Opinion: Prominent Sawtooth Range peak, Mt. Heyburn, deserves a better name

The grand mountain ought not be burdened with the name of one of Idaho’s most short-sighted senators-

Weldon Heyburn, an Idaho U.S. Senator, back in days before the 17th Amendment (which the Tea Party now wants to repeal), is best known as a backward looking man who hated the creation of the U.S. Forest Service. Political Scientist John Freemuth suggests that Mt. Heyburn, a famous landmark of the fabled Sawtooth Range bears an improper name.

Renaming Mountains: Idaho’s Mt. Heyburn, For One, Deserves Better. “It’s time to change the legacy of a man who didn’t fight for the Sawtooths and stood in the way of the early Forest Service.” By John Freemuth, High Country News, Guest Writer.

I agree.






  1. Chris Harbin Avatar

    I made a short attempt to find out when his name was made the “official” name of the mountain. I did not find that info but I presume it was either toward the end of his life or just after he died in 1912. I am pretty sure that there are not enough people of high standard to name all the geographic features in this country and it appears that Sen. Heyburn was not one as well. Besides, many groups of people are sorely underrepresented in place names. It would probably be better to stick to descriptive or animal names or at least wait 50 years to name something after a person

    1. Cutthroat Avatar

      “It would probably be better to stick to descriptive or animal names…”

      How about Sockeye Peak-ed? or Mt. a Return!

  2. mikepost Avatar

    Changing names based upon percieved political and social worth is a slippery slope. Not a good idea in the big picture regardless of this instant case. Chris idea about waiting 50 years has some worth but not applied retroactively.

    1. JB Avatar


      Just curious; why do you think changing names is a “slippery slope”.

      I would wager that politics play a significant role in how any common property acquires its name. Thus, I don’t find it problematic that they would play a role in changing a name.

      Mt. McKinley > Denali National Park.

      1. mikepost Avatar

        JB, the more it happens, the easier it becomes to do it for the wrong reasons…like a change in administration (get that republicans name off the mountain), or the personal engrandizement of some pompous official (which the next pompous fool will change to his name). I also agree with your issue that the cost alone is reason not to do it.

  3. grdnrmt Avatar

    Just finished “The Big Burn.” I highly recommend it to readers of this blog.

  4. DB Avatar

    Mr. Freemuth is probably correct here but really, so what? I find it strange that many academcians, so smart and experienced like John, never seem to jump in with opinions on subjects that really matter.

    1. Brian Ertz Avatar

      Mr. Freemuth likes his job 😉

  5. John Freemuth Avatar
    John Freemuth


    OK..I’ll bite..like what!

    John Freemuth

  6. DB Avatar

    Bighorn sheep/domestic sheep, HW 12 industrial transport, Otter and wolves, sage grouse listing, BLM/grazing, welfare ranching, Snake river dams, Ken Salazar, and Dave Parrish, for example.

    Dave Hayes

    1. John Freemuth Avatar
      John Freemuth

      Good stuff, no question., Dave.

      I guess i ought to blog more, but Im not sure how much folks really want to read some academic blather.


  7. Tim Bondy Avatar

    This renaming issue is a non-issue to me other than the cost the government would incur doing it so I really don’t think it’s a good idea. The thing that bothers is this…

    Some people don’t like a mountain named after Heyburn because he fought against the creation of the Nation Forest Service???? I’ve been reading this website for a few years and I certainly don’t remember many comments or posts that shine a positive light on Forest Service. Heck, one prominent conservation group (WWP) has made a living suing the NFS.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Tim Bondy,

      In general, I don’t like to see major geographic names named after politicians. It seems almost like a conquest by their supporters, regardless of the side the politician was on.

      The Forest Service gets sued by WWP generally because it is not obeying the laws or its own regulations. There is no general dissatisfaction with the agency except for the ability of some groups or persons to pressure it away from going by the rules.

      1. JB Avatar

        It kills me that Presidents all get to have libraries named after them. Naming a library after George W. Bush is akin to naming a church after Hugh Hefner–it absolutely reeks of irony.

      2. DB Avatar

        Naming the River of No Return Wilderness for Frank Church was certainly bipartisan, but in my mind it would have been more apt to name it after Ted Trueblood, a conservationist and wilderness advocate of who damned near died getting the legislation passed.

  8. Mike Avatar

    I had the pleasure of visiting the Sawtooths this year, and was shocked at how scary many of the people were, and of the lack of enforcement in certain sections.

    I have video and photos of unenforced cooler/food rules right next to a freaking bear trap. I kid you not. Every single campsite around this bear trap had food left out on the tables with the campers nowhere in sight – some even had their RV doors open. And what did the bear trap contain for bait? A cooler, of course.

  9. elk275 Avatar

    My best friend was the back country horse packer and trail crew boss in the 1970’s and early 80’s in the Beartooth Mountains, he named 3 mountain lakes for his girlfriends. Today they are on the maps. He had the information and forums and somehow they allowed the lake to be named. I know for a fact that he never told any one the orgins of the name.

  10. Daniel Berg Avatar
    Daniel Berg

    When I hike by mountains, peaks, and mountain lakes I sometimes wonder who saw them first, who named them, and why. Those three women will never know they were noteworthy enough to have lakes named after them!?

    The other day I hiked a fairly strenuous day trail that ends near the top of a butte in the I-90 corridor. (Snoqualmie Pass area). The elevation gain was between 3500 to 4000 feet. On the last 1,000 up as my quads were burning I couldn’t help but to laugh thinking about the name of that steep, jagged, mountain. “McCllelan Butte” named after a civil war general of notoriously short stature who had done some surveying in the area back in the 1850’s and somehow managed to overlook Snoqualmie Pass as the most suitable railroad route over that part of the Cascades. I finally concluded that maybe that mountain was actually named in honor of McCllelan’s ego.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan