Smokejumper Malvin Brown, seen here in a photo from the U.S. Army that’s included in the Oregon Geographic Names Board proposal, died in 1945 on a jump into the Lemon Butte fire on Umpqua National Forest. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army)

In the very little spare time that I have, one of my hobbies is to work on a family history book that I hope to publish someday for my descendants. My three sons are the 13th generation of the Fuqua family in America — our original immigrant came to Virginia from Wales in the 1680s.

While putting these family stories together, the places where they lived is obviously a big part of the research. Place names change over the years, including today with certain references from the past no longer tolerated.

I’m bringing this up because the Oregon Geographic Names Board met in Eugene on Saturday to consider proposals for renaming certain geographic features in five counties. None of these proposals directly involve our Benton County but it’s nonetheless interesting.

Those proposed for renaming include:

• Grant County: Negro Knob to Columbus Sewell Knob.

• Douglas County: Negro Ridge to Malvin Brown Ridge; two Negro Creek sites to Freedom Creek, Jack Carson Creek and/or Triple Nickle Creek; Big Squaw Mountain to Dumont Butte.

• Wasco County: Chinaman Hat to Bath Hat.

• Lane County: Swastika Mountain to Mount Halo or Umpqua Mountain.

In reference to a couple of the Douglas County sites, Malvin Brown was a 24-year-old Black smokejumper who died fighting a wildfire on an Umpqua National Forest hillside in the summer of 1945. Jack Carson was the son of David and Letitia Carson, a Black woman. Carson spent his life farming and training horses in Canyonville.

Letitia Carson may be a familiar name to some of you here in Benton County. She filed a lawsuit in Benton County against the executor of the estate of David Carson, who had been her slave owner, and died in 1852. David Carson had promised that if she would live and work for him for the remainder of his life, “he would make me his sole heir or that he would give me his entire property” upon his death, according to a biography published on the state of Oregon’s website.

There’s much more to the story but in the end, a jury of Letitia Carson’s former Benton County peers — all white males — determined that she was due $300 for her services to Carson and another $229.50 to cover court costs and legal fees. A federal judge and local jury later awarded her an additional $1,399.75 for the unlawful sale of her cattle.

In Grant County, Columbus Sewell Knob will be going on maps. Sewell was a Black businessman in Canyon City who died in 1899.

The U.S. Board of Geographic Names dates back to 1890 when it was founded during the Benjamin Harrison administration to document and standardize geographic names in the country. The Oregon board was founded in 1908 through an executive order issued by Gov. George Chamberlain.

The name changes are part of a federal directive to rename sites with derogatory names.

In Oregon, 15 geographic sites still have “Negro” as part of its name — these approvals on Saturday would trim the list to 11. In 2020, the OGNB approved the renaming of a southern Oregon mountain to honor Black businessman Ben Johnson.

Zachary Stocks, Oregon Black Pioneers executive director, reportedly endorsed the new site names. Stocks was among those in Philomath last month for the Shipley Family Homestead historical marker dedication.

Some of the details included in my write-up here were reported on by Kevin Harden, a retired journalist who writes about Oregon history, for the News-Review in Roseburg. Give his piece a read for much more info about these individuals.

You might also check out the proposals compiled for the Oregon Geographic Names Board — each of them include a lot of information about these individuals.

(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at News@PhilomathNews.com).

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.