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Drusy vs. Gouge Eye: the Winner Is Drewsey

The town of Drewsey, Ore., wasn’t always Drewsey.  When Abner Robbins opened a store there in the summer of 1883, he called the place Gouge Eye. That raised some eyebrows, if you’ll excuse the pun.

Drewsey today is an unincorporated community along the Malheur River 45 miles east of Burns.  It has one store with a post office, two churches, an elementary school, and the Drewsey Café and Gouge Eye Saloon.

Before white settlers arrived, the Paiute tribes fished, hunted and foraged there. The government opened the Malheur Indian Reservation in 1872, but soon relocated the Paiute to other Western reservations.

Lewis L. McArthur says in his reference book titled “Oregon Geographic Names” that Drewsey named the community Gouge Eye “apparently to commemorate the frontier method of settling disputes” with a punch in the face.  Postal authorities were reluctant to accept the name, so Robbins suggested Drusy, spelled d-r-u-s-y, which eventually became today’s Drewsey, spelled d-r-e-w-s-e-y. 

McArthur writes, “Drusy seems more like a girl’s name.  The Oregon Guide (publication) calls the name Gouge Eye unpleasant, but the compiler thinks it is a stout, picturesque bit of nomenclature, much better than some of the gutless expressions of today.”

Drewsey, Oregon." Wikipedia. 7 Jan. 2016. Web. 17 May 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drewsey, Oregon;  McArthur, Lewis A., and Lewis L. McArthur. Oregon Geographic Names. 4th ed. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Edwards Brothers, 1974. 232. Print.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.