Lifelong resident Joe Cogan and historian Suzy Kelly spoke to Chaffee County commissioners on the history and possible renaming of Chinaman Gulch, east of Johnson Village near Trout Creek, during the commissioners’ meeting Tuesday in Buena Vista.
The U.S. Board on Geographic Names contacted the commissioners about the possible name change after they received a complaint from Kim Twombly, who petitioned to change the name to Trout Creek Gulch, saying that “the existing name is racially insensitive.”
It isn’t clear where Twombly lives, but her telephone number has an 858 area code, which is designated for phones originating in San Diego, Calif.
Cogan said his father first took him up Chinaman Gulch when he was “just able to sit a horse,” because the family ran cattle up there. Cogan’s father pointed out a small cabin, no longer there, and said it had belonged to a Chinese immigrant who had cut and sold wood ties to the Union Pacific Railroad as it was being built.
Cogan said his father had never known the man who lived in the cabin, as the railroad was finished by then, but his grandfather had.
“We were called Micks, because we were Irish,” Cogan said. “Would people have a problem with this if it was Irishman Gulch or Frenchman Gulch? Back then, people were often referred by where they came from. It isn’t derogatory, it’s just people wanting to be politically correct.”
Kelly said there used to be a number of Chinese immigrants who worked on the railroad in this area, and that’s how they were remembered.
“It’s not derogatory,” Kelly said. “It honors the fact that they worked on the railroad. It shouldn’t be changed. It’s been called Chinaman Gulch by people in the area for 140 years or more.”
Commissioner Keith Baker said he spoke with local residents who are ethnically Chinese and said they don’t see it as derogatory but were neutral on the matter.
“Normally I have a big degree of sensitivity for these things, but I don’t think it needs to be changed,” Baker said.
Commissioner Greg Felt said he thought the name was descriptive, not derogatory.
He also said he did not know the name Twombly or if she lived in Chaffee County.
“If she lives here, I wish she’d come talk to us about this,” Felt said. “If she doesn’t live here, I don’t feel her concerns are mine.”
Commissioner Rusty Granzella said he didn’t see it as derogatory either and thought that changing the name to the suggested Trout Creek Gulch would just create confusion.
Granzella made a motion to send a strongly worded letter to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names against the name change, to which the commissioners unanimously agreed.
In other business, the commissioners voted unanimously to continue two agenda items. They are continuing the agreement for Cooperative Wildfire Protection until the Dec. 17 meeting to review the language of the agreement with the state.
They are continuing an amendment to the transportation agreement between Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center and Chaffee County Emergency Medical Services to the Dec. 10 meeting. They said they want to discuss the amendment with EMS Director Josh Hadley, Finance Director Dan Short and Public Health Director Andrea Carlstrom.