Oregon Mountain Finally Ditches Contentious Name

Swastika Mountain is now known as Mount Halo, in honor of a former tribal leader
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 29, 2022 11:40 AM CDT
Updated May 9, 2023 9:35 AM CDT
Rescue Calls Attention to 'Swastika Mountain'
An image from the rescue of two hikers from the former Swastika Mountain in Oregon.   (United States Coast Guard)
UPDATE May 9, 2023 9:35 AM CDT

The controversy over a remote Oregon mountain's name is now over. NPR reports that the erstwhile Swastika Mountain, located in western Oregon's Umpqua National Forest, officially got the OK last month from the US Board on Geographic Names to swap out its controversial moniker for a more palatable one: Mount Halo. The peak is named for the Yoncalla Kalapuya tribe's Chief Halito, who died in the late 1800s and lived in a town not far from the mountain. The name change was spurred by 81-year-old resident Joyce McClain, who'd noticed the original name of the little-known mountain in a newspaper story. The mountain had been named after a cattle ranch in the early 1900s, long before Adolf Hitler and the Nazis appropriated the swastika symbol that means "good fortune" in Sanskrit. "It feels pretty good that one little person could make such a difference," McClain tells CNN.

Aug 29, 2022 11:40 AM CDT

News that two hikers needed rescue from a mountain near Eugene, Oregon, earlier this year caused Oregonian Joyce McClain to do a double take. It wasn't the rescue itself—it was that the peak they were climbing was named Swastika Mountain, reports Willamette Week. However, it probably won't have that name much longer, thanks to McClain. She filed the proper paperwork through a body known as the Oregon Geographic Names Board, setting the process in motion to formally rename the mountain sometime next year.

"It is not a very well-known mountain, and frankly, I didn't know there was one," Kerry Tymchuk of the Oregon Historical Society tells NPR. "It's in a national forest, not accessible to many people like Mount Hood or Mount St. [Helens]." It seems the mountain got its name in the early 1900s, long before Adolf Hitler came along and co-opted the swastika as a Nazi symbol. Prior to that, the swastika had been a symbol of "good fortune" or "well-being" throughout the world, per the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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The mountain is expected to be renamed Mount Halo, a nod to the late Chief Halito, who once led the Yoncalla Kalapuya tribe in the region, per KOMO News. The state's naming board will vote on the switch in December, and expected passage would require final approval from the US Board on Geographic Names. (An iconic spot in Great Smoky Mountains National Park also is getting a new name.)

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