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Trivia: Interesting Place Names

Source Note

A colored drawing of an axe
Even an axe handle can inspire a place name.
Most of the following information is derived from Oregon Geographic Names, 7th Edition, by Lewis A. McArthur, Revised and enlarged by Lewis L. McArthur, Published by Oregon Historical Society Press, 2003.

Asbestos

This locality and post office in Jackson County was named for the deposits of fireproofing material found nearby. 

Axehandle Spring

This Jefferson County area got its name from the broken axe handle that local wood haulers found near a water hole.

Baby Rock

This Lane County rock derived its name from an Indian legend about animals that left the footprints of a baby.

Bakeoven

This Wasco County area got its name in the 1800s after a trader started from The Dalles with a pack train of flour for gold miners in Canyon City. Along the way, Indians drove off his horses but the trader made the best of it by constructing a rough clay and rock bake oven that he used to make bread to sell to miners heading to the gold country.

Battle Ax

One story says that this Marion County mountain was named after a brand of chewing tobacco popular in the 1890s that an old woodsman chewed in great quantities while exploring the area. 

Big Noise Creek

Boo Boo the cartoon bear
Despite what you may have heard, Boo Boo Lake was not named after cartoon sidekick Boo Boo Bear shown above.
This Clatsop County stream is named because of a loud sluice gate that was used to control water for floating logs.

Bloody Run Creek

By one account, this Josephine County stream was named because of a skirmish in the 1850s Rogue River Indian War. A white man stooped over a stream to get a drink and was shot, leaving blood running in the creek.

Boo Boo Lake

This Lane County lake was stocked with trout accidentally, thus creating a "boo boo" that resulted in the name. 

Bruces Bones Creek

Bruce Schilling was working on a 1950s road survey crew in Curry County when he got lost in heavy brush. One of his fellow survey workers remarked that "they would find Bruce's parched bones next spring." The comment stuck and became the name of the creek.

Camp Castaway

This descriptive name was derived from a military camp in Coos County where soldiers and sailors managed to get ashore from a shipwreck in 1852. It was used for about four months before the men made their way to Port Orford after considerable adventure. 

Cannibal Mountain

A drawing of a champagne bottle with cork blowing off
In what must have been a bitter disappointment to some settlers, champagne did not flow down this Douglas County creek.
The derivation of the name of this Lincoln County peak is mysterious. One unsupported story claims that during a snowstorm a pioneer trapper ate his Indian wife to avoid starvation.

Champagne Creek

It's likely that the name of this Douglas County stream is a mutation of the name of a local settler, Joseph Champaign. The more elegant champagne version conjures up visions of bubbly wine flowing downstream.

Chicken Whistle Creek

A local described this small Lane County stream as "nearly as big as a chicken whistle," a real or fanciful musical instrument. 

China Hat

This Deschutes County butte was said to be shaped like a hat worn by Chinese in 1800s Oregon. 

Chrome

This Coos County station on the Southern Pacific Coos Bay Line got its name during World War II because of nearby chome mining and processing.

Coffeepot Creek

A coffee pot fell off a pioneer wagon and was run over by a wheel and smashed leaving the name of this Lane County stream.

Crazyman Creek

In the 1880s a hunter in Wallowa County looked down into a canyon and saw a man who was acting "as if demented, cavorting and jumping about." It turned out that the antics came because the man was so surprised at seeing another man in the apparently isolated area.

Curiosity Creek

A Democratic Party donkey icon
Democrat Gulch had a decidedly partisan feel.
This Wallowa County stream was named after the "curious" branch of an alder tree. Apparently, the branch looked like a jug handle because it grew back into the tree.

Democrat Gulch

Most of the pioneer gold miners in this Josephine County place must have shared the same political views. 

Devils Pulpit

This Hood River County geologic feature got its name in relation to the nearby Preachers Peak. A remark was made that "if the preacher was there, the Devil wouldn't be far away."

