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Swastikas weren't always evil

While looking at Google Earth, I found a mountain in our region of Oregon with the name of Swastika Mountain. Any ideas how it got this nonfriendly name?

— Troy M., Phoenix

We sure do, Troy, thanks to our bible, the Oregon Geographic Names book, and stories mined from our morgue here at SYA Central.

The name is not to be confused with the symbol popularized by the monstrous German dictator who dragged the globe into World War II.

Swastika was the name of a tiny town that popped up on the mountain on the eastern edge of the county about 35 miles from Ashland. Its innocent name was the result of a cattle brand shaped like a swastika, which was used by rancher Clayton E. Burton, long before Hitler ever spread his reign of evil.

A post office was established with Burton as the post master at the site on Dec. 11, 1909, only to close forever three years later. The town, also known as Deadwood, died away, leaving munching cattle where civilization once stood.

If you're a history buff, Troy, you may be aware that the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 deprived German Jews of their citizenship and made the swastika the official symbol of Nazi Germany. For a decade, the symbol represented an evil blight on our globe, a reputation that will not likely ever be forgotten.

But back when Burton used the name, it had a positive connotation. The word swastika is derived from the Sanskrit word svastika, meaning any lucky or auspicious object. In effect, it was a mark made on persons and things to denote good luck. The modern equivalent to the term would be a talisman.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.