McArthur’s “Oregon Geographic Names” (part 4 of 8)

Part 4 of our mini-series on McArthur’s classic reference work about “Oregon Geographic Names”…


Heart-shaped or boozy? Round or packed(image credit:

Lake Billy Chinook, page 422, is a Jefferson County name that honors a Wasco (Kiksht Upper Chinookan) chief and treaty signer, born circa 1827, who also acted as a guide for Kit Carson & John C. Frémont (who reappears below, with a new discovery). Billy Chinook played a significant part in early Settler-Native interactions, and almost certainly spoke Chinuk Wawa well.

On page 423, Lane County’s Lake Chetlo (c’hə́t’ɬəx̣w ‘oyster’) was so named for its shape resembling an oyster shell, which implies a post-contact map-inspired appellation.

Lake Kiwa (q’áyʔwa ‘crooked’), also in Lane County, is in the same neck of the woods, and this name is probably of similarly late vintage; it’s said to have been applied “because it was elbow shaped”.

Lake Labish in Marion County reflects the Canadian/Métis French word la biche ‘the female deer…frequently used…to mean elk’, named thus by French Prairie settlers. (McDermott’s 1941 “Glossary of Mississippi Valley French” confirms that.) I include it here to enliven our understanding of how those important members of the creolized-CW community spoke.

The place-name Lamonta on page 426, in Jefferson County, is CW lámətáy ‘mountain’. It’s interesting that (A) we know the exact person who named the place, Miss Kate Helfrich, who was postmaster when the post office was established in 1898, and (B) McArthur says “the words la monta are not part of any language with which [he] is familiar”! The spelling is classic Settler Chinook, with a final < a > for the vowel sound [ey]. As for being able to trace certain words to a single person, this is a feature of languages used by small communities; we see it also in CW’s píltən ‘crazy’ from the name of Archibald Pelton.

Page 437’s Lemiti Meadow in Clackamas County is likewise known to have been named by a particular person a pioneer Settler named Ephraim Henness; it’s also CW for ‘mountain’. It was extended to Lemiti Creek and Lemiti Butte.

Lemolo Falls (and Lake) in Douglas County reflect CW limulo ‘wild’ (‘or untamed’ as McArthur claims), from Canadian/Métis French le marron. McArthur translates the latter as ‘a runaway negro’, but that’s hardly the main sense of it: McDermott’s “Vocabulary of Mississippi Valley French” usefully specifies that this word means ‘wild, but used only for a reversion from a domesticated state’, i.e. feral. I’ll take this opportunity to repeat my observation that in CW it’s mainly a word of horse culture, which in this language involves French adjectives preceded by the definite article.

Lockit (a railway station in Wasco County) and Lockit Butte (Deschutes County) on page 448 both reflect CW lákit ‘four’, for the usual post-frontier reason that each represents the ‘fourth’ in a series.

Page 449 has Deschutes County’s Lolah Butte, whose “accent is on the second syllable”, which is a strange pronunciation of the CW word that this is said to come from, lúʔlu ’round’. I can imagine a possible scenario where early Settlers might have named this land feature thus, and made up their own spelling for the word.

Supposedly the nearby Lolo Butte was named by the US Forest Service, obviously post-frontier, after another CW word: lúlu “pack or carry, apparently because supplies had to be carried to it” by USFS workers. I wonder, though, if both Lolah & Lolo Buttes are both round, and perhaps were confused with each other by someone making a USFS map!

Contrast this with Lolo Pass (Clackamas and Hood River counties), known to have been named by Thomas F. Sherrard of the USFS, “for Lolo Pass in the Bitterroot Range in Idaho-Montana”, which is certainly not a CW name — Lolo or Loulou being a normal Indian pronunciation of “Laurence”, a particular trapper’s name.

Lowullo Butte (Deschutes County) on page 456 brings us back to CW ’round’, though, and here it’s in an unmistakable standard spelling found in a number of dictionaries — the hallmark of a pretty recent USFS name.

Page 458’s Lumrum Butte (Deschutes County in central Oregon) is said to be “a Chinook jargon word meaning whisky or rum, although the form lum is more generally used.” The vagueness of McArthur’s origin story for this name, “possibly because of some incident connected with the making or using of whisky in the vicinity”, is real suspect. This is known to be another USFS name, leading me to speculate whether it was a government worker’s misreading of some published CW dictionary’s < tumtum > ‘heart’ (tə́mtəm), rather than < lum > ‘alcohol’ (lám)! From Google Maps / Earth, I don’t see that the butte is particularly heart-shaped, but still I find < tumtum > a more satisfying explanation. We could also go into “Long Tom” here, but we won’t 🙂

Medicine Rock in Lincoln County, on page 485, is a crypto-CW name: “The rock was supposed to be the abode of a Skookum, or bad medicine man, whom the Indians propitiated by giving articles of food, pieces of cloth and sometimes native tools and fishhooks.” If you straighten out that story by removing the word “man”, you have CW skukúm ‘a dangerous being’; compare the traditional customs attached to the < Hee-hee > or < Tee-hee-hee > Stone in north-central Washington, or to the Willamette meteorite.

On page 488, the entry for Metolius River (Deschutes & Jefferson counties) correctly tells us that this is a tribal Indian name. The CW connection is in the note that John C. Frémont forded this river in December of 1843: “His Indian guides told him it was a salmon-water“, which I take as their saying to him sámən-tsə́qw in the Chinuk Wawa that they were almost certainly speaking with him. This amounts to a new discovery in early-creolized CW.

What do you think?