Dipping Vat Creek

Crook County shares the name of this stream with others in eastern Oregon after a 1907 law set the requirement that sheep be dipped annually in huge vats of chemicals to combat diseases. Large flocks with thousands of sheep required lots of water for the process and hence the connection with streams.

Do Little Flat

This area of Wheeler County gained its name because local homesteaders simply managed a minimum existence on the land to satisfy the federal law and gain a land patent that they would sell immediately to much larger ranchers in the area. 

Dog Thief Point

Two cartoon reindeer
Donner (aka Thunder) and Blitzen (aka Lightning) were far from home in Harney County.
Two men traveling along a military road in Clatsop County stopped for the night at the home of Joe Lynch. The next morning Lynch found his dog missing and gave chase. He later tracked down the "dognappers" at a lean-to camp in the area and reclaimed his animal. 

Donner und Blitzen River

This Harney County waterway got its name in 1864 when troops crossed it during a thunderstorm. Donner und Blitzen are the German words for thunder and lightning. 

Drain

While a challenging name for a town (with "going down the" references), this Douglas County community simply got its name from pioneer settler Charles Drain. 

Dutch Oven Camp

This Lane County camp got its name after an accident on a fishing trip. A burro packed with supplies fell off a cliff to its death. A broken dutch oven sat amid the wreckage for years. Miraculously, a large container of whiskey was the only pack item to survive the crash unscathed.

Eight Dollar Mountain

Several stories attempt to account for the naming of this Josephine County peak. One said that a gold nugget worth $8 was found nearby. Another claimed that a man wore out a pair of $8 shoes walking around the base of the mountain.

Fashion Reef

This Columbia River feature in Multnomah County probably got its name from something unrelated to style. Instead, its name likely came from a river steamer named Fashion. The vessel, under a different name, sank on what is now known as Fashion Reef in 1852. It was raised the next year and renamed the Fashion. 

Firemans Leap

A Jerusalem Cricket photo
The Jerusalem Cricket really is a "funny bug," isn't it?
This steep bluff in Douglas County apparently is named in relation to smokejumping paratroopers provided by the Army in World War II to combat forest fires that could have resulted from Japanese fire bombs. While fighting a lightning-caused fire, one person was killed and several were injured after they jumped into very dangerous terrain. The feature appears to be named for this incident.

Funny Bug Basin Spring

A Jerusalem Cricket, apparently a "funny bug," showed up at a picnic by the spring and later found its way into the name of this Grant County feature.

Gobblers Knob

Ten summits in Oregon are called Gobblers Knob. While the specifics of each are unknown, a dictionary says that Gobblers Knob is an expression often referring to a backwater community or remote feature. All ten Oregon Gobblers Knobs indeed qualify as remote features.

Gouge Eye

Photo of  man poking at his eyes
Some citizens of Gouge Eye, Oregon interpreted the "Code of the West" broadly.
Abner Robbins set up a store in this Harney County place in 1883 and called it Gouge Eye, apparently referring to a frontier method of settling disputes that had been used locally. Postal authorities took a dim view of the name and the community later became Drewsey.

Greasy Creek

One story claims that the name for this Benton County stream resulted from a local slaughterhouse dumping waste products into the creek. Not a swimmer's paradise by any definition. 

Gumbo

One explanation of the name of this Gilliam County post office is that it had sticky soil also known as "gumbo." The term is derived from the African Congo expression for okra, which is used to thicken soups. The soil can be very difficult to traverse if it is wet.

Humbug Mountain

This mountain on the Curry County coast probably got its name after an error caused an exploring party to become lost in 1851. This resulted in the name Tichenors Humbug apparently because the mistake was brought about by deceptive or false talk, or humbug. It later changed to Humbug Mountain. 

Idea

This short-lived Gilliam County post office originally was intended in 1886 to have the name Ida after a relative of the first postmaster. A misspelling led to the name Idea. Apparently, Idea's time had not yet come since it closed a few years later.

