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As It Was: Legislator Figures Every Josephine Needs a Napoleon

Twenty-seven miles west of Grants Pass is a small town once named Napoleon.  The town started out as Kerbyville, but is known today as simply Kerby.

The town took its name from the Kerby Ranch.  Businessman James Kerby and his partner Samuel Hicks had a general merchandise store there.  Their customers were mainly miners looking for gold along the creeks feeding the Illinois River. 

Shortly after Josephine County was established in 1856, Kerby and Hicks thought it would benefit their enterprises if their little stop on the road could become the county seat.  That’s when they founded Kerbyville and put it in the competition for county seat. 

Meanwhile, Dr. D.S. Holton, a territorial legislator, bought an interest in Kerby and pushed through legislation changing its name to Napoleon.  Some say Holton was an admirer of history and Napoleon in particular, while others say Holton just thought if the county was named Josephine its seat should be Napoleon. 

However, the name didn’t catch on, so the county commissioners eventually had the name changed back to Kerbyville, which gradually shortened to Kerby.  Ten years later Kerby lost out to Grants Pass as the county seat.

Source: McArthur, Lewis A. Oregon Geographic Names. Sixth ed., Oregon Historical Society, 1992, pp. 467-68.

Lynda Demsher has been editor of a small-town weekly newspaper, a radio reporter, a daily newspaper reporter and columnist for the Redding Record Searchlight, Redding California. She is a former teacher and contributed to various non-profit organizations in Redding in the realm of public relations, ads, marketing, grant writing and photography.