The U.S. Board on Geographic Names has approved a change in nomenclature for a lesser–known peak in western Oregon‘s Umpqua National Forest, renaming it from Swastika Mountain to Mount Halo.
The new title, Mount Halo, pays tribute to Chief Halito of the Yoncalla Kalapuya tribe and was suggested by residents of the area in response to the controversy over the former name‘s connotations of Nazi Germany.
The mountain, which stands just shy of 4,200–feet in elevation, made headlines on the state and local level when two missing teens were rescued there by a Coast Guard helicopter on New Year‘s Day.
The controversy over the mountain‘s name began last summer when 81–year–old Joyce McClain petitioned the Oregon Historical Society to have the peak renamed to Umpqua Mountain. However, when Mount Halo was proposed as an alternative, she felt it was a better fit and withdrew her submission.
Kerry Tymchuk, executive secretary at the historical society, told NPR last summer that the mountain, as well as the now–extinct town of Swastika, were named after a cattle ranch of the same name in the early 1900s, before Adolf Hitler and his party rose to power. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum says the symbol — which the ranch used for branding cattle — dates as far back as 7,000 years and means “good fortune“ or “well–being“ in Sanskrit. However, in the early 20th century, the marker came to symbolize German nationalists and Hitler‘s Nazi Party.
The mountain‘s new name was approved in a 19–3 vote during an Oregon Geographic Names Board meeting in December, according to the meeting‘s minutes, and was made official by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names in mid–April.
McClain said she knows the mountain‘s name had innocent origins, and that some people weren‘t fans of swapping out historical names, but she felt Swastika was no longer appropriate and needed to change. Looking back on it all, she‘s happy she saw the whole thing through.
“I was glad I could do this,” McClain told NPR. “One person can really make a difference. People don‘t think so, but this proves that one person can, no matter who they are.”
The renaming of the peak follows a number of other changes made to public monuments and landmarks in recent years in an effort to remove symbols of racism and white supremacy. It also serves as an example of how an individual can make a difference and effect positive change in their community.