Jetson

George Jetson cartoon
This George Jetson apparently never visited the Jetson railroad station in Lane County.
Disappointing to some fans of animation, this Lane County railroad station was not named for the futuristic Hanna-Barbera cartoon family led by the bumbling patriarch George Jetson. Instead, it got its name from J.J. Jetson, a more earth-bound local property owner. 

Johnny Cake Mountain

This flat-topped mountain in Grant County looked like...you guessed it, a stack of cakes to a local teenager named John Westfall in circa 1910 who replied to surveyors asking for a name. They apparently agreed and added his first name to Johnny Cake Mountain. Maybe he was hungry at the time. 

Limpy Prairie

This part of Douglas County was named after the nickname of an old Indian in the area with an injured leg that resulted in a limp. 

Lonely

This aptly named post office was located in Lake County's remote Warner Valley for a few years in the early 1890s. 

Lucky Queen

The name of this Josephine County mine betrayed the gambling optimism of at least one of the miners working it in the 1800s. A Lucky Queen post office also operated for 20 years in the late 1800s.

Mecca

An M & M cartoon figure
While loggers may have snacked on them, these M & Ms did not inspire the name of M & M Creek in Linn County. (image courtesy Mars Incorporated)
This Jefferson County place and post office name probably was tied to the Oregon Trunk Railway running through the difficult Deschutes River Canyon. By making it to Mecca, railroad workers had built the line through the worst part of the canyon and reached one of their main objectives. In a larger sense, traveling to Mecca, Saudi Arabia is a main objective for adherents of the Islamic faith, thus the reference.

Mirth

This cheerfully named post office operated in Lane County for 12 years beginning in 1898. 

M & M Creek

This stream was not the site where someone accidentally dropped a bag of the delicious candy covered chocolate treats that "melt in your mouth, not in your hand." Instead, the Linn County feature got its name from the M & M Lumber Company that logged the area.

Monkland

Rather than being a place populated with robed, tonsured men living in a monastery, this Sherman County community boasted several people hailing from Monkland, Ontario in Canada. 

Moody

While people going to this Wasco County post office may have shifted quickly from happy to sad depending on the mail they got, the post office itself simply was named after Malcolm Moody, a prominent pioneer.

Mount Fanny

This beautiful peak in Union County is named in honor of Mrs. Fanny (actually Fannie) McDaniels, an early settler. No mention is made of whether or not the name is also honoring a particular part of her anatomy.

Nasty Pond

This Lake County pond is known for its less than pleasant appearance and odor.

Needy

Two scalpels
To our knowledge, no plastic surgery was performed at Nip and Tuck Lakes in Klamath County.
This Clackamas County place was also known as Hardscrabble for "the unfortunate condition of some pioneer settlers who lived there."

Negro Ben Mountain

In a sign of the often racist terms used in naming places, this Jackson County peak was called Nigger Ben Mountain until the name was officially changed in 1964. It referred to a blacksmith who sharpened picks and other tools for miners in the area.

Nip and Tuck Lakes

These Klamath County lakes are named for two hunting dogs owned by a local hunting and fishing guide. Neither of the dogs was confirmed to have had any plastic surgery.

Nofog

This Douglas County post office got its name to boast the claim to more blue sky than surrounding areas that presumably were stuck in the fog much of the time.

Old Maids Canyon

This Jefferson County area was named for a 1911 homesteader named Miss Cecily Beasley, "a woman of strong religious bent."

Peepover Saddle

A cartoon of a scared cowboy
Was this scared cowboy really the inspiration for the name of the Wallowa County ridge called Peepover Saddle? You be the judge.
A saddle is the low part of a ridge between two higher points geographically. Peepover Saddle in Wallowa County got its name because it is very narrow and its summit is very sharp, thus one could "peep over" it.

Pileup Creek

This stream in Wallowa County earned its moniker when "Ed Maskin lost 400 sheep when they piled up coming down a steep hill to the creek." 

Poker Bill Spring

A cowboy named William Tibbetts lost all of his money except a dollar in a Wallowa County poker game. Then while napping his last dollar fell out of his pocket and he was penniless. Luckily the coin was found and he was able to try to recoup his losses.

