Originally printed in the Nov. 6, 2002 edition of the Illinois Valley News
Two of our children and five of our grandkids live in Medford and so we go there quite often, especially when they need some help. Every trip, on going over Gold Hill and down into the Rogue Valley, I look at Mt Mcloughlin to check out the snow level. This is the tall volcanic peak east of Medford that is indicated by a sign along the freeway. The book, Oregon Geographic Names by Lewis Mc Arthur, relates the complicated story of how the mountain received its name.
The first available map of the area, printed in 1838 by Samuel Parker uses the name Mt. Mcloughlin. Later, records by Peter Skene Ogden, a trapper, and by the cartographer for John C. Fremont use the name Mt. Pitt for the same peak. Because it was spelled with two t’s it implies that the name was to honor a person such as William Pitt, a famous British statesman, or an early settler. However, there is no record to substantiate that assumption and there were no settlers living in that area when the name was first used.
In 1855 a government railroad survey states that Mt. Pitt was named for the pits dug in the vicinity of the mountain by local Indians to trap animals, as is the name Pit River further south in northern California. Why the double t’s were used is not known. Journals of early Rogue Valley settlers showed that other names such as: Snowy Butte and Big Butte were occasionally used but Mt. Pitt was the most common name in printed reports and journals. This name was superseded in 1905 when the Oregon Legislature designated Mount Mcloughlin to be the name and this was accepted by the United States Board on Geographical Names in 1912 making it official.
John Mcloughlin was named “Father of Oregon” in 1957 by the Oregon Legislature and his name is found all over Oregon on streets, schools, museums, and parks. Mcloughlin was born in Quebec Province, Canada on Oct. 19, 1784. Trained as a doctor, which occupation he followed for a time, he later joined the fur trading business. He served in various posts in Canada and then was sent by Hudson Bay Company to be in charge of their Columbia River region. He arrived at Ft. George on Nov. 8, 1824 which was the headquarters at that time.
Fort George started as Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River and was built in 1811 by the Pacific Fur Company founded by John Jacob Astor. Astoria was turned over to Hudson Bay Company in 1813 because its leaders were convinced that the British would capture it anyway during the War of 1812. There was no bloodshed involved and England returned it back to the United States in 1818 as part of the final treaty of the war.
One of John McLaughlin’s first duties on taking over as Chief Factor for Hudson Bay was to build a new fort where they would be free of American interference. In the spring of 1825 Fort Vancouver was started on the north side of the Columbia River near the mouth of the Willamette River. It became the main center for all activities in the area which included fur trapping, but also military visits, settlement attempts, missions for the Indians and natural history collectors. John Mcloughlin became the benevolent dictator of an empire which reluctantly allowed and even provided for the beginning of what is today known as the State of Oregon.