correctness seems to be on the other foot; the one we might have stuck in our own mouths. Suddenly it is not so simple to consider erasing our personal historical connection with a scoundrel. Although he is undoubtedly a villain, he is our villain and that changes everything. Dead and gone for over a century, there is no denying that certain charm to his wild western name gracing our library, airport and the only non-chain dry goods retailer in town.
Just kidding. Actually, the decision is easy. We should change the name of our county now that we know the maniacal platform of our county’s namesake was, “The Utes must go,” about which he was not referring to a long vacation or even relocation to some inhospitable wasteland in Nevada not suitable for nickel slots or prostitution. Pieces about our connection with Gov. Pitkin in this paper by Rick Carroll and Tim Willoughby are must-reads for anyone interested in presuming local status at Aspen cocktail parties.
Doing the right thing not withstanding, however, apparently there are formidable legislative obstacles in the way of ridding our county of the name it never should have had to begin with. For the record, I doubt my ancestors voted in favor of the original naming. At any rate, it now appears that a name change to something reasonable and respectable would require a sizable load of bureaucrats propelled by even larger quantities of time and money. There also are the defenders of honoring historical characters no matter how despicable they were, but didn’t seem so, at least not to everyone, at the time.
We need a compromise. I say we keep the name and add statues and plaques all around town depicting the historical truth about Gov. Pitkin. We can start with a large monument at Gondola Plaza. I picture an action diorama with Pitkin sitting safely at his desk in the background as he orders the massacre of the Ute Indians as they are being trampled under the hooves of his men’s horses.
We can place a plaque at the courthouse doors based on a quote from Richard Keith Young’s book, “The Ute Indians of Colorado in the Twentieth Century.” Pitkin’s words there — “My idea is that, unless removed by the government, they must necessarily be exterminated.” It is a slogan every visitor to town should know by the time they leave.
It was Pitkin’s goal that all the Utes’ land be transferred to white settlers free of charge — no hassles, no financing, same-day service. We could erect historical points of interest around town pointing out that many of our finest hotels, shops and restaurants now sit on the very same land that Pitkin had contemplated stealing.
He even had the transaction costs of mass-murder covered, bragging that, “The advantage that would accrue from the throwing open of 12,000,000 acres of land to miners and settlers would more than compensate all expenses incurred.” Fiscal responsibility; I think we can all appreciate that.
So, folks, I think we have a decision to make — we can either petition the state legislature to have the name of our county changed to something more uplifting, or we can keep the dirty historical name, but make a concerted effort at telling the truth about our namesake. I guess the third option would be to keep the same old name we’ve always enjoyed and make up a story about Pitkin actually being a pretty good guy, maybe even hotdog skier. Bring in the consultants. We can probably brand our identity around that.
Roger Marolt likes the idea of revising history to make our county seem more enlightened. Email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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