July 29, 2020 436 PM
Initial survey results for renaming of Jeff Davis County announced
We, the Commission for the Renaming of Jeff Davis County, are pleased to share the top candidates from our recent survey. Frankly, we were blown away by both the ingenuity of the names submitted and the extraordinary number of residents who participated in the voting process.
Of course there were some objectors, which was to be expected as re-naming a county is neither convenient nor cheap—nor is our species as a whole known to embrace change. (Just last week our own committee was gridlocked for nearly an hour over whether to switch our bi-weekly Zoom meetings from Monday to Tuesday.)
Despite a few naysayers, though, support for updating the county name has been overwhelmingly in favor. Fort Davis was named after Jefferson Davis in 1854 when he held the position of Secretary of War for the United States. However, by the time the county adopted his name in 1887, his standing had diminished to that of disgraced president of the defeated Confederacy—not to mention the former owner of 116 enslaved Africans on his Mississippi plantation. (Davis once wrote, “African slavery, as it exists in the United States, is a moral, a social and a political blessing.”)
Clearly the legacy of Jefferson Davis in no way reflects the values of liberty and self-determination associated with the county’s residents today, which (we suspect) is why the survey was so widely embraced. Our committee extends a heartfelt thanks to all who participated and— without further ado—we submit the top names, chosen by you, the members of the county.
- BEY KNOWLES COUNTY
A clear crowd favorite! One of the world’s best-selling musical artists, and (unlike Davis) a native Texan, Beyonce Knowles contributed to putting our county on the global map when she posed in front of the Prada Marfa installation outside of Valentine in 2012 (an installation that may also be in need of a name change, as some voters noted).
- MILES DAVIS COUNTY
We were puzzled by what seemed like a disproportionate number of jazz fans in the area until a Fort Davis clerk noted that the trend might be linked to expediency: a half-name change would save costs, paperwork and the necessity of changing other “Davis” related landmarks, including the town, fort, mountain range and state park. Her observation was confirmed by a spate of close runners-up including renowned political activist Angela Davis and Lubbock-born country music singer Morris “Mac” Davis.
- VICTORIO COUNTY
Local history buffs no doubt pushed this legendary Apache warrior to the top. Chief Victorio was a skilled tactician who, after suffering a wide range of injustices by the U.S. government, carried out settler raids between Fort Davis and El Paso in the late 1870s. In 1879, thousands of Black troopers in the Ninth and Tenth National Buffalo Soldier Cavalry pursued the warrior 1,500 miles across West Texas. For 14 months, Victorio outmaneuvered them at every turn, only to be caught and killed by the Mexican army in northern Chihuahua—a true anti-establishment hero.
- NGC 1277 COUNTY
We are the first to admit that “NGC 1277” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but in this case fierce astronomical pride beat out phonetic considerations. In 2012, astronomers working at the McDonald Observatory discovered one of the largest supermassive black holes ever recorded in the NGC 1277 galaxy. The size of the black hole (the equivalent of 17 billion suns!) revealed a new model in the evolution of galaxies –– and once again highlighted our humble county’s role in shaping the known cosmos.
- CAMEL CORPS COUNTY
This submission was championed by those hoping to maintain some historical connection to our existing namesake. Camel Corps County is an homage to one of Jefferson Davis’ most ambitious (if not successful) acts as U.S. Secretary of War: the brief formation of the U.S. Camel Corps in 1855. With Davis’ advocacy, 74 camels were brought from the Middle East to Texas to aid in military surveys across the southwest (in fact, our own Fort Davis served as the base of operations for multiple camel expeditions). In the end, Davis’ initiative failed with the commencement of the Civil War, but his legacy lived on as rumors of wild “Davis camel” sightings spread across the region for decades to come.
- FLIPPER COUNTY (Committee’s Choice)
Our final entry honors Henry Ossian Flipper who was born into slavery but went on to become the first Black graduate of West Point and the first nonwhite officer to lead the 10th Calvary Buffalo Soldiers. Despite discrimination, Second Lieutenant Flipper served with distinction throughout his military career. In 1880 he was assigned to Fort Davis, where he became a target of Colonel Shafter who accused him of stealing government funds. While Flipper was declared innocent of the charge, he was still found guilty of “conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman” and dishonorably discharged. Although he maintained his innocence, he was unsuccessful at clearing his name until President Clinton’s posthumous pardon in 1999. Naming the county after Flipper is not only a small step in righting an old wrong, but also a nod to the Black Buffalo Soldiers who at one point represented 50% of the troops stationed at Fort Davis.
Once again, we thank all who participated! Dates for the final vote will be announced shortly. We know that no single name will satisfy all, but we are proud of our residents for almost unanimously agreeing that a name tied to slavery and the failed Confederacy just plain old doesn’t make sense for a county with such a bright future (especially when there are so many alternatives that make “Presidio” and “Brewster” seem dull by comparison!). We hope that our remote Texas county sets a shining example for the hundreds of other schools, roads and landmarks still bearing Confederate names across the nation. To learn more about our community process, all are welcome at our bi-weekly Zoom meeting on the first and third Tuesday of each month.
Clara Bensen is a writer and local bar owner. Stephen (Chick) Rabourn is an architect and birding enthusiast.