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SYA: The Siskiyous likely were named after a horse

Siskiyou Mountains, Siskiyou Summit, Siskiyou County, Siskiyou Boulevard — a lot of things around here are named Siskiyou. I assume this is a Native American word. Did it come from a Siskiyou tribe?

— Ryan W., Medford

Historians have not settled definitively on the origin of the name, Ryan, but etymologists seem to lean toward a word from the Cree language, “siskiyawatim,” which refers to a kind of horse, possibly a spotted horse or a pack horse.

According to “Oregon Geographic Names,” the go-to source around the Mail Tribune newsroom for questions like this, the name stemmed from a day in 1828 when Archibald R. McLeod, a member of Hudson’s Bay Company, got caught in a snowstorm while crossing the mountains with a pack train.

McLeod reportedly lost most of his animals, including a bobtail racehorse. Natives traveling with McLeod reportedly named the place “Pass of the Siskiyou,” according to “Oregon Geographic Names,” and the name spread to take in the whole of the mountain range and the other places you mentioned.

Another possible explanation for the name came from the French term “six cailloux,” meaning six stones.

According to that story, six stones were used for fording various streams, but the authors of “Oregon Geographic Names” said there were several versions of that story, and none of them were well authenticated.

So until we hear from a source we trust more, Ryan, we’re sticking with the Pass of the Bobtail Horse.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com.