Contra Costa County will continue its effort to rename part of Kirker Pass Road, but only in unincorporated parts of the county and the city of Pittsburg, county officials said Tuesday.

The county’s Board of Supervisors has sought since February to rename the winding road that connects Concord and Pittsburg after local officials learned that James Kirker allegedly killed hundreds of Apache men, women and children in the mid-1800s while working for the state of Chihuahua in Mexico.

That effort recently hit a snag, Supervisor Karen Mitchoff said during the board’s meeting Tuesday, because residents who live along the road within Concord’s city limits opposed having to change their home addresses once the road’s name is changed.

“I did not think there were that many residents whose property affronted Kirker Pass Road,” said Mitchoff, whose district includes Clayton, Concord, Pleasant Hill and part of Walnut Creek.

“It is quite inconvenient. It is your driver’s license, it is your medical records, it is your voting records, it is your tax records, it is your property taxes, it’s your children’s school records. And that really would be a burden.”

Suprvisor Karen Mitchoff, on implications of renaming Kirker Pass Road

Mitchoff added that she did not initially view the change of address as a significant burden and was “a little irritated” by that reasoning, but has since become more informed.

“It is quite inconvenient,” she said. “It is your driver’s license, it is your medical records, it is your voting records, it is your tax records, it is your property taxes, it’s your children’s school records. And that really would be a burden.”

The county will now seek only to change the name of Kirker Pass Road between the point it exits Concord’s city limits and its junction with Railroad Avenue in the city of Pittsburg, which has expressed an interest in renaming the road.

The city of Clayton has not indicated its support or opposition for the renaming effort, according to the county, but Mitchoff said the county will also abandon Kirker Pass renaming efforts that affect the city.

The roadway does not extend into Clayton, but some properties within the city’s limits do have Kirker Pass Road addresses that would be subject to the potential renaming.

Historical figure or ‘homicidal racist’?

The road is named for James Kirker, who settled in the area of Contra Costa County in 1850 and lived there only until his death in 1852 or 1853. The county officially named the road after Kirker in 1892.

County officials first started considering the name change after Daniel Kelly, a retired San Francisco social worker and a master’s student in Arizona State University’s history program, outlined Kirker’s history as a “homicidal racist.”

After calling on the county to change the road’s name in an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle, Kelly did the same during the board’s Feb. 8 meeting.

An 1847 daguerreotype portrait of James Kirker, otherwise known as Don Santiago Kirker, King of New Mexico. (Image courtesy of Thomas M. Easterly/Missouri History Museum via Bay City News)

After working as a trapper in what was then northern Mexico and is now southern New Mexico, Kelly argued Kirker became a mercenary of the Mexican government, which was seeking to extract copper ore from the area.

When Apaches in the area attempted to prevent the mining effort and could not be beaten in battle, Kelly said the Mexican government issued bounties of “100 pesos for the scalp of an Apache man, 50 for a woman’s and 25 pesos for a child’s scalp.”

According to Kelly, Kirker and others seeking to claim the government’s bounties raided an Apache camp outside the town of Galeana in the state of Chihuahua in June 1846, bludgeoning between 130 and 170 Apache men, women and children and mounting their scalps on poles outside the camp.

An essay penned by local historian William Mero in the archives of the Contra Costa County Historical Society also portrays Kirker as a mercenary in northern Mexico that worked to defend Mexican mining efforts from raiding indigenous groups including Apaches.

Kirker was “accused by his enemies of leading a band of Apache raiders,” according to Mero, but there is no evidence Kirker personally took scalps.

“Kirker organized militias in many of the villages in Chihuahua State against growing Apache attacks,” Mero wrote. “Later James Kirker led a large band of Mexican, American, Delaware and Shawnee warriors. They fought the Apaches who were raiding deeper and deeper into northern Mexico. Kirker’s band was just one of many such mercenary gangs of American and Mexican Apache scalp hunters working for the State of Chihuahua.”

A moral imperative

Supervisor John Gioia argued that the short-term inconvenience of the name change is outweighed by the moral imperative to change the name.

“I think we’re doing the right thing,” he said Tuesday. “And all I can say is I would continue to encourage the cities to make the same change and even over any short-term concern that residents or businesses may have because ultimately, name changes occur at streets all the time.”

A new name for Kirker Pass Road has yet to be proposed, Mitchoff said Tuesday, and will likely be finalized once county officials can hold a community meeting with local residents to take feedback.

Some local residents and county planning officials have also suggested extending the name of Ygnacio Valley Road, which becomes Kirker Pass Road at its intersection with Clayton Road, rather than determining an entirely new name.