Swastika Mountain’s new name is meant to honor the native leader instead of evoking Nazi history


When two 19-year-old hikers went missing on Swastika Mountain earlier this year, a modest knoll in a remote part of Oregon came to prominence due to its offensive name.

After their disappearance, the Oregon Board of Geographic Names received three requests to change the name of the 1,219-meter-tall (4,000-foot) peak found south of Eugene, Oregon, to something that doesn’t is not associated with the German Nazi Party.

“When Oregonians found out there was a swastika mountain in their state, a lot of people didn’t even know that name existed,” said Bruce Fisher, chairman of the board.

“It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere.”

Fisher said the board often deals with requests from the public to change the name if they are deemed outdated or offensive.

In this case, the board has narrowed the ideas down to one and is expected to make a final decision in December to approve the mountain’s name after an Aboriginal chief. The other two proposals were withdrawn.

Chief (Halo) Halito was a Yoncalla Kalapuya tribal chief who lived in Oregon in the 1800s. (Oregon Historical Society Research Library)

Fisher reached out to David Lewis, a professor of Native studies at Oregon State University and a member of the Grand Ronde tribe, who suggested a name to honor. Chief (Halo) Halitoa Yoncalla Kalapuya tribal leader from a community that lived on the River Row in the 1800s.

Mount Halo could be the mountain’s new name as early as 2023, if the plan is also approved by higher authorities and tribal councils.

2 lost teenagers brought attention to the mountain

The unassuming spike first found its way onto the media radar in January.

That’s when two Oregon teenagers – Christian Farnsworth and Parker Jasmer – who spent nine days missing in deep drifts were found after digging an SOS in the snow.

After the couple were airlifted out of the Umpqua National Forest, people wondered how a land feature in Oregon got its name from a Nazi symbol.

The Oregon Geographic Names Board is expected to make a final decision in December to approve the mountain’s name after Chief (Halo) Halito. Mount Halo could be the mountain’s new name as early as 2023, if the plan is also approved by higher authorities and tribal councils. (Bruce Fisher/Google Earth)

Fisher, a cartography expert, said the origin of the nickname is muddy.

“We don’t really know, but we do know that it started showing up on maps. The 1935 USGS map is named Swastika Mountain,” he said, referring to the US Geological Survey.

Fisher discovered that there was a U.S. post office of the same name, as well as a bid to create a town nearby, between around 1909 and 1912. But the post office has closed.

“The swastika’s name comes from a brand of cattle used in the area, but…that post office closed. There really isn’t a historical record to follow as to how this county mountain Lane got his name.”

The swastika has had different meanings

A local cattle rancher named Clayton Burton is believed to have branded his cattle with a swastika – decades before Nazi Germany use of symbolwhich led him to be equated with fascism and hatred.

Before World War II, the swastika symbol had different connotations – some even associated it with luck.

The swastika, left, was used in Hindu. Buddhist and Jain traditions for centuries. The Hakenkreuz, right, was an adaptation used by Hitler’s Nazi Party. (Holocaust Exhibition and Learning Center)

In the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit, the swastika means “well-being”.

At one point in the 1930s, swastikas were used to market everything from fruit and beer to Coca-Cola, and the symbol was found in Boy Scout materials, according to American writer Steven Heller, whose book The swastika and symbols of hate was released in 2019.

But whatever the swastika symbol meant when the Lane County peak became known as Swastika Mountain, it had no real connection to the country’s history.

In the search for a new name, Fisher said, the nation’s largest naming council was looking for something meaningful.

“We want a certain identity here – a historical identity. It will be a permanent new name,” he said.

Indigenous people are “excited” by names

The butte in question is traditional territory of the Yoncalla, who lived near Fort Umpqua, where they met settlers in the 1800s – from explorers to Hudson’s Bay Company fur trappers, the anthropologist said. David Lewis, who has spent years studying Oregon history and is a descendant of the Santiam, Takelma, and Chinook tribes.

Historical records from Oregon tell that in the 19th century there was a vibrant Kalapuya village where Chief (Halo) Halito lived on the nearby Row River in a community of approximately 100 tribal members.

In his research, Lewis describes how the Yoncalla Chiefs signed a treaty with the Umpqua and Kalapuya First Nations and the United States government on November 29, 1854.

Within two years, the government began to move the tribes inland away from their lands to the Grande Ronde reservation – but Chief Halito refused, saying “I will not go in a foreign land,” said Lewis, who researched the leader’s writings. longtime friend and American pioneer Jesse Applegate.

“The natives are thrilled to bring these names back into the landscape. It kind of brings us back to center stage,” Lewis said.

Chief Halito remained in his traditional territory with the support of the prominent Applegate family, he said.

“He stayed true to his feelings, and he and his family were able to stay in their country.”


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