There Doesn’t Have to be a Swastika Mountain, and Other Silly Oregon Place Names

I’ve become obsessed with tracking wildfires lately. Call it morbid, call it sad, call it what you will: that won’t stop me from checking the InciWeb maps every morning to monitor the slow and menacing progress of several hundred wildfires. 

Checking the daily wildfire maps has me looking at maps for a good chunk of my morning, as I sip coffee and struggle against the harsh morning light. 

And looking at maps of Oregon for a couple of hours every morning reveals all kinds of very fun place names. 

You probably already know about Boring (Clackamas County) and Idiotville (Tillamook County). And maybe you know about Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain, just a nine-mile hike up from Government Camp (not to be confused with Government Island). 

But I bet you’ve never heard of motherfucking Swastika Mountain.

Yup. At the southern reaches of Lane County, about eight miles south of Oakridge, sits goddamned Swastika Mountain, standing 4,197 feet above sea level. 

Given Oregon’s abhorrent history on race relations, it’s easy to assume the worst about the origins of the name “Swastika Mountain.” Upon discovering the existence of the mountain during a slow morning at my job, I figured that some Oregon-based Nazis decided to get cute during atlas-writing time and slip in a reference to Der Fuhrer before anyone got wise.

Historical records say otherwise. Swastika Mountain took its name from a little town founded sometime around 1909, a few decades before the Nazis took power, when a post office was founded with a man named Clayton E. Burton in charge. Burton was a local cattle farmer who used a swastika brand on his herd – at the time, swastikas were still considered good luck charms from the Indian subcontinent, originating from svastika, or “well-being,” in Sanskrit.

Imagine driving down a rural road and coming across a pasture full of cows, just grazing away. You stop to look at them for a while, and some of them are near the fence separating the pasture from the road. Then, you look a little closer, and see a big-ass swastika branded on every cow’s hump.

That probably actually happened to someone in 1920s.

Then the Nazis came and fucked it all up, as they always do, and the word “swastika” became synonymous with fascism all over the West. I would like to believe that Clay Burton stopped branding his cows with swastikas, but, who can say?

But the name stuck, even after the post office and the town of Swastika died off and Nazi Germany rose and fell. So now, well over a century after its naming and nearly a century since the Nazis first popped up on the Munich street-fighting scene, there’s still a big old Swastika Mountain sitting in the middle of the Oregon Cascades.

But there doesn’t have to be! The name “Swastika Mountain” is completely arbitrary. Although I can’t find any record of what that particular mountain was called before white dudes with soon-to-be-problematic cattle brands showed up, I’m positive it wasn’t Swastika Mountain.

And it doesn’t have to bear that name now. We can just change the name. That’s arguably the best thing about names: they can be changed any time, for any reason. It’s not like anyone cares about this mountain! There’s probably very few people that know it even exists, and even fewer people who would argue against giving the mountain a name other than Swastika fuckin’ Mountain. 

And anyone that might argue for keeping the name Swastika Mountain is probably not someone whose opinion is even worth its weight in salt.

So, we should absolutely get together and figure out what to re-name Swastika Mountain. I am open to suggestions, and so is the United States Board on Geographic Names.

But in the meantime, we can enjoy these other Oregon place names that are perfect as they are.

Shitepoke Creek – Lane County

A “shitepoke” is an old-timey Southern word for a heron, but specifically used by early pioneers to reference the blue and green herons that inhabited the riparian habitats of the Cascade foothills, which, as the pioneers noted, have a habit of shitting themselves after being startled. 

I imagine that this short seven-mile creek just south of Oakridge was named after a settler colonist had an unfortunate incident with a big-ass bird.

This right here? This is a shitepoke (Via, a very real website.)

Friend – Wasco County

The settlement of Friend, named after postmaster George Friend, is an old ghost town in that vast stretch of high desert between The Dalles and Bend. All that remains of the old railroad town is a cemetery, an old one-room schoolhouse, and The Friend Store.

There is no loneliness quite like working the counter at the Friend Store in a ghost town.

The remains of the old Friend Store. It is unclear what happened to all the friends that were once kept here. (Source)

TNT Creek – Lane County

A couple miles south of Oakridge sits TNT Creek, supposedly named because a Forest Service Ranger’s mule rebelled during an excursion through the forest and bucked a load of dynamite into the then-unnamed creek. It is unclear what happened to the explosives, but I presume that the loss wasn’t too great, seeing as how the Forest Ranger was given the right to name a remote creek in the Willamette National Forest after this amusing anecdote.

For what it’s worth, they weren’t mad at the mule either; Burro Creek is the next mountain stream over.

