After hearing about the Grave Creek fire, I was curious about how the stream got its name. Obviously, it came from a grave but I was wondering if you folks could fill in the particulars.
— John S., Medford
You are right on both counts, John.
In 1846, a young girl named Martha Leland Crowley died alongside the stream, according the Oregon Geographic Names book.
She was the daughter of Thomas and Catherine Linville Crowley, who came to Oregon from Missouri that year.
In a letter to the Oregonian newspaper, James W. Nesmith on Nov. 23, 1883, noted that he and some other gold miners headed for California found her grave had been desecrated when they came to the stream in 1848. They reinterred her remains and called the stream "Grave Creek," he wrote.
In 1854, the territorial legislature changed the name to Leland Creek in her honor but the new name didn't stick. Oregonians insisted on referring to it as Grave Creek, the name that continues today.
Incidentally, Sunny Valley used to be named Grave Creek Valley but folks found the name a little morbid. They changed it to its present name, in part because the area is often drenched with sunlight during the winter.
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