Commissioners fail leadership test

It would have been so simple. Just vote to change the name of Dead Indian Memorial Road for a second time and put the matter to rest. Instead, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, paralyzed by indecision, opted to decide by not deciding — effectively leaving the name unchanged.

The county road that winds from Highway 66 to Highway 140 was originally named Dead Indian Road, after Dead Indian Creek. Early white settlers unimaginatively named it after two American Indians were found murdered in an abandoned encampment nearby, presumably the victims of a feud with a neighboring tribe.

In 1996, in response to concerns about cultural insensitivity, county commissioners unimaginatively changed the name to Dead Indian Memorial Road. They would have been better advised to follow the lead of a local church, which changed the name of its summer camp from Dead Indian Soda Springs to Camp Latgawa, after a local tribe, but they didn't. So the word "Dead" remained on road signs, leading to this year's campaign to change the name again.

On Thursday, the current commissioners heard a report of public input on the question. While 93 percent of those responding favored changing the name, the vote was just 188-14. That's not a tremendous number of votes in a county of more than 200,000 people.

Of those who live along the road in question, the vote was 11 in favor, 10 opposed.

Two commissioners expressed concern about the small number of responses. That concern is misplaced.

If barely 200 people bothered to make their preference known, the rest of the county probably can live with a decision one way or the other.

The vote of residents along the road should be taken into account, but shouldn't carry more weight than county residents as a whole. Changing the name would cause those residents some inconvenience, but it would be temporary.

In any case, this isn't the kind of issue that needs to be decided by a public vote. The commissioners should do the jobs they were elected to do, and make a decision based on what's best for the county.

It's a public road, traveled by many more residents and visitors than those who live on it. And its name reflects the county to everyone who sees it. Tourism is a large and growing part of the local economy, and a road called Dead Indian, "Memorial" or not, doesn't help the county's image.

Drop the word "Dead," as Commissioner Rick Dyer suggested — changing the signs would be easy — or choose a local Indian name, such as Latgawa or Takelma. But change the name.

Share This Story