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The Changing of the Names 

An iconic North Coast park grapples with its murderous namesake

click to enlarge Walter Lara Sr., Yurok Tribal elder and ceremonial leader, overseeing work at Sue-meg Village. 

Photo by Kelly Jo Brown, HSU 

Walter Lara Sr., Yurok Tribal elder and ceremonial leader, overseeing work at Sue-meg Village. 

Spanning some 600 acres of forest land with sunlit meadows and sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean from soaring cliffs, the natural beauty of Patrick's Point State Park belies the abhorrent acts of the man whose name it bears.

But that will likely change very soon.

On Sept. 30, the State Park and Recreation Commission will consider a recommendation to formally designate the unit that stretches from north of Trinidad up past Agate Beach as Sue-meg State Park, conveying the descriptor used by the Yurok people for the area's jutting peninsula at the request of the tribe.

"We fully support the renaming of Patrick's Point State Park to Sue-meg State Park. It is no longer acceptable to name important places after murderers of indigenous people," says Yurok Tribal Chair Joseph L. James in a recent statement on the recommendation. "We ask the community to accept the name change because it will ensure the next generation inherits a more just world."

If approved, the name change will be the first for a State Park under California's "Reexamining Our Past Initiative," which was launched by the state last year to address what California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot described as "historic names that stem from a dark legacy that includes discrimination, violence and inequity."

Other changes that have already taken place locally under the initiative include the removal of the Madison Grant Forest and Elk Refuge's marker laid for the Save the Redwoods League founder who also promoted "racist, anti-Asian, eugenicist and anti-miscegenation laws," according to State Parks. It was replaced with an interpretive sign. In a similar vein, another interpretive sign was placed in Humboldt Redwoods State Park at Founders' Grove in 2020 to address ties between the Save the Redwoods League and eugenics, and disavow the racist ideology.

The "Reexamining Our Past Initiative" builds on Gov. Gavin Newsom's formal apology in 2019 for the state's systemic role in the attempted genocide and destruction of Native communities — including by taking their traditional lands — which also set up the formation of the tribally-led Truth and Healing Council to "correct the historical record and acknowledge wrongdoings."

When the property located on Yurok ancestral land was brought into California State Park's fold nearly 100 years ago, the area was already well known as Patrick's Point in reference to Patrick Beegan — a murderous settler who laid a brief claim there in 1851 when the discovery of gold brought an influx of fortune hunters clambering into the region. So the name remained.

Beegan, however, after just a few years forfeited the site where he'd built a cabin as he fled law enforcement after being implicated by several witnesses in the murder of a Yurok boy, according to a State Park's report. An 1854 Crescent City Herald article cited by the report also describes him as having "committed many outrages upon the Indians in the vicinity of Trinidad within the last year."

From there, Beegan is said to have headed out to the Bald Hills area but later led "a militia to a Native American village" he came across "at a place that became known as Christmas Prairie, about 30 miles east of Eureka. The place got its name from a massacre at that location on Christmas Day in 1864," the State Parks' report states. Beegan was reportedly killed by Native Americans at a spring near Hart's Prairie.

"We have long known that Patrick Beegan was one of many colonizers who participated in massacres of Native American people, including women and children," Yurok Tribal Heritage Preservation Officer Rosie Clayburn says in the tribe's statement. "I would like to thank the California State Parks North Coast Redwoods District for addressing this injustice and using the place name Sue-meg, a name used since time immemorial. The proposed name change represents a positive step in the right direction."

By no means is Patrick's Point the only local location with, as a previous Journal report ("Controversial Place Names in Humboldt County," July 17, 2015) describes, "ignominious eponymy" — including several named for men who participated in the 1860 massacre on Tuluwat Island, such as Larabee Valley, as well as others that contain racist or sexist slurs.

And the decision now before the California State Parks commission comes amid a larger, ongoing national debate about renaming military bases, cities, schools, parks and other places to replace derogatory terms or references to individuals tied to slavery, institutional discrimination and violent oppression.

Earlier this month, for example, Squaw Valley — the veritable California ski resort with an Olympic pedigree — dropped its "derogatory and offensive" name in consultation with the local Washoe Tribe to become Palisades Tahoe. (Humboldt County, as the Journal noted in our 2015 story, is home to three creeks that go by the same "derogatory and offensive" name.) Closer to home, the city of Fort Bragg is still grappling with whether to drop its reference to Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg, although no alternatives are currently being considered. According to Fort Bragg Vice Mayor Jessica Morsell-Haye, who heads the committee looking at the possible name change that just conducted a community survey on the issues, says she expects to bring "recommendations back to city council in late November."

The State Park and Recreation Commission, meanwhile, is taking public input on the Patrick's Point recommendation until close of business Sept. 28, which can be emailed to planning@parks.ca.gov with the words "Patrick's Point Name Change" in the subject line. Those interested can also comment during the meeting.

The commission staff report states there is little cost associated with renaming the park, which already includes the Yurok built and recently renovated Sumeg Village with its traditional ceremonial structures, including redwood plank family houses, sweathouses, a dance structure and changing houses.

The Yurok Tribe states that Newsom's apology was a "first step in creating a true partnership with our state agencies" and notes the tribe is looking to the future "to help our Tribal people and the state heal from some of the past wrongdoings."

"The dark past of the state is present all over our landscape including many other namesakes such as this; but this landscape also holds our genesis, history, religion and the story of our peoples' resilience," the tribe's statement says. "These are the stories that warrant recognition and are things that have been here since the beginning of the world and will continue into the future.

"We can start to change the narrative for generations to come by honoring ancestral places and telling the true history in the state of California."

Kimberly Wear (she/her) is the assistant editor at the Journal. She can be reached at 442-1400, extension 321, or kim@northcoastjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wear.

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About The Author

Kimberly Wear

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Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor of the North Coast Journal.

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