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Race and Ethnicity

‘Dead Indian’ Mountain, Waterways Renamed After Latgawa People

A topographic map of Dead Indian Soda Springs in Jackson County, a name that is currently under review by state and local officials.
CalTopo
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A topographic map of Dead Indian Soda Springs in Jackson County, a name that has been officially changed to Latgawa Soda Springs, in recognition of a tribe indigenous to the area.

Southern Oregon started out the year with new geographic names for mountains and waterways that were once offensive.

Three geographic features in Jackson County that were once called Dead Indian Mountain, Creek, and Soda Springs are now officially renamed after the Native Latgawa people.

Senior researcher with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, Jennifer Runyon, says she hopes the new names will inspire people to research the Rogue Valley’s history.

“By putting these names on the map and having people maybe seeing these for the first time, we’d like to think they would question that name,” Runyon says. “Do some research. Find out, what does it mean? And they would learn about that tribe that was essentially wiped off the landscape. Names tell stories, retain histories.”

The Latgawa and Takelma tribes both lived in the Rogue Valley before white settlers colonized the area. The Rogue Wars killed many of the Takelma and Latgawa people in the 1850s. Then the U.S. Army forced whoever was left to relocate hundreds of miles north to the Grande Ronde and Siletz reservations, where many of their descendants now live.

Meanwhile, the name for the 20-mile long Dead Indian Memorial Road between Ashland and Klamath Falls remains unchanged. The controversial name has roiled the county for more than a decade; it was originally called "Dead Indian Road" before the word "Memorial" was added in 1993. There have been multiple efforts to rename it again. Still, the county isn't currently undergoing a formal process to rename it.

The new names for Latgawa Mountain, Latgawa Creek, and Latgawa Soda Springs will appear in the next round of topographical maps published by the U.S. Geological Survey, which won't be for another couple of years.

"It’s now in the national names database," says Bruce Fisher, president of the Oregon Geographic Names Board. "So if you were to do a search on, say, 'Dead Indian Soda Creek,' what you get when you pull up that name is Latgawa Soda Creek, and Dead Indian Soda Creek is now listed as a variant name."

Fisher says it's up to federal land agencies to change trail signs that might have the old names.

The state board initially approved the proposal last summer. It was written by Alice Knotts of San Diego, who grew up at Camp Latgawa, a recreation center and United Methodist ministry retreat. Her parents named the camp to pay tribute to the Latgawa tribe after they researched the area’s history.

After receiving the proposal, the state board mailed letters to the Tribal Historic Preservation Officers of the nine federally recognized tribes in Oregon. It didn’t receive feedback after a 60-day waiting period. The U.S. board underwent a similar process with tribal officers across the country before it approved the proposal in December.

A month earlier, the U.S board approved a proposal to rename Negro Ben Mountain in the Siskiyou Mountains to Ben Johnson Mountain, which was named after a local blacksmith who was Black.

There’s an informal initiative underway to rename all Oregon geographic features that contain the word “squaw” in their titles — including South Squaw Tip and North Squaw Tip near Klamath Falls — which is an offensive term for Native American women. The state board has yet to receive an official proposal.

Anyone can submit proposals to change the names of geographic features in Oregon, although the board is more likely to approve detailed proposals that suggest a new name that is relevant to the geographic area.

Runyon says Oregon is one of the few states that has an active geographic names board, thanks in large part to Lewis A. McArthur and his son, Lews L. McArthur, who helped compile and edit seven lengthy editions of “Oregon Geographic Names” since 1928, which were published by the Oregon Historical Society.

“The state boards that are most active are almost all out west,” Runyon says. “There’s still that homesteader mentality, that feeling that there are still things to be named. Here in the east, we tend to think — rightly or wrongly — that everything’s been named or renamed by now.”