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As It Was: Petitioner Would Replace “Dead Indian” Geographic Names

The Oregon Geographic Names Board will meet in 2020 to consider the naming or renaming of geographic features, including eight in Southern Oregon.

Petitioners have requested changing Negro Ben Mountain above Ruch in the Applegate Valley to Ben Johnson Mountain and to replace the words “Dead Indian” with “Latgawa” for Dead Indian Mountain, Dead Indian Creek, and Dead Indian Soda Springs. The Latgawa band was linked to the Takelma tribe of Indians.  Camp Latgawa in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest near Howard Prairie Lake is named after the band.

The petitioner for eliminating the words “Dead Indian,” Alice Knotts, is a former Rogue Valley resident.  She also proposed four new names, including Knotts Cliff and Marjorie Falls, after her parents, Ross and Marjorie Knotts; Hole-in-the-Rock Arch, for a natural hole in a mountain near Little Butte Creek; and Latgawa Pinnacles, for cone-shaped rocks across from Camp Latgawa.

The petitioner who suggested Ben Johnson Mountain said its previous name, Negro Ben Mountain, was outdated and offensive to some people.  In 1964, the board had approved replacing a denigrative, racist epithet with “Negro.”

Johnson, a prospector and blacksmith, once lived on the mountain.

Sources: Tornay, Kaylee. "By Any Other Name." Mail Tribune, Nov. 2019 [Medford, Ore.] , p. 1+; Domestic Geographic Names Report." Oregon Geographic Names Board, 28 July 2019, www.ohs.org/about-us/affiliates-and-partners/oregon-geographic-names-board/upload/Ben_Johnson_Mtn_proposal_09-30.pdf. Accessed 12 Dec. 2019; "Board Meetings and Name Proposals." Oregon Historical Society, Oregon Historical Society, 2019, www.ohs.org/about-us/affiliates-and-partners/oregon-geographic-names-board/board-meetings-and-name-proposals.cfm. Accessed 12 Dec. 2019.

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.