History of Oregon Names

Animal Names || Creeks and Disasters || Colorful Incidents || Josephine County

The history behind how places were named can sometimes be very interesting. Places are named after animals, disasters, people, and other assorted things. This is especially true in Oregon, pioneers traveled from the East to the "new frontier" and valleys, creeks, and other landmarks were named along the way. There were some who thought it smart to name a place after their animals:

Squaw Gulch, Wallowa County:
named in the early 1880's for an old cayuse mare called Squaw.
Granny Creek, Wallowa County:
named for a favorite old mare. She was killed by cougars and her body found near the creek.
Peter Paul Prairie, Douglas County:
named after Carl Neal's pack and saddle horses.
Tony Creek, Hood River County:
named for Langille family pony, Tony.
Jenny Creek, Jackson County:
named after a female mule slipped there and drowned.
Keno, Klamath County:
named for D.J. Ferree's dog.
Coburg, Lane County
named for a racehorse called Coburg from Coburg, Germany.

Or there were names given for living things other than man.

Cricket Flat, Union County
Goose Lake and Buffalo, Lake County
Pelican Creek, Umatilla County
Mosquito, Malheur County
Bull Creek, Washington County
Bug Creek, Wheeler County
Apiary, Columbia County
Badger Creek, Hood River and Wasco Counties
Canary, Coyote Creek, and Cougar Lake, Lane County
Crane Creek, Harney County
Dog Creek, Douglas County
Merlin, Wolf Creek, and Skunk Creek, Josephine County
Hereford, Baker County

There are many Beaver, Deer, Horse, Bear and Elk names, and there is even a Wampus in Klamath County, named after a legendary monster of the forest (Bigfoot?)


Creeks seem to be a place of hazard for both major and minor disaster.

Goose Creek, Lane County
About 1870 Mr. and Mrs. Sims were on the way to a Thanksgiving dinner with Uncle George Frissel. Mrs. Sims had her baby in one arm and a dressed goose in the other. The horse jumped suddenly and the goose fell in the creek.
Coffepot Creek, Lane County
A coffeepot fell out of an immigrant wagon and was run over by a wheel and ruined here.
Egg Creek, Linn County
Ray Talbert, a member of a trail crew was insulted by one Anderson, another crew member, and Talbert retaliated by hitting Anderson with a hard boiled egg.
Corset Creek, Linn County
A corset was found and wrapped around a tree trunk waiting and waiting to be claimed.
Compass Creek, Hood River County
Van Embree lost his compass while building the Timberline Trail crossing
Carcus Creek, Columbia County
Local residents found a dead horse on its bank
Hominy Creek, Wallowa County
Alex Warnock spilled a kettle of hominy there.
Kettle Creek, Wallowa County
A packhorse bucked his pack off and jammed the kettle beyond use. The kettle lay in the water for many years afterward.
Bruce Bones Creek, Curry County
In 1950 a crew was surveying for the new alignment of US 101. Bruce Schilling got lost and his buddies said they would find his parched bones next spring. Bruce did find his way back without mishap however.
Dog Creek, Douglas County
Perry Wright, an early settler, had to rescue his two dogs from drowning in this creek, with considerable difficulty.
Deadman Creek, Wallowa County
James Dale, a sheepherder for Aaron Wade, said he might just as well be dead as to be in such a lonesome place (1890).
Butcher Knife Creek, Wallowa County
An early pioneer lost a butcher knife here.
TNT Creek, Lane County
A pack mule bucked off a box of TNT at this creek when the trail was being built.
Tiger Creek, Umatilla County
A Swede, while looking for timber, spotted a 'tiger' here
Lucky Creek, Curry County
A backfire was started to stop the great Chetco 30,000 acre fire. The fire was held fast at this creek.
Blowout Creek, Wallowa County
Anyone camping near the creek had trouble getting a fire started because the wind blew so hard
Shotpouch Creek, Benton and Lincoln Counties
George Knowlton lost his shotpouch near here
Whiskey Creek, Tillamook County
Two couples traveling together had to spend the night at this stream. While the wives made camp, the men took the whiskey keg to cool in the creek. The cooling apparently required continuous supervision and the wives were unable to get the men to perform routine chores such as gathering firewood. The matter was resolved when the ladies dumped the whiskey in the creek and broke up the keg for the campfire
Whisky Creek, Jackson County
An enterprising pioneer bootlegger planned to take a load of whiskey from Jacksonville over the mountain to Fort Klamath. Snow impeded his progress and he buried his load for the winter. Someone discovered his cache and the soldiers of Fort Klamath gradually cleaned out his stock so that when he returned in the spring there was nothing left.
Whisky Creek, Wallowa County
In the summer of 1872, traders brought a supply of whisky by pack train from Walla Walla and began to barter the firewater to the local Indians for goods. Local residents became alarmed and went to the camp, broke up the kegs and dumped the whiskey into the stream.
Bluebucket Creek, Grant and Harney Counties
Members of the Meek party of 1845 picked up yellow pebbles and placed them in a blue bucket that hung under one of the wagons. The wooden bucket was either lost or abandoned later. It was not until some time had elapsed that the emigrants realized that they had possibly found gold.

