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Mount Diablo Cultural History

On Wednesday, October 12, 2005, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names voted to retain the geographic name Mount Diablo for a summit in Contra Costa County, California. A motion was made and seconded not to approve the proposed changes, specifically to either Mount Miwok, Mount Ohlone, or Mount Yahweh, citing the negative recommendations of many local residents, numerous local and regional organizations, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, and the California Advisory Committee on Geographic Names. The members also cited a lack of evidence that the existing name is derogatory as well as a reluctance to change a name in long-standing and widespread verbal and published usage.

Jennifer Runyon
For Roger L. Payne, Executive Secretary
U.S. Board on Geographic Names
(703) 648-4550

Name Change for Mount Diablo Denied

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Reprinted in part from Contra Costa Times - 2005

Keep the stationery. Mount Diablo will remain Mount Diablo.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names has voted unanimously to reject a name-change plea from an Oakley man who objected to the moniker on religious grounds.

The board also nixed Mount Ohlone and Mount Miwok, the names of two indigenous Bay Area Native American tribes, which had been suggested by a Marin County couple.

Art Mijares originally asked to name the peak Mount Kawukum. But after he learned that tag was an early 20th century developer's gimmick, he switched to Mount Yahweh.

Mijares told the Geographic Names board that "Yahweh," commonly known as a Hebrew word for God, also means "The Creator" in the tribal language of the Miwok tribe. A tribe spokeswoman, however, has said the word is not listed in the Miwok dictionary.

The board, based in Portland, Ore., decided that "Mr. Mijares has a cause but (members) saw no compelling reason to change the name," said spokeswoman Jennifer Runyan. The board ruled Tuesday

The decision came as little surprise to Mijares, given the considerable state and local opposition.

"I understand that it is a long-standing name and I understand there are interest groups that aren't open to change," Mijares said. "But it is an effort that will continue in the hearts and minds of those involved. As far I am concerned, I have already changed the name in my vocabulary."

Numerous organizations devoted to astronomy, aviation, surveying and recreation rely on Mount Diablo as a major landmark, and the mountain's name and location is noted on hundreds of maps and documents.

The California Advisory Committee on Geographic Names, Mount Diablo Pilots Association, Save Mount Diablo and Contra Costa County, among others, registered strong opposition.

And not only does a 75-year-old state park bear its name, but the Bureau of Land Management officials said the meridian's name is derived from the mountain and a change could lead to confusion.

"The decision makes sense," said Seth Adams, land programs manager for Save Mount Diablo. "It's a well-loved, well-established name, and there was no reason to change it."

But Mijares, a deeply devout Christian man who leads young people onto the mountain to hike and camp, has called the name offensive.

"Words have power, and when you start mentioning words that come from the dark side, evil thrives," Mijares said in April after he filed the application. "Why should we have a main feature of our community that celebrates the devil?"

Ironically, the peak's name came as a mistake rather than a plan to honor Lucifer.

According to an article by noted Bay Area researcher Bev Ortiz, the name Mount Diablo grew from the Spanish name given to an Indian village set near a willow thicket in modern-day Concord, where Chupcans staged a daring nighttime escape during an 1805 military campaign.

Spanish soldiers said evil spirits helped the Indians evade them and named the site "Monte del Diablo," or thicket of the devil. American explorers later mistakenly applied that name to the mountain.