CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (Mar. 15, 2022) — Contra Costa County supervisors could start the process as early as summer to change the name of Kirker Pass Road after accusations that its namesake, James Kirker, killed more than a hundred Native Americans while working in Mexico in the 1840s.
Kirker, the subject of the historical scrutiny, was a mid-19th century Contra Costa County rancher who hailed from Ireland, immigrated to Mexico and then spent a few years here before dying in 1852 or 1853, according to historians.
The 4.5-mile Kirker Pass Road connects to Ygnacio Valley Road at the intersection of Clayton Road in Concord, meandering through rolling hills and ending at Highway 4 in Pittsburg. The rural road is an inter-regional route for thousands of vehicles a day, including 1,200 trucks, according to a 2018 Contra Costa Transportation Authority.
Details about 1846 raid
On Feb. 8, Board of Supervisors members announced their intention to explore the name change after Daniel Kelly, a retired San Francisco social worker and an Arizona State master’s student in history, brought the issue to their attention. Kelly had previously written an opinion-editorial published in a Bay Area newspaper about Kirker’s purported killing of 130-170 Apache men, women and children in an 1846 raiding party in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
Supervisor Karen Mitchoff, whose District 4 includes Kirker Pass Road, initiated exploration of a name change. Mitchoff said she learned of Kirker’s alleged past when Kelly contacted her office prior to the February supervisors’ meeting, and that the information in his later article took her by surprise.
“Until the op-ed, however, I wasn’t aware of all of the horrible actions attributed to Kirker,” said Mitchoff. “That is when I immediately contacted Supervisor (Federal) Glover and asked him if he wanted to join me in pursuing a name change.”
Glover, whose District 5 includes Pittsburg, told Mitchoff he wanted to look at the process for changing the road name.
Mitchoff said she has received some feedback by voicemail and seen some social media responses to the board’s decision to explore the name change.
“The negative comments revolve around 1. more pressing needs for an elected body to be dealing with (homelessness, mental health concerns, potholes) and 2. revisionist history,” she said.
Amber Lineweaver, a high school teacher who commuted over Kirker Pass Road for 10 years, supports the name change if the story is true.
“I have no love for the name ‘Kirker Pass.’ If he did what is alleged, spend the money – change it,” said Lineweaver, who lived in Antioch before becoming a Clayton resident.
Businessman Lenny Catanzaro of Lenny’s Barber Salon, located at the southeast corner of the Kirker Pass Road and Clayton Road intersection, weighed in on the allegations as well as the process for a name change.
“I’m sure there has to be some due diligence to find out if and where it happened,” Catanzaro said between clients at the salon.
He added that the county should consider any impacts to property values in the area, and that residents near Kirker Pass Road should have a say in the decision. “I would take a poll of residents within a five-mile radius and find out their feelings on a name change,” Catanzaro said.
Mitchoff said there will be an opportunity for public input.
“Supervisor Glover and I are awaiting an estimate of the cost associated with any name change,” she said. “There will be public hearings, but I don’t see that occurring until at least summer, if not into the fall, because of the work that will be required: contacting property owners, working with the cities of Concord and Pittsburg and any other work needed.”
Karen Jenkins is pleased to be a correspondent with the Concord Clayton Pioneer News. She has worked as a community journalist on and off for three decades at publications including the Contra Costa Sun in Lamorinda; the Antioch Daily Ledger; the Avon-Beaver Creek Times in Colorado; Roll Call in Washington, D.C. and the Daily Nexus at UC-Santa Barbara. She is also the student advisor for The Sentinel, the student newspaper at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek. She may be reached at Karenjenkins241@gmail.com.