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Siskiyou name likely linked to lost horse

Since it's attached to so many things around here, I've often wondered where the name "Siskiyou" comes from? I suspect that it's a Native American word, but what does it mean? — Lisa, Medford.

Your suspicions are probably correct, Lisa, although there is some dispute over its origins. But while you got that right, we bet you can't guess what it means. ... Give up?

Oddly enough, it means "bobtail horse" in Cree, a Native American tribe that stretched across a large swath of North America, mostly in Canada, but as far west as Montana. So how, you might ask, did a mountain range (which was the first tagged with the appellation) wind up named after a bobtailed horse?

According to "Oregon Geographic Names," which is pretty much the bible of Oregon name origins, a Hudson Bay Company man, Archibald McLeod, lost a number of animals while crossing the mountains in an 1828 snowstorm. The missing animals included "a noted bobtailed racehorse."

McLeod, for whom the McCloud River was supposedly named (OK, they weren't great spellers) had with him a number of Canadians, who after the snowstorm decided to name the area the "Pass of the Siskiyou."

There's some speculation, the book goes on to say, that the mountains actually got their name from the French words "six cailloux" or six stones. The six stones were supposedly used in the crossing of a creek, but researchers say there's little to back up that theory. They definitely lean toward the Cree word as the origin of the now-familiar (at least in these parts) proper noun that marks mountains, streets, businesses and a county in California.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.