What’s In A Name
Iowa has 99 counties, and while their names have been stable for more than a hundred years, in the early days of statehood, names changed a bit.
For example, originally two counties were named Sac and Fox, after Native American tribes that had lived in what became Iowa. When the Iowa legislature gathered in 1853, some representatives objected to the names assigned to certain counties by their predecessors. One member, from Fox County, admired a former U.S. vice president who had recently died, John C. Calhoun, and demanded that the name of the county be changed to Calhoun. Some were opposed, but the measure finally passed…but only so long as the name of the county to the east of Fox also be changed, from Risley to Webster…in honor of Daniel Webster, a known political opponent of Calhoun. So the tandem of Sac and Fox was no more, and instead a tandem of Calhoun and Webster was established.
Calhoun was more than just a U.S. vice president. He was also secretary of state and secretary of war, and served his home state of South Carolina in both the U.S. House and Senate. He was a fixture in Washington for nearly 40 years, dying while a member of the Senate in 1850, more than a decade before the Civil War.
His hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, this week took down a statue that had stood in his honor for 124 years; his name was taken off the honors college at Clemson university this month, as well…because John Calhoun was a vocal advocate of slavery.
How long will it be before someone righteously demands that the folks in Iowa change the name of their county? Let’s be clear, I certainly don’t advocate that, just as I don’t advocate sanitizing and erasing our history. Rather, I’d love to see the citizens in Rockwell City, Lake City, Pomeroy and the county’s other 9 cities stand up against this movement and allow folks to hear the story of how the county got its name, why the county to the east got its name, and how some of our nation’s highest elected and appointed officials thought at one point, so we can appreciate how times change, views evolve, and lessons can be learned.
It’s a cliche, but you can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been…and if we erase history to conform to what’s acceptable today, we’ll soon only have a skewed view of where we’re going based on an inaccurate past. Then again, that might just be what some of the agitators on this issue have in mind.