Highest peak in Ozarks named for Osage

The Ozark National Forest in Newton County is shown in this undated courtesy photo. The highest peak in the Ozark Mountains has been named Wahzhazhe Summit at the request of the Osage Nation, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. A news release from the Osage Nation Historic Preservation Office says the geographic peak, locally known as Buffalo Lookout, is located in the tribe's ancestral homelands. (Courtesy photo provided by Osage Nation, osagenation-nsn.gov/)
The Ozark National Forest in Newton County is shown in this undated courtesy photo. The highest peak in the Ozark Mountains has been named Wahzhazhe Summit at the request of the Osage Nation, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. A news release from the Osage Nation Historic Preservation Office says the geographic peak, locally known as Buffalo Lookout, is located in the tribe's ancestral homelands. (Courtesy photo provided by Osage Nation, osagenation-nsn.gov/)

The highest peak in the Ozark Mountains has been named Wahzhazhe Summit at the request of the Osage Nation, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Wahzhazhe is the tribe's traditional name and spelling.

Wahzhazhe Summit is in the Ozark National Forest in Newton County, 13.4 miles east of of Pettigrew and about 3 miles southwest of Hawksbill Crag, as the crow flies. The Osage consider the area to be part of their ancestral homeland.

At 2,562 feet, Wahzhazhe Summit is the highest point in the Ozark Plateau, according to the Geological Survey's summary report. Some sources list it as 2,561 feet.

The spot is known locally -- at least by some -- as Buffalo Lookout.

Andrea Hunter, director of the tribe's Historic Preservation Office in Pawhuska, Okla., saw in a quarterly announcement from the U.S. Board on Geographic Names that Dr. Richard Lanman of Los Altos, Calif., had submitted a proposal asking that Buffalo Lookout be declared the official name for the summit.

Lanman didn't provide a history of Buffalo Lookout's name, according to the case summary, but "the Buffalo River and several of its named tributaries are located nearby."

The name Buffalo Lookout was listed on hiking websites and on the Wikipedia entry for the Ozarks, according to the case summary. And Lanman mentioned that a Buffalo Lookout fire tower had existed in the area.

"I emailed the USBGN stating that rather than naming the summit for the former name of a fire tower that was on the summit, we suggest naming it for the indigenous people who lived on the Ozark Plateau for 1,300 years before being removed -- the Osage Nation," said Hunter. "I submitted a proposal for an alternate name, Wahzhazhe Summit."

The U.S. Forest Service built Buffalo Lookout Tower in the mid-1930s, and it remained active until 1987, according to the Osage proposal.

"The Osage are identified as a Dhegiha Siouan language speaking tribe along with the Omaha, Ponca, Kaw, and Quapaw," according to the proposal. "The word Wahzhazhe in the Dhegiha Siouan language is what the Osage call themselves. The word roughly translates to 'Water People and Name Givers.' Naming this summit Wahzhazhe Summit would honor the Wahzhazhe people who resided in the area ..."

In response, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names prepared a case brief and sought input from the county government, the Arkansas Geographic Names Authority and the U.S. Forest Service, according to the news release.

  photo  A locator map of the Wahzhazhe Summit. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
 
 

The decision to name the site Wahzhazhe Summit was made in September and announced on Wednesday.

Newton County Sheriff Glenn Wheeler said the name change was news to him. Wheeler said he knows the peak because the Buffalo Lookout fire tower was there, and still is to his knowledge.

"It's not referred to much at all around here because it's in that wilderness area," said Wheeler, referring to the Upper Buffalo Wilderness. "It's not used a lot."

Caven Clark, a former archaeologist at the Buffalo National River who began partnering with the Osage Nation in 2004, sent a letter of support, according to the news release.

"The 'giving' of this name reasserts the covenant between the Osage people and this living and dynamic landform as a symbolic reference point to a unique past and a shared future," wrote Clark.

The name Wahzhazhe Summit has been added to the Geographic Names Information System, which is the federal standard for geographic nomenclature.

"The Osage Nation Historic Preservation Office works tirelessly to protect our ancestral lands across 16 states," said Hunter.

"The history of our Nation and our footprint on the landscape is generally not known by the public at large. When I see an opportunity where we can assist in educating the public about our ancestral lands, I take it. I couldn't have been happier with our success."

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names was created in 1890, and established in its present form by Public Law in 1947, to maintain uniform geographic name usage throughout the federal government. It's comprised of representatives of federal agencies who share the responsibility of standardizing geographic names with the Secretary of the Interior.