Oregon Facts: Interesting Names and Places in Oregon

Oregon Timeline || Oregon Name Controversy || Oregon Name Oddities || Where Oregon Names Originated || History of Oregon Names

One of the most intriguing things about Oregon is how places received their names and the history behind those names. Oregon has 36 counties and is roughly divided into six land regions: Coast Range, Klamath Mountains, Cascade Mountains, Willamette Valley, Columbia Plateau and Basin, and Range Region.

Oregon Timeline

1500 Spanish sailors returning to Mexico from the Philippines were the first white people to see the Oregon Coast.

1578 Sir Francis Drake may have touched shore looking for a route between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

1792 Robert Gray sailed his ship, Columbia, up the river he named after the ship.

1805 The Lewis and Clark expedition reached the mouth of the Columbia and wintered there.

1811 John Jacob Astor founded Astoria as a fur trading post. It was the first white settlement.

1819 Treaty between U.S. and Spain fixed the Southern Oregon border.

1846 Treaty made the 49th parallel between British and U.S. Territory.

1846 Oregon became a territory.

1850 Congress passed the Oregon Donation Law.

1859 Oregon became the 33rd State on February 14, 1859.

The Oregon Name Controversy

To this day there is controversy over the name of the state. World Book Encyclopedia states: The Columbia River was at one time called the Oregon or Ouragan, which means Hurricane in French. Others believe the name was derived from a mapmaker's error in the 1700s. The Wisconsin River was named the Ouisconsink and was picked up by travelers referring to the country west of the Great Lakes as Ourigan.

More knowledge of the origin of the word Oregon has surfaced in the last hundred years. Jonathan Carver may have appropriated the word, not the spelling from Major Robert Rogers. Rogers used the form Ouragon or Ouregan in a petition for an exploring expedition into the country west of the Great Lakes. This took place in London is 1765. His petition was not granted. Jonathan Carver is the first person to use the form Oregon in referring to the river of the west that falls into the Pacific Ocean. This report was published in 1778.

Neither Vancouver (1778), nor Gray (1778) used the name Oregon by any spelling during their explorations. The name was not used by Lewis and Clark nor Astor's petition to Congress in 1812. Poet William Cullens Bryant, after reading a volume of Jonathan Carver's travels mentioned Oregon in his poem "Thanatopsis" published in 1817. Pioneer travelers headed west to "Oregon, God's fertile land of plenty". So, however the name was derived or created, it stuck, and The Great Migration on the Oregon Trail had begun.

Oregon Name Oddities

Many names in Oregon came about through misunderstanding, mispronunciation, and misspelling.

Willamette River has gone through many spellings but the root word was the Indian word, Wal-lamt. When an early explorer asked an Indian the name as he pointed toward the river, the Indian answered "Wal-lamt". The Indian was looking at the 'west bank' of the river.

Sixes River, Curry County. The origin of the name was Sik-ses-tine, an Indian word which meant 'people by the far north country.' It was shortened by gold miners to Sikhs, which they knew meant 'friend' in the Chinook jargon.

Portland, Multnomah County. There seems to be no challenge to how Portland received its name. Francis Pettygrove and A.J. Lovejoy laid off sixteen blocks of the townsite. Each wanted to name it after his hometown in the East. They flipped a coin to decide. Pettygrove was from Portland, Maine, while Lovejoy was from Boston, Massachusetts.

Milwaukie, Clackamas County. Someone couldn't spell when they meant to honor their hometown, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Idea, Gilliam County. James Washington Heatt, first Postmaster, meant to name the town after his sister-in-law, Ida. Somewhere along the line the name was misspelled.

Ace Williams Mountain, Douglas County. Named after Asa Williams, 1854. Spelling of the first name has been corrupted for many years.

Pix, Baker County. Named for the Pyx mine.

Ewe Creek, Josephine County. Should have been Yew Creek, named for the many yew trees in the area.

Olex, Gilliam County. Named to honor Alex Smith, a local resident but the petitioner's handwriting was misread.

Tolo, Jackson County. When petitioned for name change from Willow Springs to Yolo (a California Indian tribe) the 'Y' was misread as a 'T'.

Depoe Bay, Lincoln County. It should have been Depot.

Shy Creek, Curry County. Named for a crossing on the property of Henry Shigh. County probate records weren't sure so they refer to him as Henry Schaich or Shy or Shigh.

Ramo Flat, Union County. It should have been spelled Raymou.

Where Oregon Names Originated

Some early settlers used great imagination in naming places in Oregon. Athough many think little imagination was used in naming West Side, Lake County; Water Creek, Curry County; Thelake, Harney County; or No Name Creek, Hood River County.

Some places were named for country of origin.

Norway, Coos County
Denmark, Curry County
Holland,Josephine County
Palestine, Multnomah County
Jordan, six counties

Names of foreign cities were also used

Berlin, Linn County
Troy, Wallowa County
Toledo, Lincoln County
Waterloo, Linn County
Liverpool, Linn County
Manila, Yamhill County
Elgarose, Douglas County
London Peak, Josephine County
Rome, Malheur and Marion Counties
Paris, Lane County
Dundee, Yamhill County
Bandon, Coos County
Malin, Klamath County

Home states honored in Oregon

Arkansas Hollow, Wallowa County
Illinois Valley, Josephine County
Colorado Lake, Linn County

Other hometowns honored are:

Cleveland, Douglas County
Lafayette, Yamhill County
Springfield, Lane County
Salem, Marion, County
Pittsburg, Columbia County
Peoria, Linn County
Indepedence, Polk County
Newport, Lincoln County
Detroit, Marion County
Ukiah, Umatilla County
Kansas City, Washington County

Places of general geography

English Mountain, Lane County
Orient, Multnomah County
French Mountain, Lane County
Swisshome, Lane County
Dixie, Washington County
Spanish Gulch, Jackson County

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

This information is also included in City.Net

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Last Updated February 23, 2006