How Dead Indian Memorial Road got its name

Bill Miller recently mentioned Dead Indian Memorial Road in one of his Mail Tribune articles. Can you tell us the origins of this rather unusual name?

— Wayne R., Eagle Point

The story of how Dead Indian Memorial Road got its name begins in the early days of European settlement in Southern Oregon, Wayne, and you can read all about it in "Oregon Geographic Names," that superb compendium of Oregon history and lore.

As the story goes, around 1854 some settlers found two deceased American Indians in deserted wigwams near a creek. They had apparently been killed by other Indians.

Folks of that era tended to invent place names based on what they found — hence the abundance of creeks named Elk and lakes named Fish. So it's hardly surprising they chose to name the stream Dead Indian Creek.

The name stuck, and it was applied to a road that followed the creek up into the Cascades. By around 1870, the road was extended over the summit to Pelican Bay on Upper Klamath Lake.

That's where things stood until 1993, when sensitivity over the connotation of the words "dead Indian" prompted Jackson County commissioners to change the name to Dead Indian Memorial Road.

The name change was hotly debated. Some people of Indian descent argued for keeping the original name as a reminder of what their people suffered. Others supported changing the name. One Cherokee man described it as "humiliating, degrading and undignified," according to a Mail Tribune story from March 7, 1993.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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