The larger of the two Squaw Lakes may be renamed “Snake Monster Lake” under a proposal headed for the Oregon Geographic Names Board as part of an effort to remove “squaw” from place names. Dakubetede mothers used to tell their children a snake monster lived in the lake to keep them from getting too close to the edge. - Jim Craven

Realm of the Snake Monster

The larger of the two Squaw Lakes could soon be called "Snake Monster Lake" if the state and federal governments agree to a nomination by three local historians.

Jeff LaLande, archaeologist and historian, and historians Thomas Doty and Kay Atwood have researched and suggested new names for 12 geographic sites in Jackson County and six in Josephine County as part of a national push to scrub the term "squaw" from state and federal maps.

To deter children from wandering into the lake, American Indian Dakubetede mothers used to tell their little ones that a big snake monster dwelled there and would yank them under water if they came close to the edge, LaLande said.

"It was mothers' way to keep their children out of the water and out of trouble while they were distracted gathering acorns," he said.

"Thunder Lake" is the proposed name for the smaller of the Squaw Lakes because that's where the Dakubetede believed thunder was made, LaLande said.

The stories came from an oral tradition recorded by anthropologist John Peabody Harrington when he interviewed Dakubetede tribal elder Hoxie Simmons during a visit to the Siletz Reservation, LaLande said.

The word "squaw" means "young woman" in the language of some American Indians in the northeast United States and southeast Canada, but it took on a derogatory connotation when white settlers began using it as an insult.

"Without a doubt the term, for most of its use and increasingly by the 1800s, was pejorative," said LaLande, who is a retired U.S. Forest Service archaeologist.

"The term was bigoted and dismissive in nature. Some white settlers felt (the American Indian) culture was savage, and anything to do with them was inferior."

Oregon leads the nation in the number of geographic names using the term "squaw," with more than 150 in all, said Medford resident Stuart Allan, Jackson County's sole representative on the Oregon Geographic Names Board.

The state Legislature in 2001 mandated that all the '"squaw" toponyms be eliminated, and several other states across the nation have taken similar measures.

Letters seeking feedback on the nominations will go out to county commissioners, historical societies, tribal leaders and other interested parties after the Oregon Geographic Names Board formally receives the name proposals, which could be as soon as Saturday.

"Ours are just proposals," LaLande said. "It doesn't mean they'll be accepted."

After the board receives feedback, it will vote on whether to recommend the proposed names for consideration by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names.

Geographic name changes can take up to two years to complete, said Carolyn Hixson, the Oregon board's recording secretary.

Once the name is cleared, it can be added to state and federal maps.

"It's a good time to get the new names because the U.S. Forest Service is updating their maps," Doty said.

In devising new names for Jackson and Josephine sites, LaLande, Doty and Atwood drew from their knowledge and the research of Harrington, 1884-1961, and Edward Sapir, 1884-1939, who worked closely with tribal elders to capture some of Southern Oregon's native vocabulary and oral history.

LaLande said all of the proposed names are either native words, translations or stem from oral tradition.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail

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