Swastika Mountain in Oregon has now officially been renamed.
The mountain, which is about 35 miles from Eugene, Oregon, in the Umpqua National Forest in the Cascade Mountains, is now named Mount Halo, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) — the scientific arm of the Department of the Interior. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names formally approved and then announced the name change last month.
The 4,177-foot Mount Halo is named for Chief Halito, a leader of the Yoncalla Kalapuya tribe. Their village was located 20 miles west of the mountain, the USGS explains.
Mount Halo is 1 mile south of neighboring Pinard Butte.
Why It Was Called “Swastika” Mountain?
Swastika Mountain, and a former town in the area, reportedly got their names in the early 1900s because a local rancher used a brand in the shape of a swastika to mark his cattle, according to NPR.
He used the symbol long before the Nazis and World War II because it was a Sanskrit symbol meaning “good luck” or “well-being,” said Kerry Tymchuk, executive director of the Oregon Historical Society, according to CNN.
“The name ‘swastika’ used to stand for something else, but since it was co-opted by the Nazis for the last, almost century, it has stood for an evil philosophy,” Tymchuk said.
David Lewis, an assistant professor of anthropology and ethnic and Indigenous studies at Oregon State University, and a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, said that while the swastika has been used by many peoples throughout time, its recent association makes it troubling.
“The symbol really has negative connotations from World War II and its use as a symbol of fascism,” Lewis said, according to KLCC. “And so we need to, at times, revisit names that have been given to the land, and to rivers and towns, and maybe replace those with names that have more resonance with today’s society.”
How The Name Change Came About
Joy McClain, a resident of Eugene, helped start the campaign to change the mountain’s name after reading about two hikers who were rescued from the mountain’s peak.
Her next step was to contact the Oregon Historical Society and its Oregon Geographic Names Board, then fill out paperwork to propose a name change. Tymchuk said he believes McClain is the first person to request a name change for the mountain.
“It’s not a very well-known mountain, and frankly, I didn’t know there was one,” Tymchuk said, NPR reports. “It’s in a national forest and isn’t accessible to many people like Mount Hood or Mount St. Helen. It’s not very well-known throughout the state; the vast majority of people likely never even knew it was there.”
McClain’s proposal was to rename the mountain “Umpqua Mountain,” recognizing the Umpqua River and the Umpqua National Forest. However, another proposal was submitted to name the mountain “Mount Halo.” McClain then withdrew her proposal in favor of naming the mountain after Chief Halo, according to CNN.
Chief Halito’s Importance
Mount Halo is named after Chief Halito of the Yoncalla Kalapuya tribe. His name is commonly shortened to Chief Halo, meaning “having little” or “needing little,” according to the Oregon Encyclopedia, a project of the Oregon Historical Society.
“The Yoncalla are the southernmost of the many Kalapuya tribes, living south of the Calapooia Mountains in western Oregon in the Umpqua Valley on the Upper Umpqua River,” Oregon Encyclopedia explains. “They shared the valley with the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua at the south and the Molala in the Cascades to the east.”
In the 1850s, Chief Halo refused to be relocated to the Grand Ronde Reservation and, instead, stayed on the Applegate family donation land claim in the Umpqua Valley.
Then, in the 1860s, Chief Halo went into business with John Walker, a local settler, Oregon Encyclopedia continues. Together they formed a now-forgotten town called Walker.
Chief Halo died in 1892. He was believed to have been at least 70 years old.
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