Some of the more colorful incidents in Oregon are often forgotten...

Ten O'clock Church, Clackamas County
Although not a community, this spot is on road signs and maps. In 1880 a church was built and is still in use. When erected, a clock tower was included but the congregation could not afford the machinery, so a dummy face was installed with hands fixed at the time of Sunday service.
Popcorn School, Polk County
Again, although not a community, this is listed on maps. In the early days, a group of rebellious children locked their teacher in the schoolhouse. Fortunately he had some popcorn with him so he popped it. The children opened the door so they could share it.
The Dalles, Wasco County
began with the name La Grande de la Columbia. In 1851, the post office established the name Dalles. In September 1853, the name was changed to Wascopum, and in March 1860 changed to The Dalles (so as not to confuse it with Dallas in Polk County - named after George Dallas, Vice President to Polk). The incorporated name of this community is now Dalles City, but the postal name and the one in universal use is The Dalles.
Unnecessary Mountain, Klamath County
The children of Scott Warren named this small hill, adding it to their fairy tale list of unnecessary items.
Post, Crook County
named for the postmaster Walter H. Post
Tom Dick and Harry Mountain, Clackamas County
has three distinct summits, now called the Ski Bowl.
Whorehouse Meadows, Harney County
In the early days, female entrepreneurs from Vale would set up facilities under canvas in an accessible but secluded meadow a mile east of Fish Lake. There they would meet the cattle and sheepherders as they arrived at the slopes of Steens Mountain. In the 1960's the Bureau of Land Management issued a recreation map and in deference to the moralist, substituted a namby-pamby name, Naughty Girl Meadow. The United States Geological Survey advance sheet followed suit but in 1971 the Oregon Geographic Names Board took strong objection to the change and brought their argument before the federal arbiters. After ten years the old name was restored in 1981.
Mount McLoughlin, Jackson County
This mountain was named Mount Pitt by early explorer surveyors, and topographical engineers, both U.S. and railroad. Some early settlers called it Snowy Butte, Big Butte, but the name Mount Pitt came into common use about 1864. In 1901 the name was restored to the name local families preferred, Mount McLoughlin. This honored Dr. John McLoughlin, known as "The Father of Oregon". Occasionally a map is found listing Mount Pitt, or a native born Oregonian will still refer to Mount Pitt 'because that is the way my family referred to it'.
String Town,Clackamas County
Houses were built on the narrow strip between the railroad and the steep bluff - in a string of houses.
Beverly Beach, Lincoln County
The Christy family planned to establish a small seaside community. In choosing a name for the site, Florence Christy, who at that time was a small child was asked what she like to call the community. Her favorite doll at that time was named Beverly.
Roseburg, Douglas County
Used to be called Deer Creek.
Ella, Morrow County
A meeting was held to discuss a name and location for the new post office. Though a location in the home of Frank Oviatt was agreed upon, a name was not. Oviatt's little daughter Ella was playing in her father's blacksmith shop and having hurt herself began to cry. One of the men told her they would name the office for her if she would stop crying. She did.
Echo, Umatilla County
Named for the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Koontz, 1881
Helex, Umatilla County
A patient of Dr. John Griswold developed a very sore ear and had to be taken to Pendleton for treatment. During a consultation with another doctor the word helix was mentioned, and the sick man thought it would be a fine name for the proposed new post office.
Oak Point, Columbia County
Residents of the area should be glad the name Lewis and Clark gave it was lost in vague history. To honor William Clark's sister the prairie on the south bank was named Fannys Bottom. They could not have foreseen modern English usage.
Sinker Mountain, Lane County
Named for the soda biscuits hunters ate.

