By Kristy McCaffrey
Arizona has its share of place names that might make people cringe today, dating back to a colorful past and regional biases.
Throughout the state there are at least 15 geographic features whose names include "Negro." This was actually an improvement that took place in 1963 when the U.S. Geological Survey updated designations that contained a different n-word. These places include Negro Ben Peak, Negro Ben Spring and Negro Flat. But not every name is linked to racist terminology—Cerro Negro, a summit in Pima County, gets its name from the Spanish words meaning "black hill."
|Negro Ben Peak|
Today, the word "squaw" is considered offensive. A rather prominent site in the Phoenix area, Squaw Peak, was renamed Piestewa Peak in 2003, after the first Native American woman to die in combat in the U.S. military in Iraq. But there are still at least a dozen features in the state with the word "squaw" in the name—two Squaw Buttes, two Squaw Creeks and six other Squaw Peaks.
The Chinaman Trail, a 2.6-mile hiking trail in the Coronado National Forest, got its name because of the Chinese laborers who constructed it around the turn of the century. There are two China Peaks in Arizona. In Cochise County, Chinese people from California financed a mine in the area; in Graham County, chinaberry trees grew in the vicinity.
Skull Valley, near Prescott, got its name after a battle between Yavapai and Maricopa Indians. The dead were never removed. When settlers moved in, they were forced to build on land littered with the remains of human skulls.
Bloody Basin, north of Phoenix, speaks to a deadly skirmish as well, but the name more likely originated when a herd of sheep crossed a bridge that gave way, sending the animals tumbling to the rocks below.
The most provocative name, however, is Helen's Dome in southeastern Arizona. Designated for a hill that lies within sight of Fort Bowie—and is shaped like a breast—it was reportedly christened after the well-endowed wife of an officer in residence at the fort. The original name was Helen's Tit, but was later softened to Helen's Dome.
While many place names have been changed, they are so numerous—with many in remote locations—that the Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names considers name changes only when a petition is submitted.
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