The name “Niggerhead” has a long and wide history. It was once applied to products such as soap and chewing tobacco, but most often to geographic features such as hills and rocks.
In 1962, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names changed more than a hundred such names, substituting “Negro.”
“Typically these were in areas where African Americans were not all that common,” said Mark Monmonier, a geography professor at Syracuse University who wrote a book on the subject of racially offensive place names.
The federal action still left many local names unchanged. In Texas, Lady Bird Johnson, the former first lady, lobbied to change the name of a mountain in Burnet, Tex., that had the same name as Perry’s hunting spot. In 1968, it became “Colored Mountain.” In 1989, the Texas NAACP began lobbying the state legislature to change many more names, such as “Nigger Creek” and “Niggerhead Hill,” although there has been resistance from private landowners, according to news accounts.
In his responses, Perry said the managers of the Hendrick ranch appealed in recent years to federal officials to rename Niggerhead, although the name does not appear on U.S. topographic maps. Monmonier could not find it in a database maintained by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. That suggests renaming the property would be a simple matter for its owners or possibly state officials, Monmonier said.
Chuck Wilson, the manager of the Hendrick ranch, said that particular parcel is now called “North Camp Pasture.”
“It was given the name several years ago,” Wilson said in an interview last week. “Probably, I’m thinking, about five years ago.”
The camp is tucked deep into a rocky, hilly area. It is possible to fly into the area in a small plane, as Perry sometimes did. There are two ways to drive there, from the west by a long, rocky road or from the east by a more passable road that crosses the adjacent ranch and ends right at the camp, about a football field away from the rock. Both of those roads are private. Wilson declined to grant permission for a reporter to visit the camp and instructed workers not to speak to journalists.
It is possible that guests approaching from the east would not see the rock at the gated entrance. In his responses, Perry said he and his guests used the eastern entrance in later years.
“The rock was at the entrance we used in the 1980s,” he said. “We stopped using that entrance in the 1990s, and entered only by Watt Matthews’ ranch where there was a grass landing strip.”
Approaching from the western side, drivers would eventually reach a long, metal gate where the rock stood to the left.
“It just said ‘Niggerhead,’ ” said one person who said he saw the rock in the 1980s and did not want to be named, because he still lives in the area. “That’s all that was on it.”