With more and more settlers moving into the new state it seemed to some that all the good and popular names were used up. New residents then began to create new and never used names. Some were clever some were cute some were just plain dumb.
Here are some examples:


Josephine County

Josephine County was created January 22, 1856 from a western part of Jackson County. It was named for Josephine Rollins, the daughter of the discoverer of gold in Josephine Creek, 1851. She was considered the first white woman in that part of Oregon. The county seat was first located in Waldo, but in July 1857 it was relocated to Kerbyville, situated on the main route between the port of Crescent City, CA and the gold fields.

The discovery of rich placers at Sailor Diggins (later Waldo) in 1852 and the resulting gold rush brought the first settlers to this region. Several U.S. Army forts were maintained in the county and many engagements during the Rogue River Indian War (1855-1858) took place within its boundaries. In 1886, the county seat was finally located in Grants Pass, a new town built on the railroad that was completed through the state in 1886.

Grants Pass is now the departure point for most Rogue River guided fishing and boating trips. The Rogue River, along with one of its tributaries, the Illinois River, have been designated a scenic waterway

Graves Creek
The legislature, by an act of January 6, 1854 tried to change the name to Leland Creek in honor of Miss Martha Leland Crowley who died there in 1846. They felt her name should be honored and not just her grave. Although Martha was in the area before Josephine Rollins, Josephine 'lived' there, if only for a few months.
Jumpoff Joe Creek
In 1828 Joe Mcloughlin, son of Dr. John McLoughlin, was in a trapping party that camped one night on this stream. Joe came in after dark, fell over the edge of the bluff and received very severe injuries.
Grants Pass
named as a result of the capture of Vicksburg by General U.S. Grant. About the time the news arrived in Southern Oregon, men engaged in improving the road over the low hills north, celebrated the victory by naming the summit Grants Pass
Eight Dollar Mountain
There are several stories as to how the mountain got the name. The most accepted versions are: the discovery of an $8.00 gold nugget or a man wore out a pair of $8.00 shoes walking around the base.
Cave Junction
In 1935 a post office was applied for with the name of Cave City. The authorities rejected the name because the area was not an incorporated city. May of 1936 Cave Junction name was adopted.
Selma
was called Anderson until July 10, 1897, and at that time it was moved about two miles south. The wife of postmaster Robert Churchill selected the name in honor of Selma, Iowa.
Wonder
About 1902 When John T. Robertson started building a store at the present site, neighbors wondered where he would get his trade
Merlin
Named for the many pigeon hawks in the area.
Rough and Ready Creek
Named for the General then later President, Zachary Taylor, whose nickname was Ol' Rough and Ready.
Galice
Named for a french doctor Louis Galice who arrived in the area about 1852.

For more information on the history behind names in Oregon go to the Interesting Names and Places in Oregon or visit the Applegate Trail Page. Also visit Josephine County - The Golden Beginnings

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