McArthur’s “Oregon Geographic Names” (part 6 of 8) … “Rickreall” solved?

More exercise for your French skills…


Rickreall Creek (image credit: Wikipedia)

In our sixth installment of this mini-series about a classic book on Oregon place names, we may have more insight into “Rickreall”…


Paunina on page 572 (in Klamath County) is a variant of the well-known Native chief Paulina’s name. It’s a Southern Pacific Railroad stop. “During the construction period, Paunina was called Skookum.” (skúkum ‘strong’, or when borrowed into Settlers’ English, ‘excellent’.)

Page 575 discusses the Pelton Dam in Deschutes County. McArthur rightly notes that this only a coincidental resemblance to “the Chinook jargon word for crazy”, < pelton > (pʰíltən). Instead, this is the last name of Settler brothers John and James Pelton. I can’t help supposing the nearby Warm Springs Indian Reservation residents, a great many of whom spoke good Chinuk Wawa, had a good laugh now and then at their name!

Pilpil Butte, also in Deschutes County, on page 584, “is in the northern part of Paulina Mountain. It bears the Chinook jargon word for red, because of its characteristic color”, says McArthur, who I guess was more of a CJ reader than a speaker of it. Pílpil is actually ‘blood’, which contrasts with píl ‘red’.

Hood River County’s Polallie Creek, page 593, is a neat exemplar of a major genre of Chinuk Wawa place names in the Pacific Northwest, the newer, US Forest Service-decreed names:

In the early days it was called Sand Creek and Sand Canyon but in the 1920s the USFS started a program to replace repetitious or mundane names. Sand Creek fits both these qualifications as ‘Sand’ carries far more than its share of the place name burden. Polallie is a Chinook jargon word meaning sandy or powdery. George Gibbs says that polallie was undoubtedly from the French poudre, and was not originally a Chehalis or Chinook word.

Well…In the extremely well-informed 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary of CW, this word is púlali, and no sure etymology is given. The linguists Marie-Lucie Tarpent, and in a published paper Barbara P. Harris, have suggested some connection with Canadian/Métis French poudre ‘powder’, which strikes me as a reach, or poudrerie, which is a known North Americanism referring to a blizzard. In this space, I’ve previously proposed a speculative Chinookan etymology that amounts to ‘blowing/dusty-soil-place’, presumably a beach. That form, in turn, might have been folk-etymologized by the numerous French speakers out here as poudrerie

The always lovely Rickreall Creek in Polk County (pages 616-617) has a name that, as McArthur is right to say, has caused a lot of controversy. It’s often been said to come from Canadian/Métis French la créole ‘the one born in this country’. That supposed French source seems as if it’s always cited in this dispute as a feminine form (thus the la), perhaps as if referring to the body of water (la fleuve / la rivière). I’d like to humbly point out that a better match with North American French would be le créole or les créoles. In the masculine singular, le is typically [lɩ], with a “short i” sound similar to the vowel in the “Rick” part; in the plural, les is usually [li:], with a “long i” as in English “reek”. I can easily envision a locale in this heavily Canadian-settled area as being known to folks as “(at) the creoles”. The main reason I cite Rickreall Creek today, though, is that there’s apparently also a folk-etymology locally that believes the name to be a version of Chinuk Wawa áyáq tsə́qw ‘swift water’. I find that idea linguistically unbelievable, but like much in oral history, it may reflect some objective reality about the nature of the stream or of some rapids on it. The location may very well have had this exact CW name in frontier times — many places did, there in the homeland of the Jargon — alongside le(s) créole(s) and Rickreall!

On page 638, we find Sahale Falls in Hood River County, and the spelling variant Sahalie Falls in Linn County. This is sáx̣ali ‘high’, and both names are of modern vintage, not from the frontier era.

Sallal Spring on page 643, in Curry County, is named for the salal berry that’s so abundant near the coast. That word was used in Chinuk Wawa, and seems to trace back to Chinookan languages.

Sauvie Island (Columbia and Multnomah Counties), page 648, is named for an early French-Canadian settler who worked for the Hudsons Bay Company, but Lewis and Clark in 1805-1806 referred to it as Wap-pa-to and Wap-pa-too, known to us as the CW name (wáptʰu) of the arrowhead/sagittaria plant. I doubt that this was a conventionally accepted CW name for the place, though, as we have essentially no evidence of the Jargon as a factor in daily life until the founding of Fort Vancouver in 1825. This was a Chinookan word being used in Chinookan territory.

On page 666 is Siah Butte in Deschutes County, a US Forest Service name (sáyá ‘far, distant, remote’).

One the same page is Sickfoot Creek in Wallowa County, a name that local Indigenous people gave to a Settler named David Rochester, who had a clubfoot. The “sick” part would seem to reflect use of Chinuk Wawa, where sík denotes any illness or disability.

What do you think?