It’s been half a dozen years since the Taos News editorialized about renaming Kit Carson Memorial Park.
Now, as a movement has spread across the country to reconsider which historical figures should be honored with statues, streets and named parks, this might be a good time to again take up the question about naming the central park of Taos after Christopher “Kit” Carson.
Like many historic figures, his legacy is complex and draws mixed and impassioned reactions. Some see him as a frontiersman and soldier who spoke multiple Native languages along with Spanish and had deep roots in Taos.
Others see him only as a man who committed atrocities against Native peoples, mainly the Navajo.
His name is everywhere around Taos – not only the park, but also the utility company and the surrounding national forest bear his name.
Should he be so honored when there are many more heroic figures in Taos history? And if not named after Kit Carson, what name should the park in the heart of Taos go by?
(A couple of ideas from our own newsroom are Sol y Viento Electric Cooperative, for the co-op, and Tony Reyna Veterans Memorial Park.)
To be sure, this time if the park is to be renamed it should only be after substantial discussion and public input.
A little history on the last attempt to change the name of the park.
In June 2014, after a handful of residents – part of the Taos Peace and Reconciliation Council – pushed for it, the town of Taos council voted 3-1 to rename Kit Carson Memorial Park as Red Willow Park. Then councilor Fred Peralta was the only one to vote against the proposal, saying more public input was needed. The council saw renaming the park Red Willow as a gesture of reconciliation toward Taos Pueblo. But pueblo officials were upset the town didn’t consult with them before using the name.
A few weeks after the backlash, Mayor Dan Barrone apologized to the pueblo and the council voted on a compromise. Then councilors Judi Cantu, Andrew Gonzales and Fred Peralta voted to retain the Kit Carson name for the cemetery on the park’s east side where the frontiersman and his family are buried, but seek input on a new name for the rest of the popular downtown park.
Fritz Hahn voted against such a compromise.
And nothing happened. No group was formed to suggest new names. The town didn’t call for a meeting or a competition to drum up a new name for the park.
A petition circulated a year later, again asking the council to consider changing the park’s name.
Five years later it remains Kit Carson Memorial Park.
It wasn’t the first attempt to change the park’s name. At least one other time, in 1973, some residents lobbied for a change.
And now, a handful of people are once again asking the town to change the park’s name.
It would be a good time for the town to host a park-naming (or name-keeping) virtual event and invite people to submit names, the way the downtown Willa Hotel developers did when they changed it from Indian Hills. Then people could vote on their top five favorites (or to retain the name Kit Carson) and the town council could make a final decision.
It would be a way to take people off of their coronavirus troubles for a little while – and perhaps find a collaborative Taos answer to yet another divisive historic symbol.
Ultimately, as historian Sylvia Rodriguez noted in 2014, this isn’t just about Kit Carson. “The issue is: What is history and who writes it?” she said. “This opens it up to say there is no single voice.”