Hole-in-the-Ground, Crack in the Ground, & Big Hole – Lake County

You know, sometimes you have to give people credit for not beating around the bush when it comes to naming places. There’s no need to label these volcanic fissures in Central Oregon anything they’re not. Sometimes, you come across a big hole, and all you can do is stand on the rim, whistle, and say to yourself “Damn, that’s a big hole.” And that feels pretty good, I bet, because not a single person on Earth can tell you you’re wrong.

“Damn… that’s a big hole.” (Source)

It helps that these three volcanic holes in the ground are not far from a place called Fort Rock–which sounds like the world’s greatest rock opera about an Army platoon–and about seven miles north of Christmas Valley.

Twin Peaks – Wallowa County

This one is for all my David Lynch fans out there. Don’t let Washington state take all the credit for Twin Peaks.

Fun fact: Catherine Coulson, who played the Log Lady, is buried in Ashland.

Hehe Mountain – Lane County

I’m not sure how the name of this mountain is supposed to be said, but in my head, I assume it’s pronounced like the way Beavis and Butthead laugh. This is a mountain that mocks your attempts to scale its peak. 

You can reach the top all you want, but all you’re going to hear is a faint and sarcastic chuckle in the back of your mind.

Democrat Gulch – Josephine County

A 1971 article in the Register-Guard claims that Democrat Gulch, on a ridge some five miles southeast of Cave Junction–itself an honorable mention for this list–was named because a majority of early gold prospectors happened to be aligned with the Democratic party.

This, of course, sends my imagination running after images of crusty old prospectors discussing the finer points of Grover Cleveland’s second run for the presidency while panning for gold.

There’s also a Democrat Gulch in Idaho, one in California, and one deep in remote Montana.

There aren’t a whole lot of Democrats around these parts anymore: that sign reads “Help Fight Terrorism! Get US out of the United Nations. (Google Maps)

Whorehouse Meadow – Harney County

Much like Hole-in-the-Ground, Whorehouse Meadow is a name that aims to cut out the bullshit. The meadow outside of the town Frenchglen once played host to a prosperous group of sex workers, who would set up tents where they could exchange their goods and services with local farmers and cattle ranchers.

I mean, there are worse places to seek out the company of a sex worker. (Source)

In the 20th century, the Bureau of Land Management–being the no-fun sticklers and bureaucrats they are–changed the name of the meadow on their maps to “Naughty Girl Meadow,” which is somehow objectively worse. Everyone got mad at them for making what was once an amusing place name sound so creepy, so they changed it back a few years later. This, of course, would be the last time that the Bureau of Land Management had anyone get mad at them.

See! We can change place names at any time! 

Tittie Butte – Wheeler County

I’m not laughing. You’re laughing.

Eightmile – Morrow County

Hawksy Walksy – Harney County

You’re never going to convince me that this flat plain on the Oregon-Nevada border wasn’t named after some drunk dude named “Hawk” who decided to walk across the border while babbling like an idiot.

“Hawk! Hey man, come back here, that there’s Nevada on the other side.”

“No way, José – Hawksy’s gonna Walksy right across that there dadgum invisible line in the sand. Just you wait.”

Whiskey Dick – Wasco County

Named, I presume, after a sexual encounter so unfortunate and embarrassing that it had no choice but to be immortalized forever in the records of the United States Geological Survey. 

The lesson in all this is never trust a geographer. Seems like they can be real petty sometimes.

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17 Responses

  1. Jennifer says:

    Found this article after reading one on Olive about two guys rescued near Swastika Mountain. The story was picked up as far away as Miami and Australia. Maybe the attention will force a name change.

    • Did you read about the original context of the swastika as a peaceful sign? Those who attempt to rewrite every facet of history are today’s true fascists. When thugs with a van pulled down Portland’s Lincoln statue, they completely ignored the context of him vs. some Dakota warriors, whom he mostly saved, reacting to a military commission. You’ll find similar shallow motives with most vandalism and cancel culture.

      Meanwhile, we’ve got smug “environmentalists” willing to deface large swaths of natural scenery with oil & gas dependent wind turbines, as long as they don’t live too close. This includes the luckily-saved Steens Mountain. Only the sage grouse saved its ancient flanks from industrial blight. If there was enough wind near the related Steins Pillar (Steens misspelled), they’d probably surround it with (taller) “clean energy” eyesores.

      My point is that many forces are assaulting nature and the historical record, and they aren’t good merely because some groups approve.