Pompadour Bluff

This Jackson County bluff is shaped like the hairdo of the Marquise de Pompadour or more recently Elvis Presley. It may have been named in the 1890s when Jim Corbett wore the style as heavyweight boxing champion. 

Popcorn School

This Polk County school has some intimidation in its past. In the 1870s a teacher who was small of stature with the unfortunate name of Napoleon Nelson was set upon by several of his demanding students, some of whom were larger than he. When he failed to produce the treat they wanted, "the boys took their teacher to the ravine behind the school and held him upside down over the creek. The unfortunate pedagogue capitulated and was set back on dry ground. He returned to the school and produced a bag of popping corn, which was duly popped and eaten." Students: don't get any bright ideas! 

Propeller Meadows

Elvis Presley photo
Elvis Presley's pompadour hairdo came too late to be the inspiration for naming Pompadour Bluff.
This Harney County place gained its name out of tragedy. An Army bomber on a 1945 training flight crashed into a rocky outcrop killing all 11 crew members. The engines and propellers were scattered in the meadows and the bulk of the wreckage was buried.

Rabbit Ears

Two peculiar rocks rise up in the mountains of Douglas County, apparently mimicking their namesakes.

Rajneeshpuram

The story of this place could fill many books. This Wasco County city and commune was named for the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, a cult leader from India. In the early 1980s, his followers bought him dozens of Rolls Royce cars; took over the city of Antelope and changed its name to Rajneesh in 1984 (changed back the next year); and poisoned salad bars in The Dalles, leading to 750 sick people. The cult quickly fell apart under federal prosecution and Rajneesh died in 1990.

Ropers Bunion

This Jackson County eminence or geographical rise apparently is named after a local resident with the surname of Roper. It also must have looked like a bunion to someone, but the record is mute on the specifics.

Sheet Iron Jack Creek

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh photo
The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers really shook up Wasco County for a few years in the 1980s.
This stream in Wheeler County got its name from an early settler named Jack who built a nearby cabin covered with - any guesses? - sheet iron! 

Snooseville Corner

The loggers and mill workers in this Washington County community were big users of "snoose," a soft chewing tobacco. According to one source, they could not use pipes or cigars and instead resorted to the small, round can of chewing tobacco that fit easily into the hip pocket.

Swastika

This Jackson County post office started in 1909 and closed in 1912, long before Hitler and the Nazis adopted the symbol for their fascist goals. The entirely benign use of it as a name of a post office was based on a local livestock brand.

The Dungeon

This Clackamas County locality got its name from two men who built a rough shelter made of cedar shakes in the 1880s. The building was low-slung and had no windows, leading to their description of it as The Dungeon. The structure later disappeared but the area kept the name.

Three Fingered Jack

A photo of a dungeoon exhibit
The Dungeon in Clackamas County was probably less frightful than the one shown above.
This notable peak in Jefferson and Linn counties got its name from a trapper who lived nearby. Logically, his name was Jack and he was missing two fingers.

Timbuktu

This Washington County spot was named during the 1940s when timber was being salvaged after the devastating Tillamook Burn fires in the Coast Range. One of the more isolated timber camps got the name Timbuktu (a reference originally from the difficult to reach African city) because it was "way off in the back of the beyond."

Tom Dick & Harry Mountain

This ridge in Clackamas County forms a cirque that is now called Ski Bowl. The name apparently comes from the three distinct summits on the ridge, which presumably each get a name.

Voltage

This remote Harney County post office got its name in 1908 because its first postmaster had an interest in electricity and thought that the nearby Donner und Blitzen River could provide enough "voltage" for all of the Harney Valley.

Whorehouse Meadow

This Harney County area got its name from "female entrepreneurs" who would set up shop in this meadow to cater to the romantic needs of nearby men tending cattle and sheep. According to Oregon Geographic Names, the Bureau of Land Management issued a recreation map of the area in the 1960s and "in deference to the moralists, substituted a namby-pamby name, Naughty Girl Meadow." The change was later reversed and the old name was restored.