I’ve done some research. According to Lewis A. McArthur’s "Oregon Geographic Names," a favorite reference book of our much-loved local librarians, there’s more than one name in Oregon with the word “Dead” in it. There’s Dead Mountain, Deadhorse Canyon, Deadman Canyon, Deadman Pass, among others, and my favorite, Deadman Creek, which flows into the Imnaha River. A man named James Dale named it that because, according to McArthur, “he said he’d rather might just as well be dead as to be in such a lonesome place.”
And of course, there’s also Dead Indian Creek and Dead Indian Mountain and Dead Indian Memorial Road, mostly in our own Jackson County and partly in Klamath County. I searched for Dead White Man locales too. I couldn’t find any Dead White Man roads, creeks, mountains, or canyons in McArthur’s book.
I dug a bit deeper. I googled “Dead White Man Road.” There wasn’t much. Several references to the name in the Mail Tribune and a comedian’s wry reference to a “dead white man road” in South Africa.
You probably know that Jackson County was named after Andrew Jackson, our seventh president, famous for championing “the common man.” But also famous for the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which resulted in the Cherokee Trail of Tears to Indian Territory, later renamed Oklahoma — Choctaw for “red people.”
In 1856, at the end of the Rogue River Wars, we had Trails of Tears here in Southern Oregon; Rogue Valley Indians were forcibly removed to reservations in northern Oregon. It remains a bitter piece of history for the Confederated Tribes of Siletz.
Names. Naming. Who gets to name the names? Well, it’s complicated. There’s a lot of history involved. And names change throughout history. Here in Jackson County, according to a recent Mail Tribune article, our elected county commissioners will “host a public meeting” on Oct. 11 to consider renaming Dead Indian Memorial Road. They want to “solicit some public input” and then make a decision. Yes, they have the power to rename the road.
They probably won’t rename it Dead Commissioner Memorial Road. Or Dead Politician Road. Think about it. That would offend a lot of people. Both the living and the dead.
In the end, the names we choose could be about respect. And honor. And pride. How do we show our respect? Who do we choose to honor? Are we proud of the names we choose? Does the name Dead Indian Memorial Road show respect for the dead who were discovered so many years ago? Are we honoring them for the lives they lived? Or the land they loved? Or the people they lived and died for?
Is there a way forward? I believe there is. And it begins with recognizing that Indians, the Latgawa and the Takelma, the original people in this valley, are not dead. They are alive and they live here among us. And there is a way to honor them and also show respect for the journey that all of us made in coming here.
We can do this by honoring a woman who has lived a long life here and is still alive. She is the oldest living member of her tribe, the Takelma of Southern Oregon. She has been honored as a “Living Treasure” by the Confederated Tribes of Siletz, and as a “Living Cultural Legend” by the Oregon Council of the Arts. She is a spiritual leader. Her name is Agnes Pilgrim.
We can make history. Let’s rename Dead Indian Road. Let’s name it Agnes Pilgrim Road. The name honors her and her life and demonstrates our respect for the original people who settled in this valley. Finally, it’s a name we can be proud of.
— Bill Street lives in Ashland.