      • progress is semantics says:

        There are still towns in Oregon that are proud of their “hanging tree” and you want to argue about the swastika being misused in the context of a state that wasn’t going to be a state unless it refused to allow people of color to buy land. Just because a system of oppression is commonplace in history is not a reason to not recognize that names can be changed for the purpose of making people feel better without destroying anything, people are multifaceted and should be viewed as flawed which can mean to no longer revere them the way we used to, and that all things change through the never-ending march of time. I hope that knowing another person can toe-to-toe in a paragraph on the internet about who is or isn’t correct when reality is subjective and good or bad are relative terms over something that can arguably be seen as not a big deal because it’s arbitrary keeps you up at night

      • At some point, the old saying “let bygones by bygones” has to take over. It was coined for good reason. I’m more amused than offended by Swastika Mtn, since it was not meant as evil. It could just be renamed with a “v” as another poster mentioned. Every place doesn’t carry the full weight of history for specific agendas.

        Given who’s committing most of the gun crime around Portland these days, I’m not eager to see even more “diversity.” We have a right to keep criminals under control and not have it constantly conflated with racism. The left can’t seem to fathom that most criminals are victims of their own weak will to be decent. The criminal element will never go away and can rarely be counseled into honesty, yet they become riot martyrs whenever the police harm them, due to lack of contextual honesty. Resisted arrests are basically street fights with wildcard outcomes. The police are expected to show superhuman patience, which they DO more often than civilians.

        Also, there’s endless talk of “stopping hate” but most of it’s been anarcho-communists hating local police for things random cops did miles away, blown out of context. They armchair-quarterback how to arrest violent felons from the safety of stoner couches. They also lie about “white supremacy” causing phantom harm (beyond free speech) when they’re the ones running around burning and looting others’ property.

  2. Anna Rose says:

    I feel that badly-named (even if renamed for white euros) landmarks should revert back to its indigenous name by local tribes. In fact, I would to see them all reverted back, out of respect.

    • Taking that too far erases actual history. It got absurd when “protestors” toppled the Lincoln statue in Portland because he allowed 38 Dakota Indians (settler-killers) to be hanged. The context omitted by the lunatic fringe (nod to T.R. statue) was Lincoln showing mercy on at least 264 other warriors, and he was just reacting to a military commission. His noble work for blacks was trivialized by modern thugs who like to wreck things.

      A number of tribes were also ruthless toward other Indians, e.g. the Comanche. The idea that only whites can be violent is nonsense, as we routinely see on urban streets now. And when does the moral clock stop? Many indigenous people have forced others out of their native lands, all over the world, for centuries. Territorial wars are part of human nature. As with slavery among different races, they just weren’t all logged in history books.

      The once-peaceful swastika reminds me of the LGBT crowd hijacking the neutral refractive phenomenon of rainbows. They one stood for peace or just something mesmerizing that nature provides for free. Identity politics is divisive and useless when you’re trying to make society work and can never please everyone.

  3. Margot Roth says:

    Do you have any idea which tribes were on the land originally? I’d like to contact them and support their suggestion for a name change. Thanks for the great article. I found it when I saw the news about the rescue on the mountain this weekend.

  4. R Scott Lechert says:

    Here is a better link for changing the name. I get a 404 error on the link you provided:

  5. Todd Gallaher says:

    You made me laugh at least four times thank you. I live in southern Oregon and will keep my eye out for amusing place names play. Have you been to Sequim Washington yet? You’ve got hooker Road and kitchen-dick Road…. they have to intersect.

  6. Andrey P says:

    Change the spelling to Svastika or change it back to it’s indigenous name.

  7. Sherilyn Williams-Stroud says:

    Spelling it differently – as in the original Sanskrit word is not only a fair angle, but it also acknowledges the appropriate origin of the word. The same on the the rancher and everybody in the US ascribed to it until the 1930s. Even Wikipedia somehow conflates it but at least they provide the context. Svastika means “auspicious”, and Wikipedia uses the correct spelling on this page: but redirects you to “swastika” if you search for “svastika”.

    • Plus, it was barely known until the Internet came along. I only knew of it after a snow stranding made recent news. Without more context, those guys might get “Nazi” slurs thrown at them for seeking out the place.

  8. Nina Barber Franco says:

    Did you all know that before WWII school children often used to salute the flag during the pledge of allegiance with the right arm extended straight out, what we now consider the, “ heil Hitler” salute? As that salute became more associated with Hitler and our little school kids began to look like a bunch of Hitler youth, we changed it to a hand over the heart.

  9. Daniel says:

    This was a great read and loved the sense of humor 😀

  10. Krampus Thunderstick says:

    I definitely wouldn’t argue against the name change, but I do think it’s kind of silly given the actual history. As an ethnic Jew who studies Hinduism I’d like to see the term swastika regain the meaning it’s had for millennia. The original Sanskrit symbol looks quite different than the cartoonish version used by Adolf and Friends.

  1. August 31, 2022

    […] post office, or a Sanskrit symbol for luck and good fortune or whatever people want to argue. As I wrote last year when I first learned of the existence of Swastika Mountain, names are arbitrary and can be changed […]

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