The pioneers were not so sensitive about road names and would usually name them after something that happened there — for example, Grizzly Peak was named after a creature that mauled an unfortunate person and Bear Creek is where bears were seen. So, because some Indians were found dead (apparently killed by disease or other Indians), the road running up to that spot near the Cascade Crest was soon called Dead Indian Road. It just happened by word of mouth and, old-timers argue, it’s part of history.
But in this day and age, the culture is much different. When people see that sign, “Dead Indian Memorial Road,” it causes a reaction, usually not a good one. It’s a county road and in 1993, the county commission tried to make it more palatable by inserting “Memorial.” It didn’t work. To this day, complaints flow into the country roads department at the rate of about one a week demanding they get with new sensibilities and empathy for groups, especially those oppressed and harmed in history.
So, the Jackson County Commission, at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the County Courthouse in Medford, will hold a hearing on what should be done about the road name — keep it as is, change it, or come up with an entirely new name. If the latter, should it somehow honor the indigenous people of this region?
At the local post office, we asked Ashlanders their opinion of the present road name and what they think it should be.
Sooney Viani: A lot of people are bothered by it. Indian Memorial could work. I could live with that and it has historical significance. There’s a sign at Highway 66 (where it meets Dead Indian Memorial Road) explaining the history of the road but it needs to be more visible. The word “dead” is what seems to bother so many people. If it were Indian Memorial Drive, it would give people the opportunity to think about how far we’ve come (since the Rogue Indian Wars and Indian removal) and how far we have to go. As a new name, we could call it "Unresolved Issues Drive."
Michal Schaffer: I’m going to the hearing Wednesday. I have to make some phone calls about it. I’m going because in 2017, it’s shameful that people who’ve tried to change it couldn’t. It is still offensive to our native population who lived here and still live here. I live near the road and the name change in ’93 was not enough. It’s offensive. I believe the local tribes should be consulted about how they feel. I haven’t thought about a totally new name. If it’s a new name, it should honor the tribal heritage of the area. They should consult the Klamath and other tribes. Maybe name it for a mountain here, something less reminiscent of genocide.
Jana Carole: They should take “dead” out of the name. People related to the indigenous people should have the most say in it.
Cathy DeForest: The name is disgraceful, not respectful of the people whose land we live on now. I would like to see indigenous tribes select the name. We could ask Grandma Aggie (of Grants Pass, the oldest member of the Takelma tribe, which lived in Ashland) and other elders. The name has bothered me since I moved to Ashland. We’ve got a ways to go on this issue. If it’s a new name, I have no idea what it could be.
John Villella: It’s very offensive. I’ve been to a lot of Native American events here and it’s offensive to them. People may say it’s historical and all that, but if it’s offensive to a whole group of people, it’s not right. If you used the name “dead” for any other group, it wouldn’t stand. There’s a lot of other past history we could focus on. It should be left to the Takelma and Shasta tribes to rename it in their honor. I’m going to the meeting. I’ve been following this for years and it’s ridiculous they’re still fighting over it.
More information about the meeting and the issue is online on the Jackson County website at http://bit.ly/2g88pUi.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.